Are you hysterical yet? Did you just realize you’ve invited thirteen people to Thanksgiving dinner and you only have eight chairs, and that’s only if you count your desk chair and a chair from the porch? Have you gone menu-browsing one time too many for a creative dish to take as your contribution to somebody else’s dinner and bought ingredients for more casseroles than you have the time or energy to make? Like, say, a fresh butternut squash and a bag of frozen butternut squash, or fresh pearl onions and a package of frozen pearl onions, all of which are in my kitchen as we speak. That’s in addition to the two pounds of boiling onions that are at this minute caramelizing in the crock pot, and the package of frozen baby limas called for in some recipe I scanned and now have forgotten, and the package of frozen cauliflower that I bought during a mad moment at the supermarket when I got visions of mixing cauliflower with pearl onions and smothering them in a cream sauce. What was I thinking?
I’m only going to be a guest at a friend’s table, and in addition to haunting cooking sites on the internet, I’ve hauled out all my recipe files, Julia Child, James Beard, and an old party cookbook from Gourmet. It isn’t because my hostess friend is the author of an upcoming cookbook, I’d be this nutty even if she weren’t a great cook. It’s my over-thinking syndrome. If there’s a way to make a simple project complicated, I’ll find it. Some of the other guests will be vegetarian, so does that mean they can’t eat my caramelized onions if I use chicken broth in the cream sauce? I don’t have any vegetable broth, so what if I just don’t tell them? Would that be unethical, dishonest? Some of the guests don’t drink alcohol, so should I tell them the sauce also has a bit of wine in it? Could I inadvertently cause somebody who’s been sober for decades to fall off the wagon because there’s a fourth cup of vermouth in my cream sauce?
In my occasional moments of rationality, I tell myself to chill out, that the alcohol will cook out of the vermouth, that the vegetarians are grown ups who know how to navigate a dinner table. Thankfully, those moments are coming more often, and I’m beginning to simply look forward to being with friends and eating good food. I’ll make the cream sauce with a little chicken broth, a little wine, some heavy cream and sharp cheddar, and that’s that. And Wednesday night I’ll throw that package of butternut squash in the crock pot with some orange juice and let it cook all night. Thursday morning, I will calmly and leisurely add some maple syrup, nutmeg, and butter, and spoon it into a pyrex dish that can be reheated in my friend’s microwave. But I’ll save the fresh squash, the frozen onions, the froze limas, and frozen cauliflower for another time.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!