Wednesday, June 13, 2007

CHBM: Hosting Our First Big Family Holiday Dinner

If it's Wednesday morning, it's time for the Crazy Hip Blog Mama Carnival #35! The theme of this week is "something you've made that you're REALLY proud of."

Our first Christmas as newlyweds, DH decided to invite his parents to come visit us at the Army base where he was stationed at the time. Now, I actually get along surprisingly well with my mother-in-law but the thought of hosting our first big family holiday dinner caused me to absolutely freak out. I have perfectionistic tendancies anyways, and being 22 at the time & rather insecure about my new identity as a wife just exacerbated them. I felt as if I had to "prove" myself by pulling off a feast that would do Martha Stewart proud. Sad as it is, I literally spent months obsessing over this dinner.

I love to cook but I had never before attempted a multiple course feast so I went crazy purchasing cookbooks with names like Christmas 101, Betty Crocker's Best Christmas Cookbook and Food & Wine's Holiday Favorites. I pored over Bon Apetit, Gourmet, and Martha Stewart Living searching for recipes and tips to pull off an ambitious gourmet meal. The menu kept getting longer and longer as DH and I both insisted on the inclusion of every single dish from both our respective families' traditions: turkey AND ham, 4 different starchy side dishes, pecan AND apple pies, etc. They couldn't be just plain vanilla versions either but things like "apple, walnut, sausage, and sourdough stuffing" and "orange-Zinfandel glazed ham" (at least that's what the litle menu card I printed up off the computer says I served). DH also decreed that everything had to be 100% made from scratch with no shortcuts such as premade piecrusts, canned chicken stock, or bagged breadcrumbs. Now that we've been married 8 1/2 years, I would simply laugh at such an absurd demand but at the time I was too insecure to refuse.

As we got married right after college and since our wedding had been on the smaller side (only around 100 guests), we did not own all the serving dishes and utensils I was convinced we needed for a big feast. We were too far away from the rest of our family to to borrow the stuff from them. We lived on a pretty remote base without ready access to a Williams-Sonoma or Crate & Barrel so it was really difficult to find some of the things. It got to the point where I called my mom up having a nervous breakdown because I was unable to locate a gravy boat, of all things! I ultimately did drive down to the Mikasa outlet store and get one but really it was so not worth all the mental anguish I put myself through over it.

My mother-in-law mailed me a 3 page shopping list of things I should buy. She doubtless thought she was being helpful, but I just felt added pressure. One of the items on the list was "sparkling burgundy", something I'd never heard of before. A few days before Christmas, I went down to our local Class VI store (the Army version of a liquor store). All they had was a $3 bottle called "Cold Duck", which I was certain could not possibly be what she wanted. So I surfed the 'Net until I finally located an expensive Italian sparkling burgundy and paid an arm & a leg for rush delivery. Naturally, after all this hassle, I found out she actually did mean that cheapie "Cold Duck" stuff (to each his own)!

I literally spent the better part of three days in the kitchen preparing this meal. Fortunately, everything turned out delicious and my first attempt at being the hostess was a big success :-)

In hindsight, it's easy for me to see that this dinner was nowhere even remotely near as important as it felt at the time. The important thing about Christmas is celebrating the birth of our Lord with those we love but I lost sight of that. I put way too much pressure on myself to make the meal "perfect". I should've been more assertive with DH about paring down the menu to a reasonable number and using convenience foods as shortcuts in certain dishes. I learned my lesson from this experience and future holiday meals have been WAAAY more relaxed affairs for me! :-)


Aaron & Alaine said...

Learning those lessons are important - but it looks like you did a mighty fine job along the way too. As for those doubts that creep up - a meal as good as that one looks surely ought to help! (smile)

kat said...

It looks really delicious, but yes, it's not just the food that makes the holiday special. ;)

Beth said...

very great looking. And yeah, I remember Cold Duck...

I'll wager that everything was great!

THanks for stopping by the blog!