Thanksgiving Family Feast Doesn't Have To Be Chore

November 21, 1990|By Mary Gail Hare

Working again this Thanksgiving? Me, too -- on the kitchen shift. I'm in charge of stuffing, roasting and serving.

Several Novembers ago, our mother sold her 12-foot dining table, bought a condo and tossed us the old roasting pan.

Spatial relationships figured heavily into the who would have the next family dinner decision, with the honor awarded to the hostess with the mostest dining room.

My home, with only a few square feet more dining space than the runner-up, was top choice. Everyone put the yardsticks away then, never to measure again. I did dodge turkey duty two years ago when we moved and I couldn't find the table legs.

My sister picked up the oven mitts but returned them to me after saying she failed miserably on several counts. No one cared when she ran out of mashed potatoes, because she had dared to substitute the instant variety.

Her dull knives caused carving consternation. After numerous complaints, the man-of-the-kitchen, whose chopping chores were his only contribution to the feast, gave up and left the main course looking more like shredded wheat than savory meat.

Worse yet, tea-sipping sister forgot the coffee requirement. Her percolator-for-two was painfully inadequate for a crowd craving caffeine.

So, with the turkey back firmly in my kitchen, I offer free lessons from my cooking and catering experience.

Pare down your guest list by issuing a caveat with all invitations. Say, "If someone else wants you, go there. My feelings won't be hurt."

If everyone follows through on their alternate invitations, my list usually hovers around 20 siblings with their spouses and children, give or take an occasional last-minute entry.

Make sure you have included a pie-maker. If you aren't good with crust, you can delegate dessert. If lack of dessert expertise makes you feel inadequate, you can still whip up some cream.

Put those TV trays and buffet plates away. A truly traditional feast requires seating guests around a heavily laden table.

Mob cooking requires planning a market strategy, preparing courses and then, processing what's left over.

The hostess won't have time to enjoy the fruits of her labor. As soon as she sits down, half her guests will be finished and wondering what's for dessert.

Try to have a general idea of the number coming before you shop. Then, choose a bird whose poundage is in direct proportion to your dinner guestimate. Buy bigger is a good rule of thumb. Buy biggest is better.

Enjoy your shopping. It will mark your only time away from the kitchen.

Streamline and simplify your menu. One co-worker, busily designing his first culinary masterpiece, is computerizing lists of what to buy and when to cook. He may not get that dinner on the table until sometime Friday, though.

People frequently fast before feasting. Provide snacks to appease the hunger pangs that accompany the anticipation of monster meals.

Panic sets in if any unforeseen problems delay the dinner hour. During a power outage at one Thanksgiving past, several starving brothers went into a feeding frenzy and denuded an entire refrigerator, ultimately munching on lettuce sandwiches.

You can't microwave a 25-pound bird. Give some attention to the real oven. You might want to clean it, too. Many inspectors will open the oven door to see how the main course is simmering. You won't want their fingers clinging to the internal debris.

Avoid one-person favorites when offering side dishes. Ignore such requests as, "Granddad only likes canned peas and frozen green beans."

Watch out for starches. Stuffing, real potatoes and candied yams will do. No need to toss wild rice and homemade rolls into the mix. You don't want your guests to waddle home.

Make sure those who ask, "What can I bring?" are reliable before assigning them an entree. You'll find it difficult to locate the promised but undelivered item at 5 p.m. holiday time.

Even with the heavy workload, T-Day can also be family fun day. You don't have the Christmas angst of passing piles of presents, playing Santa or redecorating the whole house in red and green.

So, drag out the good china, silver and crystal. Say graceful thanks that you aren't playing chef for the day and dig in.

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