I’m here to tell you that anybody can have a kick tail holiday dinner and not lose her mind. You just have to refocus a bit. Below I’ll share a few things I’ve learned from hosting a big brood, as well as some sample menu items from one of my favorite magazines, the master of all great party hosts, Southern Living.
As moms, I think our default response to most situations is to nurture. We calm a crying baby, put up the dirty laundry, tend to a sick child and feed the ones we love. It’s who we are. It’s God’s gift to us. However, for many, the charism of hospitality is not a gift, there is major stress over hosting a houseful of people for a holiday dinner. I’m one who loves a party – planning, decorating, hosting and even cleaning it up. Let’s be honest, a demolished house is the sign of a great party. At least that’s what I always tell myself! If you find yourself being nominated as the “holiday house,” I hope these things give you some peace and inspiration.
There is one thing that may ease your mind immediately. While you cook, pray for the people coming to your home. Who will be eating that turkey? What smiles will ensue after the dessert is presented? Picture the people you love enjoying the fruit of your labors. THAT is God’s gift to you!
Simplify the main dish. For Thanksgiving last year, I bought the turkey breast rather than the whole turkey. I spent less time carving it, preparation was easier and all of the meat was eaten.
If you have a big group of folks coming over, by all means, delegate the menu items. If you’re not 100% sure of a friend or family member’s cooking ability or if they’re short on time, have them bring a bouquet of flowers, some ice or pre-made rolls that just have to be popped into the oven. Or, ask them to come a little early and help you set the table.
Enlist your children to help. My children range in age from 11-2, so their “helping” skills vary. My 11-year-old can stir corn on the stove or take items out of the oven, my 8 and 7-year-olds can sweep the floor and wipe down the guest bathroom. My 5-year-old can pick up toys and my 2-year-old can watch a video! Every year, I increase their responsibilities and participation. Not only are they learning to be good hosts, but they’re also learning some invaluable cooking skills, as well.
The week before, plan your menu, do the grocery shopping and decide what items can be done ahead of time. There have been a few years when I got up with the chickens and went to the store and returned well before my family awoke.
A day or two before, do some preparation work after the kids go to bed: chopping, baking a pie crust, etc. Those tasks are always the most tedious and the hardest to do when your children are awake.
Get the kids going on a simple craft. Before pinterest came along, I happened upon this craft idea and it was, as we say in the south, winner-winner chicken dinner. You just need some simple items, probably already found in your home or backyard: construction paper, crayons, scissors, glue, sticks, beans/lentils and glasses. The children traced and cut the circles, drew and colored the letters and then found the sticks in the backyard. I helped them glue everything together and we set out the glasses as our table centerpiece. It was the talk of the party. I was able to finish cooking and they created a lovely tablescape.
By all means, pour yourself a glass of wine before you get going. Need I say more?
Feel free to bust out the fine china (we usually do, but not always) or call in reinforcements and use paper products instead. Mark it down, you heard it from a southern girl, your party is no less awesome if you have disposable dinnerware.
Encourage those who came to “clean up.” Make sure you have all your leftover dishes easily accessible and have family assist in the cleanup.
Tiny Tomato Tarts (appetizer)
Citrus Grilled Turkey Breast with Cranberry Salsa (salsa was more like a chutney, but since we live in the south, salsa it is)
Sweet Potato Pudding (forget the marshmallows, this one has bourbon)
Green Beans with Carmelized Shallots
Fried Confetti Corn
Rolls and Deviled Eggs (no recipe, but still good additions)
Blackberry Apple Pie (this one took more time than I thought, but wow, what a pie)
Chocolate Pecan Chess Pie
Angel Biscuits (use for the turkey leftovers)
When Kathryn isn’t planning and cooking for a family gathering, she can usually be found checking homework, sitting at soccer practice, drinking Dr Pepper or blogging at Team Whitaker. Like Ratatouille’s Gusteau, she believes anyone can cook.