Those who dread a lonesome holiday, listen up.
It’s possible to find a friend and trade hosting. I know this because Nov. 26 marks the 30th time we’ve swapped hosting.
Our swap began when a friend, Nancy invited us for Thanksgiving turkey in 1986. She and her husband didn’t have family close by either. At the time there were four adults and two toddlers around the table and their dog, Molly, beneath it. Life was complicated in its own way, and packing up our son’s gear, we absently drove off with the leftovers on top of our car. Some lucky scavenger enjoyed our turkey leg along the highway.
The next year, it was our turn to host. Over time we invited one or two others. Our first “mystery guest” arrived in the form of Nancy’s friend Michelle, a prison warden, who wouldn’t have had a home-cooked meal if it hadn’t been for our turkey and cranberries and my famous oyster stuffing.
We liked the idea of extra guests, and over the years we’ve entertained a pair of newlyweds, the neighbor boys, a divorcee, a family in the process of moving, a nanny and my relatives from Illinois.
One big advantage of host-swapping is that you only have to clean your house every other year. The other is that your dining room table is full because others share the cooking.
It hasn’t been all fun and frivolity, though. In 1990, our mystery guests refused my oyster stuffing (their loss). In 1995, an expensive water goblet shattered. In 1997, we postponed for illness. In 2002, I received the call right after dinner that my mother Enid McElroy had died in Illinois. Three days later, Nancy’s mother Marge Harvey had died in New Jersey. Thanksgiving isn’t always joyous.
The holiday exchange started simply. Our friends didn’t have family nearby and neither did we, so why not share? There’s no reason why a similar swap won’t work for any holiday. The trick is to find amiable folks willing to swap dinner tables.
Our kids have grown up without memories of a “family” Thanksgiving, but they have no concept of the family bickering that can accompany such gatherings. As they say, you can pick your friends, not your family.
On Thanksgiving 2011 we were back to the original four adults (still married to the same spouses) and Nancy’s youngest daughter. In 2012 I served a Weight Watchers Brussel-spout stir fry. Wow. I’m sure that was yummy.
The first two toddlers have since grown and moved away. In this lull before grandkids, we’re doing okay and the turkey leg will make it home.
Through 30 years of change we’ve enjoyed three constants: roast turkey, cranberries and oyster stuffing—comfort food for misshapen lives. All three have shouted Thanksgiving to me since I was a child, though the oyster part sounds terribly New England for a family in the Cornbelt.
About the stuffing: my mother proffered advice from her mother: Don’t use selects; standards are pricey enough.
In 2003 my oyster stuffing recipe made its way into Amy Rogers’ classic cookbook, Hungry for Home: Stories of Food from Across the Carolinas. Here’s the recipe for 12-16 servings, enough for six or seven hungry people who like oysters.
Enid’s Oyster Stuffing
2 sticks margarine
1 onion, chopped
½ c. celery, chopped
2 bags herbed bread stuffing
2 ½ cups water
2 pints fresh oysters, undrained
sage to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2-quart baking dish. Saute’ onion and celery in margarine; then in large bowl, combine with the bread crumbs and water. Mix in oysters and sage. Add enough water to moisten the crumbs well. Bake in greased dish about an hour or until top is well browned.