When it comes to holidays, I’m a planner. I love everything about the holidays whether they are secular or religious. I admit it – I’m one of those people who has decorations for every holiday, which I have collected over 30 + years of marriage. For me, the planning and preparation is almost as much fun as the actual day itself. And one of the ways I make it as stress-free as possible is that I plan ahead. My husband says that I am like a general going into battle and there is no last minute craziness. With my small kitchen I HAVE to be thoughtful. I don’t usually have much help and frankly there isn’t even room for another person working in the kitchen. I do dream of a bigger kitchen some day where Frances and grandchildren/godchildren are working together alongside me, but I’m not there yet.
My husband does most of the cleaning and when Matthew and Frances are visiting they always do most of the clean-up. I don’t have outside cleaning help, but if I had to do one splurge to make things ready, that would be worth it to me.
It is just a little over two weeks out before we enter into what my brother refers to as the Super Bowl of Judaism – otherwise known as the High Holidays. For me, the new year always is September (very occasionally, it’s October because Judaism follows the lunar calendar). I collect and read cookbooks the way other people read novels and I also have about 10 years worth of Gourmet Magazines to go through that are bound and belonged to my mother. I never like to do things exactly the same because frankly its boring for me. On the other hand, everyone has their favorites and it just wouldn’t be the holidays if I didn’t include them. This isn’t just about you dazzling people – it’s about making your guests feel comfortable and happy.
The first decision you have to make is who to invite. It’s not a question of just how much food to make, but where will everyone sit and who is or isn’t speaking to whom. We are in a good place in our family where everyone currently gets along, but I still like to know who will help make conversations interesting and who won’t. With families, you kind of have to invite everyone, so is there anyone else you can add to the mix? Will there be children? Does anyone have serious food allergies or other issues? Do you have enough chairs, silverware, dishes etc. for a sit-down meal for everyone? Will it even be a sit-down meal? Preparing for a fun dinner party- no matter what the occasion – is a bit like making Chinese food. There is a great deal of preparation so that the actual presentation can appear effortless and you as the host or hostess can sit down and enjoy yourself as well.
Some people are into pot-luck for the holidays or assigning dishes for others to bring. I do let others bring wine and my nephew is a good cook so I periodically have him bring something, but he works full-time and has two young children so I like to give him a break. And this year, he and my niece are hosting one night of the holiday at their house. Frances would make something fabulous, but when she visits she is coming from New York and the last thing I want is for her to be shlepping food – even if she could. And if I am being really honest, I like quality control and this is one of the opportunities I have to go all out. If on the other hand, you are inviting people who you know are good cooks, by all means have them bring things.
When making your menu, especially for a holiday, there are a few things to keep in mind: variety, texture, appearance, traditions, storage space for make-ahead items and quantities. At Thanksgiving, I always pray for really cold weather so I can use my terrace as an extra refrigerator! I have also been known to borrow refrigerator space from a neighbor who neither cooks nor entertains. You do what ya gotta do to make it work.
Tomorrow – choosing your menu.