Interestingly, I married a man who could cook. Looking back I’m not sure if that was a conscious action or not. Let’s just say that I was very happy to be the wife of a popular restaurateur.
My mother’s greatest pleasure was collecting cookbooks and my dad’s was to “go out” to dinner (as in, going to a restaurant). I grew up in a house where mom would read cookbooks like novels and the local Chinese restaurant had everything on the table waiting for us when we sat down. A simple reservation and there were a bevy of restaurants who had drinks waiting and our favorite appetizers awaiting us. In retrospect, I wish that I had spent more time with my grandmother, who was a wonderful cook, because I entered marriage with the ability of making a cup of tea and a turkey sandwich. The major shock came when we sold “our” restaurants just after our son was born, and I was expected to be a first time parent AND COOK!
My mother-in-law on the other hand was brilliant in the kitchen. From freshly baked bread to masterpieces for dinner, the Cuisinart would whirl as she created soup to desserts. My husband obviously got his genes from her, and I was passed my mom’s as well. Thankfully, I like challenges and while the domestic art doesn’t come naturally to me, I have learned that if I follow directions that my family would always be fed and hopefully not complain TOO much.
While Thanksgiving in my household meant a catered affair, my husband’s family was uber traditional with everything from homemade cranberry sauce to an array of cakes and pies that would make you drool. I had a lot to learn.
For almost thirty years our Thanksgivings have mirrored those of my husband’s family. From stuffing the mushrooms, to turkey started before dawn, both my husband’s family as well as mine would gather at our house for a traditional feast year after year. The nice thing was that everyone chipped in to help. Of course with twenty to thirty people spending the day with us, the biggest struggle has been keeping the cost down to a reasonable amount.
My regular plan began in early September as I created the list. Knowing in advance exactly what I’d need, and keeping the list handy, I could easily check for and clip the coupons that I’d need, as well as scour the sales circulars for items that I could buy in advance at a deep savings, and store until I needed them. Cooking from scratch and making the turkey the centerpiece of the day helps as well (although our clan expected an array of appetizers and a table displayed with all sorts of desserts).
For example: Butterball turkeys always seemed to go on sale beginning the week before the holiday. By purchasing it then and keeping it in the freezer, I could save substantially. I could also cut corners a bit without anyone noticing. Instead of serving massive amounts of shrimp cocktail like my husband’s family did, I added cheese & crackers and stuffed mushrooms to the menu, and cut out the overpriced shellfish. With other items on the menu, no one noticed that there was less of the higher priced food…all they saw were MORE CHOICES (and less cost for me). Plus, I’d use coupons for the packaged items and waited until they were on sale. By doubling my savings (using the coupons on sale items) I could easily cut my budget down to less than half of what it would cost if I waited to shop the week of the holiday. Don’t forget to shop at your local greenmarket or farmer’s market for more savings on fresh fruits and vegetables.
I also learned how to ask for help! My sister-in-law’s apple pie and my mother-in-law’s coconut cream pie rounded out the desserts, and saved me time and the expense of having to buy these.
Over the years we tried different Thanksgiving Day ideas that were frugal yet fun:
1. Pot luck buffet – I made the turkey and each of the guests brought something. The key was assigning dessert, appetizer, side dish or drinks.
2. Kids thanksgiving – when the cousins were old enough to help (and young enough to WANT to), the adults made the dinner and the kids made the desserts.
3. A crafty Thanksgiving – the kids and guests bring homemade decorations for the table. Over the years we’ve had pinecone centerpieces, construction paper turkeys and autumn leaves surrounding the platters.
The truth of the matter is that it all about family and friends spending the day together, not breaking the budget. Besides, you’re going to need that extra money for the next day – Black Friday.