Don't panic 

Lessons learned by a first-time Thanksgiving host.

Thirteen people, one apartment, one meal.

Our first time hosting Thanksgiving taught me four important lessons; plan ahead, delegate, drink a little wine, and don’t panic. The first three are integral to not panicking, especially that wine one. But to me, not stressing was my number one concern when we decided to host the big feast.

The meal was planned a little on the fly, so with less than a week to prep I made sure everyone was bringing something. Great leaders have fallen due to a failure to delegate; I refused to be one of them.

Mr. Doom had the day before Thanksgiving off, so he and his mother were on duty to pick-up ingredients and necessaries. They took a detour to Mazzaro’s, resulting in plenty of good wine, cheese, and bread (fine by me). In addition to the Mazzaro’s cheese plate, Thanksgiving Day snacks included smoked fish spread and beer cheese from Casper’s BBQ in Pinellas Park.

We didn’t have enough flatware, and plasticware doesn’t cut well enough. Luckily, Ikea sells sets of four place settings for less than $4. Wine glasses always take a tumble onto new carpets, white sweaters, and tablecloths, so I opted for stackable juice glasses instead (six-packs cost $1.50 at Ikea). Paper plates can’t take the beating a Thanksgiving feast offers, so I borrowed plates from my mom and mixed our two plate patterns, which everyone seemed to like.

Before the rest of the family arrived, we made sure photos were on the fridge, and Communist pamphlets were safely stowed away in the office.

I got home from work Wednesday to find my home abrim with Mr. Doom’s family, a happy sight. While they sipped cider and wine and nibbled on cheese and bread, I took to brining the turkey — a little Bourbon Red from Ben Pate’s farm (featured last week in the food section) that weighed about nine pounds.

Unfortunately, I didn’t time everything out very well and ended up waking up at 2:30 a.m. to remove said turkey from the brine. There I was, half-naked and sleep-drunk in the kitchen, dumping the massive bowl of brine out, prepping the turkey, then scrubbing everything with anti-bacterial cleaner for meal preparations in the morning.

Everything was set in motion Thanksgiving Day. My mom made the second turkey, since my oven is extremely small, and also brought a side and some dessert. Mr. Doom’s mom made bacon and Brussels sprouts; his grandmother helped me peel potatoes all morning. Mr. Doom’s aunt was bringing stuffing and a dessert. My brother brought challah rolls from House of Bagels in Largo.

But space for all the guests was going to be an issue.

Our apartment is spacious for the two adults and lone kitty cat who reside there on a daily basis. It doesn’t feel quite as spacious filled with 13 people feasting on heaping plates.

So we decided to make the inside a buffet space and turn our little shared backyard into an outdoor dining area. I picked up some candles and votive holders at the dollar store to add some light, dried leaves I’d collected from neighboring trees were sprinkled around the tables by my 9-year-old niece Amber, and our neighbor donated her fire pit and logs for some added post-meal ambiance.

Having multiple generations of women in the kitchen, my most sacred spot in the house, wasn’t nearly as distressing as I’d imagined (although the wine probably took the edge off). But the biggest lesson I learned was that nothing is perfect; something will fall through the cracks, and that is okay.

I had hoped to make some sweet potato casserole, but there just wasn’t time. So I peeled and sliced the potatoes, roasted them in the oven with sage, olive oil, salt and pepper, and got asked for the recipe the rest of the night. Gelatins didn’t set in time, but they still tasted amazing. I forgot to make whipped cream — or buy it. We needed pretzel sticks and cider last minute. The cork got stuck in the red wine; a casserole dish slipped and shattered.

Two families, six different namesakes, and three different nationalities were represented at the meal. Our United Nations Thanksgiving, served under the starry skies of a Florida fall, went off with several hitches but no stress. And that is something to be thankful for.

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