Since we got married, Court and I have rotated celebrating the holidays with each set of our parents. If we spend Thanksgiving with my parents, we celebrate Christmas with his. The following year, we switch which set of parents gets us for which holiday. Following me so far??
If we were to continue this schedule of celebrating in 2008, Thanksgiving would be spent with Court's family and Christmas with mine. However, because I am so close to my due date and we don't know when Grace will make her debut, Court and I are unable to make the drive to Boise for either holiday. So this year, we decided to host Thanksgiving and invite both sides of the family to our house.
This was a huge undertaking on my part (and a brave one on the part of all the family members who agreed to join us) as I have never so much as watched my mother prepare the Thanksgiving meal, let alone cook any part of it! Not to mention that I was going to do this all while 9.5 months pregnant!
Just like we love us some cake, we also love tradition and the Thanksgiving meal is packed with family tradition. We always have turkey but in recent years we've upgraded the turkey to a brined turkey which is heavenly! I highly recommend it if you haven't tried it. We always have bread dough pancakes for breakfast - an Armenian tradition - rolls made from homemade bread dough and butter noodles made from scratch. A few years ago, we added a sweet potato souffle to the lineup that has quickly become a family favorite. And, of course, the staples - stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, veggies, salad and cranberry sauce. Dessert is always a plethora of goodies - cheesecake, spice cake, cookies and since I was in college - birthday cake - so we could celebrate my birthday while we were all together. It is a FEAST and according to my mother, it takes days of preparation!
I don't think I was mentally or physically prepared for the amount of preparation that goes into a meal of this magnitude. Luckily, my parents realized the absurdity of me cooking the entire Thanksgiving meal by myself, so my mom flew in a few days early to give me a hand. Thank God she did!! I don't know how the holiday would have turned out had reinforcements (my mom, dad and sister) not shown up a bit early to help!
My mom insisted that we start setting the table as early as Tuesday. We hand washed all the china, spread the table cloth, folded the napkins and searched my cabinets for serving platters, bowls and other needed cooking utensils. Of course, I was missing a lot of the essentials (as I had never done this before) so at 4 pm, we made a last minute run to Wal-Mart to buy things like candles, matches, platters, etc. Wal-Mart, one of my least favorite places on Earth, was utter chaos and my body, weighted down by 9 months of pregnancy, barely made it out of there in one piece. I was so relieved to get home, put my feet up and not have to go anywhere. Being on my feet all day, particularly the jaunt to Wal-Mart, caused my feet to swell beyond all recognition.
Wednesday morning, the cooking began! I made a Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake and my mom tackled the homemade bread (for bread dough pancakes and rolls) and the family favorite, Tex Mex Dip!! (Not the most traditional dish but definitely one of the most loved!!) Wednesday also included my dad, sister and brother all rolling into town - all bearing "gifts" for the feast. My dad brought the turkey all the way from Boise and my sister brought beautiful flowers from Seattle as well as many items one can't get at the local Safeway. Like I said, my family was key in making this a beautiful, EDIBLE meal!!The big day finally arrived and I woke up REALLY early to get breakfast rolling. Much to my surprise, no one wanted any breakfast. They were all saving themselves for the main meal. So after shuttling all the breakfast stuff back into the fridge, it was time to start the turkey!
The general idea was to eat at around 4 pm with our guests arriving at around 2 to leisurely enjoy cocktails and appetizers. As with every holiday meal, this is not exactly how things went...
As I was the hostess, the turkey was my responsibility. At 11 am, the bird went into the oven making Thanksgiving officially under way. According to the directions, the several cookbooks I read - even Oprah - the turkey was supposed to be ready at 3:30. Perfect! That would allow time for the turkey to rest and then to be carved. So far, right on schedule!!
Everyone pitched in and helped prep all the side dishes. It required a lot of organization, effort and energy but I was having fun, especially with my family in the kitchen helping me. So far, all was going well and all was on schedule to arrive on the dinner table promptly at 4 pm.
But things didn't go according to plan - which they never do I have learned - on these momentous holiday occassions. Guests didn't arrive until after 3 pm and the turkey was done at 2 pm!! Or at least, I thought it was done. The meat thermometer indicated that the turkey had reached the desired internal temperature so I pulled it out, tented it in foil and hoped for the best. As I scrambled to get the rest of the other dishes pulled together, I set Court and his father to the task of carving the turkey. Much to my surprise, they announced the turkey was not done! Now the timing of the ovens and all the side dishes were thrown off - all the planning and organizing of how to cook 6 to 7 side dishes in two ovens was officially worthless and now we had to wing it. (Not my strong suit in the kitchen!) Being 9.5 months pregnant, stressed and hungry - I was, to say the least, a little emotional. But as my father has always told me, when you start crying, your brain stops working (he could write a book of these one liners I swear), so I pulled it together.
Even with the turkey snafu, with the help of my mom and sister, we were seated around the table by 5 pm, with warm food and slightly overcooked turkey in front of us! Although, I was upset that things hadn't gone the way I planned, all were fed and all were together so I will consider this a successful first attempt at hosting Thanksgiving.
I do have a whole new appreciation for what my mom has done the last 28 years - making the Thanksgiving meal all by herself WITH NO HELP! I give kudos to all those out there who silently trudge through the holidays, cooking, baking, prepping, washing, cleaning, etc. - all for a meal that takes less than a half hour to consume.
A BIG thank you to my mom for sharing all her secrets and for her endless energy, to my dad for his nose - he is able to smell when the turkey is done, my sister for helping me maintain my calm and for some comic relief and to Court, for doing ALL the dishes. I will never forget my first Thanksgiving as being hostess and I couldn't have done it without my reinforcements and a few bites of humble pie!