Thanksgiving in Small Spaces

4 years ago

This year, I'm hosting Thanksgiving for four: my parents will join me and my fiancé at my apartment. The day is devoted to cooking and eating -- other than a walk down the street to our friends' place for dessert, we're going to do nothing but lie around my home, talking and eating and, once it's the appropriate time of day, imbibing. No problem, right?

It's a little trickier than it sounds. Among the metrics at hand? I live in a 560-square-foot apartment, and I own a 40-inch-by-30-inch kitchen table. The apartment, most of the year, is perfect -- it's well-designed and ideal for my up-until-now-bachelorette existence. The table, most of the year, is also perfect -- it's the sort of table and chairs you might have found in a 1940s farmhouse, and it seats two easily, three comfortably, and four, well, only if you're happy to limit what's on the table to everyone's individual place settings, with maybe one glass apiece.

What this means is I'm not going to be able to put dishes brimming with vegetables, potatoes, and stuffing on the table for guests to reach for at any given moment. I'm not going to be able to have salad and/or bread plates out if we're in the midst of dinner. And I'm going to have to season wisely -- while I'm pretty sure there will be room for the salt cellar and pepper mill in the center of the table, there's really no guarantee (and those will be the first casualties of a space war).

To pull off my holiday meal effectively, I've had to adopt a set of critical strategies that will help me be successful. Here's how I'll serve one of the biggest meals of the year in one of the smallest spaces in which I've ever lived:

I'll Pace The Meal Course By Course

Because my apartment is small and my counters relatively tiny, my plan is to spread the meal out over a longer period of time than I might otherwise do. If we're having an appetizer, that will go out first, we'll enjoy it, then I'll clean up from that course and move on to the salad. I'll repeat this process throughout the day, which will probably have the net effect of allowing for better digestion, since we won't be packing in all the food in rapid-fire succession.

The other positive side effect of this approach? It means I'll actually be able to sit down and enjoy whatever course I'm serving and take a bit of a rest. That will keep me in a better mood all day long, and much less exhausted when it's all over. Plus? There won't be a mountain of dishes at the end of the day.

I'll Keep The Menu Reasonable

There is no rule that says Thanksgiving requires two kinds of cranberry sauce (jelly and homemade), mashed AND sweet potatoes, and several vegetables to be considered an official meal. However, I know everyone has their favorites, so I made sure to gather some intel on the critical dishes that must be served for everyone to feel like they actually celebrated Thanksgiving.

In some cases, that means I'm going to give way on a dish I'd like to serve. For example, my fiancé is a stuffing fanatic, but he's a fan of traditional bread stuffing. I love bread stuffing, too, but I also have a particular cornbread dressing recipe that I have made for a few years in a row and was planning to make again this year. If I had a bigger kitchen and house, I might make both. In this case, I'm going to save the cornbread dressing for some other time this winter, which means we'll only have one stuffing casserole with which to contend.

Likewise, I won't go overboard with other sides. I'll probably serve a single roasted vegetable that can handle being served at room temperature, I am considering twice-baked sweet potatoes to cover the yam portion of the program, and if I lean toward excess anywhere, it will simply because I can't resist making my former roommate's party potatoes recipe. But if something has to fall by the wayside to make room, the party potatoes will end up cut from the list.

I'll Project-Manage My Oven

Every time I do this, I feel a little bit obsessive-compulsive, but it's a trick that never fails me. Before the Big Day, I'll spend some time mapping out how and when I'm going to use the oven, and what temperatures I'll need to work with to end up with a table full of hot food all at the same time. There might be some people who can do this in their head, but I need to make a schedule, put it out on my counter, and abide by it like it's my job. That upfront preparation makes me that much calmer on the day of the meal.

Looking for some tips on how to get started with dinner project management? I like the advice The Order Expert offers, and Vanessa Hayes of Get Simplifized also shares some terrific tips.

I'll Plate The Food

I'll admit this is a little control-freaky, but because I don't have enough counter space to prep and serve AND set out the food so my guests can go back to get their own seconds, I'm probably going to plate the food for everyone, then bring around individual dishes (the platter of turkey, a casserole, a bowl of vegetables) for people to take more as they would like. As much as I like the idea of letting guests go back and help themselves, there just isn't any place for me to set up a serving area. (That being said, I'm happy to hear ideas if you've figured out how to solve this in a small space in the past!)

I'll Keep It In Perspective

No matter what, I'm hoping this won't be the last Thanksgiving dinner I'll ever get to cook. There will be other years with other circumstances, and so I'll focus on serving the best food possible and creating the most hospitable environment for my guests. We might be cozy, but that just means more opportunity to share conversation and fellowship. Isn't that the point of Thanksgiving in the first place?

Do you have any tips to help out those who have to serve a big meal in a small space this holiday season? Share your tips, comments, and questions below!

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She is also the Food Section Editor for BlogHer.

Image Credit: D Sharon Pruitt on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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