Update — I wrote this post last year. This year the guest list is about 10 — plus some pre- and post-dinner drive-bys — and the Brussels sprouts will have lots of bacon.
I've hosted Thanksgiving dinner for the past few years and it's always a good time. Guests include a mix of friends and family, friends of friends and a few neighbors stop by for a pre-dinner drink. This year it's shaping up to a whole new level. Three days before the event the guest list is still growing and the tally's at 11 adults and 4 kids. I just bumped into my neighbors – a family of four – and urged them to at least stop by for a cocktail when I learned they were staying in. A friend who lives in Alabama is searching for an affordable flight and may join the festivities.
Sounds chaotic. But I'm committed to making this a low-anxiety affair. Here's my plan of attack:
1. Outsource the cooking. I've assumed responsibility for the bird (the 20-pounder I picked up at Costco yesterday is looking a little skimpy as the guest list grows … any advice readers?) because, well, duh – I'm the hostess. I also committed to Parker House rolls, which I plan to snazz up with some fresh rosemary and corn meal, just because I love fresh bread and I love making it. I'm also doing roasted Brussels sprouts because I had some at a BBQ joint recently and they changed my life, so when I saw some firm, small green ones at — again, Costco — I couldn't resist.
Everything else? POTLUCK, Y'ALL! My brother and sister-in-law generously offered up all the veggies plus sweet potatoes, their guest is bringing the mash, the Smiths and their friend are responsible for desserts and another couple is in for the stuffing. I bought a case of Heineken and have two bottles of wine around here and informed each party that they also need to bring booze. Of course we'll have more food than any gathering of humble, educated people would feel comfortable being associated with. I will have cooked but a wee a fraction of this impressive spread, yet everyone will raise their glass and toast the chef. I will smile graciously, demurely and thank my guests for not only coming — but for being you.
2. The cleaning lady comes on Wednesdays anyways.
3. The kids will stay overnight with their dad Wednesday, coming home just an hour before party time. This assures the house will remain tidy and I will be free to take care of business. I highly recommend exiling your children before a big event. Just send them away – to the home of a friend, relative or babysitter. Tell them to go play in traffic. Makes your life easier, they have a good time and they come home fresh, as guests to the party. Not grumpy and wound-up after a day of their mom griping at them to get out of the way.
4. I'll be barefoot. It's my house and I like to be barefoot around here. Got a pedicure the other day to prep. If I were at someone else's home I would wear stockings and retarded heels — and that would be physically stressful. But it's my party so I will wear my forest-green jersey Karina dress with naked toes and feel fabulous and chill.
5. When my lovely guests say, “Oh you sit down! We'll clean up!” I will sit down and they will clean up.
6. I will borrow all kinds of things. My brother, who lives downstairs, will bring up his dining table to add to mine. I will collect chairs and china and silverware from various neighbors – a coffee pot and maybe a serving dish or two. I like lending and I like borrowing, as these practices make me feel generous and loved. And living in a New York apartment building where we have many friends means that this practice is common and easy — and may likely facilitate even more impromptu visitors.
6. I'm not going to give a shit. There was a moment today when I started to text the stuffing bringer, Elicia, to inquire whether she planned to use sausage or bacon in her dressing so I could decide whether to add bacon and its glorious drippings to my Brussels sprouts (a proper dinner, I believe, should be balanced in its flavors and cured-pork content). But I stopped myself. That kind of control-freakery is exactly what creates stressful holidays.
And so I withheld my text. I will add only the bacon grease to my simple sprouts, roast them to golden crispness then lavish not only in the resulting compliments, but the companionship and festivities. I will find myself post-dinner, tummy round and painted feet propped up on an ottoman. An empty dessert plate with its pie crumbs and whipped cream smear will rest on my lap and a nearly-empty wine glass will teeter at hand. One of my kids will wander by and I will draw them near. I will look at the guests, full and laughing and satisfied I will say, aloud, to myself: “You did good.”
Roasted Brussels sprouts
- A whole bunch of sprouts — brown or yellow parts trimmed. If they're super-big, slice in half. (try to get them as small as possible)
- Olive oil or bacon grease
- Head of garlic, peeled, very roughly chopped
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Dump sprouts and garlic in a heap in a rimmed cookie sheet. Drizzle generously with the fat, salt, pepper. Toss with your hands to coat and spread evenly over the sheet. Cook for 15 minutes. Toss. Cook another 15 minutes until crispy and starting to brown on outside and toothsome inside.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.