How it is mid-December already, I will never know. This year, in the new house, Mr. S and I kicked off the holiday season with a rite of passage: hosting Thanksgiving.
Because of our sheer number, hosting a family event is no easy feat and every year there seems to be a hot potato situation of who the major holidays will fall to. (Major holidays include but are not limited to Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and Manny Pacquiao fights.) Before we even moved into our new home, my mother nominated Mr. S and I to host Thanksgiving 2015, and the rest of my aunts and uncles unsurprisingly ran with it.
I am the first of my cousins to move into a house that could conceivably host a large family gathering and everyone was excited to pass the baton onto the next generation. Though it was definitely one of those “Oh crap, I’m an adult now” moments, I have to admit that one of the things I looked forward to most when moving into our new digs was the space to entertain. Except when 52 people gather in your 1,200 square foot home, “space” becomes a relative term.
It seemed daunting at first, but everything went off without a hitch. Food was never a concern since our typical holidays are always pot luck events (there’s no way one or two people could take on the task of feeding a small army) and everyone is used to eating off of their laps on paper plates and with plastic utensils. But the most stress-inducing factor was the logistics (per usual) since my work was insanely demanding leading up to Thanksgiving – I was at the office until at least 10pm most nights in the weeks prior to Turkey Day. So I did what any busy / lazy hostess would do – front loaded and outsourced as much of the work as I possibly could. Under my delegation, Mr. S arranged and re-arranged the furniture in the dining room and office and set up extra tables and chairs in the sun room weeks before Thanksgiving. I hired a cleaning service to give the entire house a good scrubbing, I asked my cousin K to come over the day before and help with making side dishes, and I ordered an “oven-ready” turkey from Whole Foods. (Note to Whole Foods: “oven-ready” is really misleading when there is a paper baggie full of giblets hiding underneath the turkey and mirepoix. The only reason I found them was because I wanted to use the fancy roasting pan we received as a wedding gift rather than the disposable aluminum tin the WF bird came in.)
I was slightly worried about being responsible for the turkey, but truthfully, the turkey is not the star of the show at our Thanksgivings. It’s the pig (ordered from a Filipino restaurant).
Still, K, Mr. S and I spent the majority of Thanksgiving Eve watching YouTube videos on how to roast and carve a proper turkey.
In addition to the lechon and turkey, our menu included ham, chicken Marsala, chicken galantina, baked salmon with dill sauce, sautéed salmon with cilantro, bangus relleno (Filipino stuffed fish), baked ziti with meatballs, mac and cheese, stuffing, marinated kale salad, Russian salad (potato salad with beets so it turns this really festive hot pink color), pancit (Filipino noodles), sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, and – because it’s not a Filipino meal without it – white rice. For dessert, we had an assortment of cookies (homemade and from Levain) and doughnuts (from Peter Pan in Greenpoint), leche flan, sans rival (Filipino wafer cake), cassava (Filipino young coconut dessert), and ambrosia (Mr. S’s favorite, he ate one-third of the whole thing). Guests also helped with the appetizers which were siomai (chinese dumplings), lumpia (Filipino shrimp/pork egg rolls), shrimp mousse (sounds kinda weird, but really so good), and various cheeses and cured meats.
So really, come Thanksgiving morning, all I (and K and Mr. S) had to do was butter up the bird, keep an eye the oven timer, locate the various serving ware to accompany the long list of pot luck items that would arrive, and put out a few bowls of mixed nuts. Ta-da!
Actually, the bit of the evening that I was most worried about was saying grace. Impromptu public speaking is not one of my strengths, even if it’s just a prayer in front of family. I came up with a quick blessing that included thanking God for the abundance of food, the health of our family and friends, and our ability to share our home with everyone to continue a longstanding family tradition. At the mention of the word “tradition” I could hear gleeful whispers of, “Does she mean we can have Thanksgiving here forever?!?” from some of my aunts in the back of the room. Despite the house being too hot from all the body heat (and the unseasonably warm weather that day), by the end of evening we were unanimously crowned “THANKSGIVING HOSTS FOR LIFE.” The couple who previously held the title were more than thrilled to pass it on to us (they also host Easter and sometimes New Year’s so it’s not like they’re off the hook for anything).
