A Modern Family Feast

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Spice up Grandma’s favorite recipes, and reinvent your holiday weekend to suit your own family culture.

Written by Jenny Fauser
Décor and tips by Jane Layne Events
Wardrobe styling by Tammara Kohler
Photography by Cristy Nielsen
On Location at The Vue

Holiday fare can be — to say the least — overwhelming to prepare. Throw in a sprinkling of friends, a dash of sugar-crazed kids, and a pinch of surprise in-law visits, and you’ve got a recipe for major meltdowns (by you, not the kids). Don’t martyr yourself this holiday. Quit forcing old traditions that throw your family back to the 1950s (‘scuse me, we’ll pass on aprons and zoot suits), and instead create kick-ass memories that will leave you liking (not resenting) your family this year. Assuming not everyone enjoys the stereotypical roles society can offer, let’s give a quick refresher … this is the 21st century, you got married because you liked your spouse, and most likely, pre-kids you two were one heck of a hosting team. Start there. Stay a team throughout the process, and we promise a favorable outcome.

Changing your outlook will change your outcome. View your party as an opportunity to eat the foods you don’t normally make or try yummy new recipes you’ve been dying to munch. Once you’ve each thrown out your menu ideas, visualize it together, going so far as laying out the serving dishes. This will give you both an idea if you’ve planned enough food to feed an army, or if it’s the perfect amount. As the date nears, divide and conquer those crappy household chores and daunting tasks with your spouse. If hubby’s the cook in the family, let him create the grocery list. If wife’s schedule is flexible, let her do the major shopping while the other half stops by the specialty shops to get that favorite bottle of wine.

When the day-of arrives and you’re faced with a mountain of mess through your home, bring in the second line of defense. Instead of turning into the nagging scrooge to get them to pick up their stuff, challenge them to a game of capture the critters. See if Sophie and Hunter can pick up more toys before you can. Winner gets the first slice of pie.

To say that preparing a lovely meal that your guests will drool over and compliment you on for years to come is “stressful” is by far an understatement. As you cut, chop, saute and simmer,
secretly you yearn to be your kids, freely playing without a care in the world. Instead of daydreaming of tossing the meal in the garbage and serving McDonald’s, turn your dinner party into a family affair by enlisting mini Martha Stewart and infant Emeril as sous-chefs. You’ll enjoy the company and pat yourself on the back for being an amazing cook and educator.

When last-minute mayhem approaches and the tiny boppers become restless and are into everything, alleviate the chaos by engaging them in a game of television bingo. Draw up some 5-by-5 game boards (= 25 squares), and write different TV show staples (i.e., laugh track, Cheerios commercial, Baby Bop says she loves her yellow blankie) in each box. Use chips or raisins to mark boxes as each player spies the things in his box until someone gets bingo. (Don’t forget the free space.) This should get them outta your hair until you can get the table set and those fingerprints wiped off the fridge, just in time before your guests arrive.

Forget stuffy affairs; throw in your family’s wacky traditions (or, hey, create one if you haven’t yet). Perhaps it’s that screeching Thanksgiving Day song or composing your bodies to write out the current year for the Christmas card photo. Despite guests’ raised eyebrows and eye rolls from the kids, those ridiculous family-isms are secretly met with joy and are remembered for years to come.

Booting outdated traditions means tossing unmerited expectations out the door. The key to success here is to get the entire family involved. At the risk of sounding like Dr. Phil, resentment can be avoided when mutual respect and communication are practiced. Keep an eye out for your spouse, jump in if there’s a hole, if you need help — ask, and have fun. Stay focused as a team. Make it your goal that everyone has a good time … everyone.

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Kid-friendly tips:

• Put a spin on traditional turkey-day dishes to create kid-friendly versions. Serving sweet potato fries, turkey burger sandwiches, and sprinkling pinches of brown sugar and cinnamon on the fresh veggies will make for smiling faces.

• The children’s table décor should mimic the adults’, sans the frill. Replacing wax candles with LED ones, and fancy vase fillers with a variety of candies, pretzels and cereal will be a sweet treat for all.

• Don’t make the kids’ table just about the uncomfortable chairs that are left in the house. Make them WANT to sit for a while, with chalkboard place mats and a piece of chalk tied with a ribbon.

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BOWL OF THANKS Before dinner, have each guest anonymously write what he or she is grateful for on a decorative piece of paper and place it in a stylish bowl. During dinner, each person reads one aloud and guesses whose “thanks” it was.

LEFTOVERS Keep your plastic storage containers from disappearing by sending guests home with a gift. Pack up extra edible goodies in stylish take-home boxes adorned with personal messages.

SEATING CARDS While you’re preparing the food, have the kids make seating cards out of mini-pumpkins. They can decorate them with gems, write a guest’s name on each one, and set them on top of the place settings at the table.

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