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The madness of hosting holidays: Thanksgiving reflections

By Valerie Menowsky

It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and a quick call from my son -- saying that he successfully arrived back home -- brings to a close, a week of manic and exhausting preparations and cooking.

I survey the kitchen and am grateful that every flat surface is finally cleared of flour, cracked eggshells, containers of savory and sweet seasonings, sticky beads of brown sugar, and transparent pools of turkey juices.

The contents of the sixth dishwasher load have been carefully stacked in the china closet, the silverware returned to its special drawer, the Corning Ware propped back upon the higher shelves until the next occasion for which such large quantities of food will be prepared.

The Tempranillo island that bled like a dark, purple cloud in the midst of a white, lace sky has been devoured by stain removers, while older, more stubborn stains remain as testaments to other accidents past -- when careless hands brushed against wine glasses reaching for gravy or roast potatoes.  The eight matching cloth napkins and one close cousin for that odd-numbered ninth guest are also washed, pressed, folded and tucked in the sideboard drawer.

Opening the windows in response to the warming of Saturday’s weather has finally released that lingering aroma of baked bird and simmering stock from the air in the house.

My neck and shoulders are relaxing as I mentally review the anxious days of prep and planning leading up to the meal: A modest dinner for four expanding to a feast for nine prompting recipe doubling, an additional pie, and two more runs to Breaux Mart. The juggling of casserole cooking times and temperatures, back timing everything so that it is all done when the meat has had time to rest and is ready to carve.

But the big question is: Will the oven flicker off and display an error code again, in the middle of all this?

Seating arrangements: Girls on this side, boys on that. You here, you there. He’ll say grace. Need another leaf. Turn the table 30 degrees and I think we can get everyone in…comfortably. And, for the under-twenty generation, the ground rules: no hats and no cell phones!

Wine, champagne, ice water. No iced tea? No time! Warm the plates. Four sets of salt and pepper shakers, two gravy pitchers, three cranberry sauce condiment bowls, and six serving spoons. Let’s not spend all of our time passing the salt, especially since everything is perfectly seasoned!

During the meal, I remember scanning plates to see what people weren’t eating. Was the turkey too dry, the gravy too lumpy? But after carefully assessing the amount of laughter and conversation, the stack of empty plates and the remnants of casseroles pock-marked with spoon-induced craters, I deemed the feast a success. So what if I forgot the fruit salad in the fridge?

The overwhelming sense of responsibility in hosting the perfect Thanksgiving holiday for eight people is now gone. The hard work seems just a shadow to the brilliant memories of laughter and conversation as we teased one another, toasted our good fortunes, and visited (via Google Hangout) with those who weren’t so near.

Upon review, the consensus for next year’s Thanksgiving suggests iced tea and a new rule: Don’t allow anyone under the age of 35 to carve the turkey. A new oven has been ordered with Black Friday savings, and now, the call from my son brings the festive occasion to a definitive close. My prayers, given at the communion rail this morning for his safe return to Houston in his 1999 Expedition, have been answered.

It’s just one meal on one day of the year. But I am so full, so satisfied, and so very, very thankful.

This article was written by Valerie Menowsky. Email comments to [email protected]