Most of us associate the holidays with family togetherness and sharing. But, in a sprawling city where there are so many newly transplanted people, Thanksgiving can be a lonely time. That's why last year we created a day-after-Thanksgiving potluck dinner party. We invited nearly everyone we know--especially people without families nearby, and people we wanted to know better, or friends we wanted to introduce to one another. It was truly a memorable gathering and the beginning of a new tradition for us.
The potluck was to be made up entirely of leftovers from everyone's Thanksgiving feasts the day before. It was easy to ask friends ahead of time what they planned to bring--whether it would be leftover pecan or pumpkin pie, or yams or cranberries (those were by far the most popular offerings). And since it was a traditional holiday theme, even if someone brought a different dish (because their pecan pie had all been eaten!) we knew basically what to expect.
Free Turkey Offer
In order to have plenty of turkey, we took advantage of a local supermarket's offer of a free turkey with every $100 spent in their store, and roasted two with stuffing on Thanksgiving Day. We sensed that most people wouldn't want hot turkey two days in a row, so for the day-after party, we simply sliced the second cold and served it on a platter with sliced Swiss cheese to use in making sandwiches from a napkin-lined basket of assorted breads and a container of our special hot champagne mustard.
We bought rust-colored mums at the market and used those with some washed ivy leaves from our garden around the edges of the turkey platter. It looked spectacular . . . and it was embarrassingly easy!
For appetizers we set out a giant wedge of aged cheddar cheese we like to order from Vermont at holiday time and assorted crackers, next to a basket overflowing with cut raw vegetables from our local supermarket salad bar, all pre-washed, pre-sliced and ready to serve. We also combined cream cheese with mango chutney to use as a spread on gingersnaps, an idea from "Entertaining" columnist Martha Stewart that seemed especially appropriate for Thanksgiving.
We might have made it even easier by choosing the easiest and most authentic appetizer of all. At the original Thanksgiving feast given by the Pilgrims for the native Americans, the chief's brother-in-law was said to have slipped away with a few of his friends and come back with popcorn, a completely new taste experience for the settlers. How much more traditional can you get?
Since we anticipated an abundance of starches and not many vegetables, we prepared a simple cucumber, pea, and dill salad. For beverages, we had champagne on ice and apple cider simmering on the stove with cinnamon sticks and cloves. Later we heated hot water in a big coffee maker for guests to serve themselves coffee or an assortment of teas.
More Than Enough
There were 35 to 40 people in our small home and to say the least, we had more than ample food. You always end up with more than enough at a potluck, since people usually bring enough for six or more. So, we had leftovers from that party too--and we happily ate those for about a week!
Though the focus seems to be on food at celebrations, we often must remind ourselves that the most important ingredients of any gathering are the people, and the purpose is to enjoy the pleasure of their company. The highlight of our evening was when Dr. Jordan Paul, co-author with his wife, Margaret, of "Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?," suggested that one at a time, we each speak briefly about what we were feeling especially thankful for. This spontaneous act provided a chance for a bit of social networking in which we discovered ways we could participate more with each other in our business and social lives. A day-after-Thanksgiving potluck can be a very colorful and abundant buffet that's very easy to do. And since it's such a warm and welcoming experience, people feel comfortable with the familiarity of the food even if they don't know others at first. Everyone has something to do; they can garnish a platter, or just help set out the food. That way they can have busy hands and don't feel a need to stand in a corner, rattling the change in their pockets.
Of course, you can have a potluck party on Thanksgiving Day, with each guest being responsible for one traditional dish to go with the turkey. Either way, we're thankful we've gotten past worrying about perfection in preparing food. No more turkeys stuffed with chickens stuffed with quails stuffed with something even more exotic. It's all just an excuse to get together and to perhaps convert what might be a lonely time for some, into a lovely time indeed.