Though it took me a number of years to admit it, I have come to terms with the fact that I am a perfectionist. There’s something about the holiday season, Thanksgiving specifically, that really amps up the feelings of wanting everything to look like it came out of a Martha Stewart magazine. Come early October, I begin to look over my back archive of various food publications to plot out the meal and plan the decor. But I’m lazy and I feel like I don’t need to take a bunch of fodder and make a centerpiece out of it, just to have the cat destroy it by mid-day.
Once I’ve got half an idea of what I’m going to do, I can’t go forward without asking my friends and family if they are coming over. There are some people you know will show up no matter what, but I still like to check in and see if this is the year they decide to sit out Thanksgiving because they’re having their spleen cleaned. Half of the friends I asked are coming, as are a good number of family. In total there will be about sixteen guests coming. With this knowledge under my belt, I made a pot of strong coffee, and began to plan the evening with surgical like precision.
This is where my perfectionism becomes a problem. Thanksgiving and most holidays do not, and should not require an itinerary down to the millisecond. After I had the first draft of the night written out, it looked like it was written by someone who wears jodhpurs and hits things with a riding crop. I had “guest will arrive at 6:00 SHARP!” on the list.” This was followed by “Drinks at 6:30, Meal at 7:00, Coffee at 9:45, Rook at 10:00, Manly games of Risk at midnight.” After I looked over this list, I realized that trying to keep up with this will only result in my friends wondering why the aliens stole me and replaced me with a clone and that no one would be around at midnight to witness my dramatic take over of Kamchatka.
You see there was the infamous Thanksgiving of ten years ago where I had a meltdown in the kitchen. The turkey wasn’t done when it was supposed to have been, which would have given time for it to rest and the lone oven to be open for the duchess mashed potatoes I was making. This threw off my plan, and I went into what my family calls “The Incident.” “The Incident” was when a family member came to ask me how the meal was coming. That’s what I do remember. What I don’t remember is what happened between them asking me that, and waking up in my bathtub covered in cranberry sauce and gravy.
Now the progress I’ve made since then is that with all my planning and list making I do ahead of time, my perfectionist tendencies settle—mostly—by the time the big day comes. Once you know how many guests you can expect, you can start to lock down the menu, and calculate how many servings of each item you’ll need. Off to the grocery you go. Gathering the best quality ingredients you can, as ahead of time as possible, is key to making Thanksgiving successful.
When grocery shopping there are several easy tests you can do to make sure you are getting the freshest ingredients. Let’s look at Cranberries, an essential part of Thanksgiving, as an example. Many people swear by the “Bounce Test” for testing Cranberries. Personally, I find the Bounce Test to be too time-consuming for this modern world we live in. Years of precise study and scientific evaluation have led to a better way. When looking over the Cranberries in the produce section, quickly shove as many of them in your mouth as you can, as quickly as possible. You’ll know their freshness by how fast the produce manager comes running over to yell at you.
Next week, we’ll talk about the star of the meal, the turkey, and how you can keep calm as the big day gets closer. See you then.