Welcome back to Haute Plates, gentle readers! I hope your Thanksgiving (a.k.a. our annual holiday celebrating the time native Americans saved 60 immigrants from starvation) was good, or at least free of painful injuries? For the fifth year running, I did not drink too much and cut myself. I’m not saying those two things are connected, but I’m also not saying those two things are not connected.

Goodwife Peyton has suggested the trend might be worth one of those signs that says, “__ days since the last ______,” but I feel that might jinx things.

While I was shopping in advance of Thanksgiving, I started hearing Christmas carols. I’m not going to play Sisyphus to that particular giant boulder, partly because I recognize that while the third time I hear “It’s a Jolly, Jolly Christmas” while looking for green onions at Rouse’s may be annoying, some of you work at Rouse’s, or at other retail outlets where you cannot actually leave and escape the onslaught.

Note: if you actually never tire of Christmas carols, I will extend my admiration and/or a referral to an audiologist. But stay away from me, please?

Anyway, I am thankful that my place of work is free of piped-in music of any kind, but particularly that it’s free of holiday-themed tunes. I do like the food associated with the holidays around this time. I like turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, fried things, oysters and combinations of all of the foregoing. Plus, this is the time of year when people start talking about how they have venison, or ducks, or wild boar burning a rhetorical hole in their deep freezers.

Once again this year I spatchcocked my turkey. That’s a fancy and vaguely dirty-sounding term for removing the backbone from a bird and flattening it before cooking. You don’t get the glorious presentation of a whole bird at the table, but it cooks in a fraction of the time and you stand a much smaller chance of overcooking the white meat before the dark meat is done.

I know Thanksgiving is a more food-centric holiday, but in my home we celebrate everything by eating, so I sort of prefer the meals around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I can still do a turkey, since we’ll be entertaining, but I’m not as limited where it comes to the rest of the meal. And as long as we have enough beverages on hand, nobody will complain if they get a mirliton slaw instead of a salad, or braised turnips and cabbage instead of mashed potatoes. At least, they won’t complain to my face. Regardless of what comes out of the kitchen, I’m still the one holding the 10” knife.

Start your preparations for all holiday meals well in advance, is what I’m saying. That includes tidying up around the home. The last thing you want to be doing an hour before your family arrive is worrying about mopping the dining room floor or changing light bulbs in the bathroom. Doing the cleaning in advance can, of course, be problematic if you have children. The little darlings tend to mess things up, and more than once I have asked myself “how the holy hell did my 3-year-old get a squeeze bottle full of molasses?” Sure, that probably begs the question, “why do you have squeeze bottles full of molasses”? But that question feels like judging, and you should not judge, lest you be judged, etc. 

My advice: give the kids an activity that will occupy them. Scrabble, mah jong or online poker, for example. My further advice: avoid doing anything that involves a crate, cough syrup, cage or leash.

Also, consider a seating plan before your guests arrive. Use gentle suggestions such as personalized name cards and the threat of violence to enforce the plan. Consider whether it is better to place relatives with opposing political viewpoints near or at opposite ends of the table. The former increases the likelihood of arguments, of course, but in my experience the arguments are going to happen anyway, and seating them too far apart just increases the volume as they shout to make themselves heard over the din of forks hitting plates and the screams of cough syrup-addled children. Bonus tip: plan your menu such that no sharp knives are required to consume it. Soup!

Start planning your holiday meals now, is what I’m saying, I guess. And if you have any interesting holiday-meal traditions, feel free to share. If you have any child-wrangling tips, you’ll want Goodwife Peyton’s blog, which appears in this space, tomorrow.