The following day, Mr. S, K, and I picked at whatever leftovers we could scrounge up for breakfast. Though we had an overwhelming amount of food at Thanksgiving, the leftovers that remained in our house were slim pickins. The clamor for leftovers at the end of a family gathering is akin to the scene at Walmart on Black Friday – every man for himself and leave no leche flan behind. My aunt even came prepared with her own Tupperware, but I was ready with plastic to go containers I ordered from Amazon. I think that was my most impressive hostess gesture. What remained for the next day’s breakfast was little more than a ham bone, a pig carcass, and cookies.
As soon as we scarfed down the last of Thanksgiving, we turned our full and undivided attention to Christmas. Being able to go all out with holiday decor was another major advantage to moving into our new house and I had been waiting for this moment to arrive since June. I thought it might have been just me, but when Mr. S started stringing lights from our roof at 9 o’clock in the morning, I knew I married the right man.
It seems like whenever we go to Lowe’s or Home Depot to pick out something for our house, we spend an inordinate amount of time debating pros and cons of something we know nothing about. (See past posts on toilets and water faucets.) Our Christmas tree was no exception. We spent at least an hour inspecting all the inventory – shaking them, smelling them, assessing their symmetry, etc. – and Googling tree selection techniques. It got embarrassing when the Lowe’s employee asked us for a third time if we needed help, so we finally decided on the one we were holding at the time – a 7 foot Fraser fir.
While Mr. S handled the lights and inflatables outside, I got to work on stringing the lights on our tree. My dad has a precise methodology on tree light application so he came over to help me get started. Four hours and 1,200 lights later, I finally reached the bottom. I could have kept going, but unfortunately I had run out of lights. I wanted at least 200 more since the bottom was looking sparse but it was late and I was covered in sap, so I dubbed it good enough for this year. Next year though…
While I was wrestling with our tree, Mr. S was having multiple Clark Griswald moments outside, trying to figure out how to keep all the lights on for more than five minutes. I don’t really know how he fixed it – I heard him and K discussing fuse replacements and extension cords, but I was too tangled up in the tree to be curious. The good news is that it works now and our house is so friggin’ cute from the outside I can’t take it. I mean, there’s lots of potential for more lights and more inflatables, but for our first year, it’s not too shabby. Excellent job Mr. S – another hidden talent you’ve managed to keep from me all these years!
A few of my cousins were still in town from Thanksgiving, so they stopped by just in time to help us decorate the tree. Similar to our wedding, my mom was really keen to know what the theme of our tree would be. She herself has an underwater themed Christmas tree, trimmed with fish, seahorses, jellyfish, and glittering seaweed. Also similar to our wedding, I told her our tree didn’t need a theme other than “Christmas.” We’re sticking to a traditional color scheme of red, green, gold, silver, white, etc., but our collection of ornaments is definitely not a curated one.
We have glass ones from Macy’s (strategically placed high enough to avoid Chunk’s tail), a green and red assortment from Michael’s, and mini nutcrackers, train sets, and other hodgepodge from Home Goods.
I’ve always admired my aunt’s tree which is decorated with souvenirs from family vacations. It’s fun to spot an ornament and reminisce – that year at Myrtle Beach we became obsessed with kites or the week they visited me in Italy while I was studying abroad. I wanted to start the same tradition with our tree, but had forgotten all about it when we were in Mexico and Thailand. I’m not proud of what I’m about to tell you, but in the interest of full disclosure… I cheated. I bought ornaments online to represent our Tulum and Thailand vacations almost 12 and 9 months after the fact. There, I said it.
Searches for a Mexico ornament returned this beautiful Dia de Los Muertos skull. And for Thailand, I found a little suitcase decorated with Buddha.
Hmm…not exactly the most PC choices now that I think about it, but they are adorable and trigger so many happy memories, even if they were after thoughts.
And now, the tree is up, some presents are wrapped, the inflatables are standing, and Chunk hasn’t peed on any of them. Yay!