Thanksgiving: Why Not Cater?


[The Inquirer has an interesting post about the deaths at the Philadelphia Marathon yesterday that paints a pretty gruesome picture of marathon running. One runner, a 21-year-old senior at Penn, was participating in the half marathon when he had a heart attack at the finish line. Occurrences like this really put things in perspective: even the most capable can still push themselves too far. After reading this, I took some time to reflect on my training plans for the half marathon and sprint triathlon, and reminded myself that this will take intense dedication, lots of healthy choices, and really getting in tune with my body. My heart goes out to the families of those athletes.]

Back to Thanksgiving. Let’s face it: holidays are stressful. Large gatherings have the capability of going from fun to tense in seconds. Add a steaming hot kitchen and way too much food to the mix and it just might be a recipe for disaster.

I think I mentioned before that my mom hosts Thanksgiving. I’ve always admired her ability to handle putting together multiple dishes at once, especially because our kitchen is quite small and my dad and I aren’t always that helpful [blame it on the cute dogs at Westminster?]. Now that I’ve got my own kitchen and often attempt to handle more than one dish at a time, I don’t know how she does it. Which brings me to my question: why don’t we just cater Thanksgiving dinner

Shaun and I always say [not jokingly] that if we’re ever the hosts of a holiday meal, we’d turn to catering first. Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook. But here’s my logic:

  • Attention: Mom spends about 90% of the actual meal going back and forth between the stove and the table, picking up dishes, refilling platters, and performing other cleaning and prep duties. Everyone always says, “just sit down and eat!” But the reality is, someone has to be the overseer. The size of a Thanksgiving meal makes it such that the work doesn’t really end until all of dishes are clean and the leftovers are stashed away in tupperware. Catering reduces the overseer’s duties, allowing them to be a part of the meal rather than constantly worrying about its presentation.
  • Expense: Maybe a catered Thanksgiving meal from Whole Foods is more expensive than cans of vegetables and a Butterball turkey from Kroger, but often we forget that our time is worth money, too. Think of the one or more days prior to Thanksgiving that you spend preparing. That’s all opportunity cost. You could be spending that time with your family [kids who are home from college for break, spouses who have the week off from work] rather than your stove. It sounds tempting to me.
  • Variety: Sitting down and discussing your vision with a caterer might bring dishes to light that you never would have thought of. Quinoa and cranberry salad? Pumpkin hummus? Sweet potato souffle? Often, these dishes are actually even cheaper to buy prepared than to make from scratch because of the cost of the individual ingredients. Catering even a portion of the meal could add variety to the table.
  • Picky Eaters: There are two types of eaters that I’m thinking of here that are particularly frustrating. First, the person who inhales their food, rather than paying attention to it. It’s clear after the first few bites that this person doesn’t notice the spices in your turkey brine or the texture of your new sweet potato casserole, they’re eating [and eating quickly] because it’s there, they’re hungry, and it “tastes good.” Second, the person who clearly dislikes something or everything put in front of them. In any group of five or more family members, there’s bound to be one of these. It’s hard not to be personally offended or hurt when (1) a person doesn’t take their time to enjoy a dish like you took your time to create it or (2) a person blows off the dish after one bite, simply saying, “I don’t like it,” “It’s too hot,” “It tastes funny, ” etc. etc. Catering may soothe these sore feelings.

If you’re completely turned off by the suggestion of relinquishing the entirety of the Thanksgiving cooking rights, why not compromise? Prepare only your family’s classics: your grandmother’s stuffing, your mom’s pumpkin bread, your aunt’s casserole. Then, just cater the rest. Baking a pumpkin pie from scratch, even though pies aren’t your thing, just because that’s what you’re “supposed” to have on the Thanksgiving table doesn’t sound appealing.

Or, what about creating new traditions? I talked to a friend last night who described his Thanksgiving table as one filled with  “turkey, a pig roast, and Chinese food.” Sounds pretty awesome, right? Have a potluck, where each guest or family member is responsible for a certain item, but give them complete creative freedom. Tell your aunt she’s responsible for a dish with sweet potatoes, but don’t confine her to that dish with all of the marshmallows you always see in stock Thanksgiving photos. Give someone else bread duty: you might get zucchini bread or pretzel rolls. Then take everything, put it on the table, and enjoy. I’m sure it would be a fun way to see who can think outside of the Thanksgiving box.

Is anyone else tempted by the idea of catering thanksgiving?

What are some of your traditional family dishes you wouldn’t be able to give up?

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Categories: Food

Author:ryesandshine

Courtney grew up in Reading, PA, and has lived in New York City (where she earned a bachelor's degree at NYU), Prague, Philadelphia, and Charlottesville (where she received a J.D. from UVa Law). Courtney and her new husband will settle in Philadelphia following a six-week Euro-trip extravaganza in September of 2012. Courtney's interests include music, writing, criticism, fitness, travel, cooking, and sports. Please enjoy the blog. LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/courtney-marello/1a/375/b30 Tumblr: http://abarrelofoddsandends.tumblr.com/

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