Why, despite the advances of modern civilization, does junk mail persist? Shuffling through a random stack of flyers this weekend I was surprised to find a magazine-style mailer from [a mega grocer once known for ‘natural’ foods and now owned by the world’s largest online retailer]. The glossy pages offered a remarkable array of solutions for holiday culinary woes: readymade tofu-vegetable loaf for your vegetarian nephew and mandarin-glazed carrots to impress your snobby in-laws. The advertisement was clearly aimed at the overwhelmed host who felt terrified at the prospect of having to do-it-all and perform a perfect holiday feast. Well, nuts to that. Here’s my solution that will cost you much less than a pre-packaged holiday: make your friends help.
The Hubris of Holiday Meals
My partner Greg and I will host our 12th ‘Friendsgiving’ this year. We started the tradition in Oregon when everyone we knew was living far from their family, and we were coming into our own identity as adults. Making a holiday meal for the first time was both exhilarating and terrifying. My mother trained as a chef and always prepared stunning meals while I gladly reserved my energy for overly elaborate table settings. Even though I knew I should pace myself, I still committed to making the stuffing, a main dish, a side and dessert. Culinary hubris has been the demise of many a good intention.
Sure, we didn’t eat until about 8 p.m., but we gathered around the overloaded table and dug in eagerly. The stuffing was full of hazelnuts and wild mushrooms from the Oregon forest that surrounded us. Our friend Justin grilled a whole Coho Salmon he picked up from a Umatilla tribal member selling from the back of his truck. We listened to records and filled each other’s glasses. There was as much laughing as eating, and the tiny dance party at the end of the night culminated with us giving each other ‘airplane rides’ like we were little kids. It is a perfect, glowing memory that I cherish.
New home, new traditions
Since moving to Kentucky, our tradition has continued to grow, and we regularly host between 30 and 40 people for our epic mishmash potluck feast. Everyone is invited to bring their favorite dish and any spare friends in need of a home for the day. We’ve traded sourdough stuffing for cornbread, and there’s a little bit of sorghum in a lot of things. I make exactly as many dishes as I care to and not a thing more because I know I can count on our friends to do the rest.
While I mix in some new inspirations and cravings every year, since moving to Kentucky I always make a giant pan of decadent macaroni and cheese that is now our holiday staple. We’re fortunate that we can rely on our friend Matty to bring the turkey because I’m hopeless at cooking meat. Rian is good for at least one pie complete with a flaky buttery crust, and John insists on bringing his “Kris Kardashian Sweet Potato Soufflé” which, despite all appearances, is delightful. We light candles, give toasts, and sit around telling jokes, playing cards, and rubbing our full bellies into the wee hours.
As I tell people, we may not be from Kentucky, but we got here as quick as we could. Traditions like Friendsgiving are a big part of what makes this place home: the familiar faces arriving at our door year after year, new friends we’re introduced to who may come for one meal or several before moving on, and the fact that people can count on us to always make a place at the table for them.
The joyful abundance of our Friendsgiving buffet is a testament to how much better our efforts are when we share in the work and the rewards. To take it a big step further, I offer my experience as an argument against rugged individualism. How tiring, and even tiresome the do-everything-oneself model of life. Just one person, one vision, one monologue of going it alone. A friend and chef one made a compelling case against restaurants that do everything in-house. Having spent the past few years getting to know bakers and butchers, I am very much in agreement. These artisans are very good at what they do and find great joy and satisfaction in honing their craft. Why is it better if some uber-chef takes that all on themselves?
We can have it all if we have it together
Why do we expect one person – one chef, one farmer – to do and be it all? Instead we can value the act relying on each other, and the freedom that interdependence allows us. While that may sound counterintuitive, when we know we can rely on others to bolster our weak spots, we are free to devote ourselves to that which we excel at: I don’t have to stress over roasting a dang turkey when I can count on Matty, which means I can put my everything into making a gut-busting over the top mac and cheese. Maybe we can have it all, as long as we have it all together.