The way things happened in my family, I hosted almost all of the major holiday events this year. Starting today and working backward, that meant Christmas, Thanksgiving, Labor Day and Fourth of July were celebrated at my house. Memory gets murky around early summer, but I may or may not have done Easter – that was forever ago. Everybody pitches in with food, but it’s still a lot of work.
But in the recurrent exercise of getting the house and the main course of the meal ready for a crowd of 15, you learn some things about being a hostess. These are the things that Martha Stewart failed to tell us:
• Don’t bother to buy lidded plastic containers for leftovers. If your mother is like mine, she will arrive with a teetering stack of empty Cool Whip containers – enough for everyone. (Funny, she’s been doing this 45 years, and yet I don’t remember her ever serving Cool Whip.)
• Do not put the relish tray out until after the guests have arrived; your children will put the olives on their fingertips and eat them all.
• No matter how much or how little cole slaw or tossed salad you make, you will always be left with a gallon of it. Who wants to eat cabbage when there’s a flat of Grandma’s Cheesy Potatoes topped with Potato Chips flirting right next to it?
• Don’t forget to light the candles. I put a lot of thought into my table settings (this year’s Thanksgiving was a wooded wonderland theme featuring a bedazzled porcupine), but while clearing away the dishes I realize I never lit the candles, usually because I couldn’t find any matches.
• Don’t bother buying or planning a cute hostess outfit for the event. The day will be so hectic that you will have eight minutes to shower, fix your hair, put on makeup and get dressed before the guests arrive. This is why you will dislike every holiday group photo ever taken of your clan. This is also why Martha Stewart doesn’t look so glamorous when she’s cooking on TV. Giada DiLaurentis does look spiffy, though, which leads me to believe she does not do her own cooking.
• It’s best not to throw your guests a curve. For weeks, my co-host Patrick and I debated the cinnamon stick he wanted to put in the turkey. He prevailed. Although the bird was moist and delicious, at least one family member was heard to quietly remark the turkey had a “cinnamony taste.”
• Yes, you do have chicken broth in the pantry. Each time I’m at the grocery store, I buy a couple of boxes of chicken stock, just in case there’s none at home. I come home to find a broth-a-palooza waiting on the shelf. My stockpile will not be depleted even if I were to make soup three times a week for a year. Ditto the couscous and rice.
• But do buy an extra corkscrew or two. About halfway through the party, just when I really need a glass of wine, the corkscrew goes missing.
This year of parties has made me a better hostess. If I host again next year, I’ll be serving chicken soup with couscous and rice.
And the one about keeping an extra corkscrew on hand? Martha cannot say she didn’t know.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.