Dear Martha: Plan This.
You know those “easy” holiday game plans that promise to help you create the perfect meal if only you follow them weekby-week, day-by-day, minute-by-minute? Yeah, it doesn’t happen that way.
Plan the Menu
Copy all your favorite recipes and draw up a master shopping list. Order floral centerpieces, invite guests. Congratulate self on how serene and organized you feel. This is definitely going to be the very best holiday dinner ever, produced with the least amount of fuss. Simple!
Make and Freeze Soup
OK, so there may be no simple way to make parsnip pumpkin soup, but you’re preparing the whole thing pre-insanity. And you’re making excellent use of the entire Halloween pumpkin! Clean your freezer to make room for the soup, and while you’re at it, clean the refrigerator, clear out the pantry, and better buy a new dishwasher too. And a sofa. And get the house painted. Wait a minute. Where were you? Oh right, the soup…
Delegate Side Dishes, Make Place Cards
Assign guests their contributions to the meal: cocktails, cranberry sauce, potatoes, pies. Create a spreadsheet to coordinate refrigerator, stove and oven times. Order cardstock from Japan and take calligraphy course to produce beautiful place cards and design a seating chart to maximize fellowship and minimize bickering. Recognize that you are not merely a host or a cook, but a bountiful goddess with the power to conjure love, happiness and the true magic of the holiday season.
Pick Up Turkey
Visit free-range turkey farm to individually select your bird, which you then slaughter in an ethical manner. As you wash the turkey blood from your hands, contemplate going vegan. You definitely might, but not before you eat that turkey, which costs approximately 23 times as much as the supermarket one that comes complete with pop-up thermometer.
Reconfirm everyone on the guest list is coming; they are. Reconfirm their meal contributions; they’ve all forgotten and are too busy/depressed/ incompetent to even consider re-creating Granny Miller’s cranberry sauce or condensed-soup casserole. Instead, everyone offers to bring a bottle of wine. Consider not only disinviting but disemboweling them. Instead, agree to the wine contribution, given that your personal wine needs have now tripled.
Set the Table
Lay out all your serving dishes, with notes on what goes in each. Take out your table linens to iron; remember you don’t own an iron. Go online to buy an iron and end up planning a spa week at a remote island in January. But forget the iron.
Prepare the brine, then discover the turkey is still frozen. Run it under hot water. Still frozen. Blast it with a hair dryer. Still frozen. Look up other thawing techniques, only to realize that you have now maybe probably made your gently slaughtered bird unsafe for consumption. Brine it anyway.
Begin Prep Work
Wake up and without even changing out of your pajamas, head in desperation to the nearest supermarket. Bakery is packed with beautiful pies. Ready-made mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce are in plentiful supply. Supplement the basics with as much heavy cream and butter as you normally consume in a year, on the theory that if you use enough, no one will notice what’s underneath.
Start the Turkey
Shove turkey in the oven with a little salt and pepper. Cook the bird to 190 degrees instead of 165 to (hopefully) solve thawing debacle.
Warm Up Sides
Transfer everything to your own serving dishes and bury the evidence in the neighbor’s trash. Resist the urge to clean and instead, turn down all the lights and change into your best clothes. Or any clothes that are not pajamas. Scrub the tear stains off your cheeks. Practice smiling.
Greet your guests, pour drinks and direct your brother’s turkey-carving. Order everyone to find their places in the dining room and begin passing the meal while you finish making the gravy. Enjoy a moment of peace as you add first a little flour to the gently simmering pan juices, then a little water, then some more flour, then a little cream, until you have at least a gallon of gravy as pale as coconut milk. Burst in bearing the gravy, full of apologies for keeping everybody waiting, to find that they are, in fact, nearly done eating. They completely forgot about not only the gravy, but about you. But they’re also having a wonderful time. Soak in the compliments, feeling absolutely no need to confess your shortcuts. Prepare your own plate, hogging all the gravy with impunity. And dream about that spa trip in January.
PAMELA REDMOND SATRAN
is the author of the bestselling humor collection How to Not Act Old. Her novel, Younger, inspired the hit TV Land show.
“…I don’t know…she stumbled around the dairy aisle, made a dash for the turkeys, then just collapsed!”