Over on Etiquetteer's Facebook page, some readers have shared anxieties about the coming of Thanksgiving dinner. These anxieties often appear before other holiday functions, too, and it's worth addressing them now. They fall into a few different categories:
PREPARING THE MEAL: COOKING
- That, yet again, the turkey will be cooked too soon! Truly, cooking is an art as well as a science. This anxiety is solved by having a plan in place in case the turkey is cooked too soon. That could be as simple as maintaining turkey temperature while continuing to baste for moistness, hastening the preparation of other dishes, or just calling in the assembly early from the back yard and TV room. If you find yourself in this situation, call in reinforcements from the assembled diners to assist.
- Dry turkey. Etiquetteer is no master chef, but shouldn't attentive basting take care of this? Know your oven and its quirks! That will aid you in the cooking. As long as it's not so dry diners can splinter it into toothpicks, you'll be fine. You could also remember the exasperated words of the late Raethel Odum, press secretary to First Lady Bess Truman, responding to a reporter: "At the White House we pour the bourbon down the guests' throats so they'll think the turkey is tender!"
- Gravy! If you have a foolproof recipe, please share. Most of the time it turns out but I do worry about it. Have confidence, dear reader, and be calm! If your gravy already turns out "most of the time," then you are already better at gravy making than you credit.
PREPARING THE MEAL: LOGISTICS
- Not enough silverware. One week before the Great Meal, conduct a thorough inventory of all your entertaining supplies based on your menu: silver, china, crystal, table linens, ice buckets, paper napkins (for hors d'oeuvres before the Great Meal), candy dishes, salt and pepper shakers, coasters, trivets, etc. Run down your guest list to see who might be able to fill in with what you're missing. Count on having a few extra place settings on hand in case extra people show up, or in case of breakage.
- Entertaining while cooking! There are lots of cooks (and Etiquetteer is one of them) who have trouble carrying on a conversation while slaving over a hot stove. Anyone not actively engaged in cooking should be ordered gently but firmly to carry the hors d'oeuvres into the parlor and to stay there with them until called to the table. This can be a problem, of course, in open plan houses, for which Etiquetteer blames the architects.
- That the restaurant will lose our reservation. This is why the Perfectly Proper call one day in advance to confirm the reservation.
- Is my toilet bowl clean enough for my mother-in-law? Judgmental Relations can make or mar a holiday so easily. This makes the weekend before Thanksgiving such an essential work period for those who are hosting family and friends. Give your housecleaning the Old College Try during that weekend, and on the morning of the Great Meal, make a quick pass through Spaces That Attract Attention with a dust cloth and a toilet brush. If you've done your best and the results still don't satisfy, recognize that it Might Not Be Your Fault. Prepare a special treat for yourselves to enjoy when the guests depart, something you'll really enjoy, like a book, a bubble bath, a foot massage, and/or chocolate.
- Missing my Mom. It's not the same without her. Holidays are full of memories for the bereaved, and it's important to find a way to recognize those memories and allow them to enhance the present rather than limit us to the past. Etiquetteer is fond of the toast "to absent friends" at the beginning of the Great Meal. If your Great Meal is preceded by a blessing, that is another appropriate time to acknowledge Loved Ones Who Have Gone Before. You are right that it's not the same after someone dies, and Etiquetteer has to tell you from experience that it's better to adjust to the differences sooner rather than later. Cherish the memories of your mother, but recognize the needs and wishes of those at the table with you.
- Being at work. Etiquetteer salutes and thanks you for remaining at your post, as well as all the other workers who stay on the job to make a safe and happy holiday for everyone else. Best wishes for a beautiful Great Meal at a time when you can celebrate it with others!
- Being about to digest all the various food groups in the cauldron of my stomach. This is why Gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Pace yourself, and don't be tempted to ingest foodstuffs you know don't agree with you. So often at Great Meals we are exhorted not only to eat to excess, but to sample the special dishes prepared by loved ones. It's all right not to overdo it!
- Sinking. (Last year and this year I will spend Thanksgiving on [Insert Name of Cruise Line Here].) Etiquetteer wishes you a safe and pleasant voyage without icebergs, U-boats, and uncharted coral reefs.