It seems like Thanksgiving was just yesterday, so how can Christmas be next week? I love hosting the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas meals, but it can take a week for me to recover. Five years ago I had no idea that an RA diagnosis would affect everything I do. In combatting this disease, I am always trying to find ways to make holidays fun and not quite so exhausting.
Through a weird quirk of the calendar, I’m hosting both holidays this year. Searching for a way to survive, my quest was three-fold:
- simplify the menu
- simplify the food prep
- simplify clean-up
I’m happy to report that everyone enjoyed our simplified Thanksgiving. Changes to the menu were long overdue. After all, do we really need both turkey and ham? Dinner rolls and stuffing? No. Nutritionally, we can do better than the standard fare. Also, I try to accommodate everybody’s dietary restrictions: one diabetic, two gluten-free, a wide variety of food allergies including dairy, soy, onions, chicken eggs, pork, peanuts, banana, and avocado. The pared-down menu was still quite a feast:
- mashed potatoes
- green salad
- veggie tray with lots of olives
- cranberry sauce
- corn gravy
- dinner rolls
- apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie
With the simplified menu, I next addressed food prep. This part I’ve been working on for a few years and have gotten good at having everybody help. One person was assigned to bring a green salad, another was asked to bring a veggie tray, and the person who eats GF was in charge of bringing gluten-free dinner rolls. The person who requested pecan pie was asked to bring it. Aside from the $70 for specialty flours for the GF dinner rolls, everyone was happy with the way things worked out.
That left only a few things for me to cook. The week prior to Thanksgiving, I checked the pantry to ensure that all the ingredients were there (unlike today, when I had to stop in the middle of my pie preparation and send someone to the grocery store for ginger and lard). On Sunday morning (four days before Thanksgiving) I prepared the cranberry sauce. We used it in place of syrup on our hotcakes Sunday, then refrigerated the rest for Thanksgiving (it’s much tastier over turkey than gravy). On Monday I moved the frozen turkey into the ice chest to thaw. I know the powers that be claim this should take place in the refrigerator, but I don’t have space in my refrigerator and the ice chest works perfectly. Two days before the holiday, I baked pies: three pumpkin pies (with gluten-free pie crust) and four apple pies (also GF). The day before the big day I tried to rest so that I could enjoy my company on the big day. In the past, I boiled the potatoes and put them through a ricer so they could just be warmed, but in the spirit of simplifying, I now used boxed mashed potatoes. Part of me feels guilty about this because I usually do everything from scratch, but Safeway’s store-brand mashed potatoes in a box don’t contain dairy or soy, and it works for our family. Doing a little bit each day spread the work out, and there wasn’t much to be done on the big day.
When the holiday arrived, about 8 a.m. I put the turkey in to roast so it would be done about noon. Next I put the corn gravy on to cook (it’s the only thing that wasn’t dairy-free, and this year I made a small batch with coconut milk for those who can’t tolerate cream). While the turkey and corn cooked, I cleaned the kitchen. A spotless kitchen before the meal made after-dinner cleanup much easier. When the turkey came out of the oven, I reheated the cranberry sauce and made the mashed potatoes while the turkey carver separated meat from bone.
The thing that saved the largest amount of work was serving the meal buffet style. We seat nearly twenty people, so need two tables. In the past, I’ve had two serving dishes for everything so that both tables can be set completely. That’s a lot of work to set the food out, and double clean-up when the meal is over. There were significantly fewer serving dishes to deal with this year. I arranged all the food on the kitchen counters, and people filled their plates in the kitchen, then moved into the dining room to sit at a table to eat.
Not only was serving easier, so was clean-up! Instead of the 90 minute clean-up we usually face, all the leftovers were put away and the dishwasher was loaded within half an hour. I cut a whole hour off the clean-up time, and got to spend that time relaxing and visiting with friends and family.
This was our first year with a gluten-free Thanksgiving, and I was concerned that it would be difficult. Instead, it was easy. Everyone had plenty to eat, nobody felt deprived, and simplifying the work let us have more time to enjoy one another’s company.