Our family’s final feast of the season was the annual day-after-Christmas reunion of Tom’s side of the family, which our branch always hosts.
We ate. Sometimes it just feels right in the kitchen:
Then we sat around and talked or played:
Then we ate some more.
Then the relatives left and we munched on left-overs while we cleaned up. And munched again after we cleaned up.
So it was all good and ran pretty much according to the standard operating procedure for the typical day-after-Christmas feast.
Except for one detail: I didn’t do any cooking.
I had the whole thing catered by Olive Garden.
If this does not initially sound earth-shaking to you, understand that planning, cooking, and presenting - with ample help, of course, and weeks of advance preparation - lavish buffet-style meals with a dozen different savories and again as many sweets for 20, 30, 50 (at Tom’s 60th birthday party), even 100 ( at Theresa’s wedding reception) has become part of my persona. Birthday parties, team dinners, graduations, showers, wedding receptions, you name it, I’ve cooked and baked for it. Sometimes when people hear about the number of guests I’m cooking for they tsk-tsk that I’ll never be able to do it, that I’ve surely bitten off more than I can chew. To which I tut-tut right back that of course I can do it.
And I always have.
I’ve never used the services of a caterer – all right, except for one time when I thought I’d try sneaking in a batch of Noodles ‘n Company pasta which quite frankly did not pass muster, everyone found it decidedly second rate, so I went back to serving my own angel hair pasta with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.
When I’m not being advised that I should quit trying to cook for such large crowds I’m being told that I should totally open my own catering or dessert business.
So for me to hand over the day-after-Christmas feast to The Olive Garden was, in fact, cataclysmic. Not to mention shocking for the guests, to whom I’d given not a clue beforehand that the spread to be laid out before them would not be my own.
But for the first time ever it wasn’t my own. And here’s why:
At 12:30 am the Saturday before Christmas I sprang up in bed in the middle of a brain storm. I don’t mean a brain storm in the sense of a productive whirling of good ideas, but a storm of stress and anxiety in my brain caused by the fact that this holiday, for the first time ever I bit off more than I could chew. All the warnings over the years of the naysayers had finally come home to roost: I couldn’t do it!
I’d planned too many meals, too many guests, too much work without regard for the fact that this year with my all my children - my primary source of labor in assembling feasts - out of town, busy with their jobs or with children of their own, for the first time I would have no one to help me put together the requisite - at least in my mind - mountains of party food.
Nor did I feel that I could recruit Tom to help with the food as he always has his work cut out for him with the house-cleaning and last-minute logistical details.
And so now I’d hit the wall, unprepared, in the middle of the night a few days before all the days of feasting were to begin:
Sunday night: dinner for 11
Christmas Eve: dinner for 24
Christmas Day: a big special brunch for 7
Day after Christmas: lunch for 12
Not to mention all the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners between the party meals.
As I sat in bed stressing and sighing Tom finally rolled over and asked me what was wrong.
“I can’t do it!” I moaned.
“Can’t do what?” he asked.
“The holidays! All the cooking! All the food shopping! I just can’t do it!”
“So we’ll cancel all the company,” Tom said calmly.
With the petulant logic of a three-year-old I wailed, “But I don’t want to!!”
“Then why don’t you just have all the parties catered? Order all the food out.”
“What?! ...Order the food?...out?!”
“Yeah. Why not?”
“Why not?! ...Because, because….how expensive would that be?”
“But... I’d have no idea where to order from.”
“There’s gotta be a hundred restaurants in Gahanna.”
Finally I got down to the meat and potatoes of the matter: “But everybody expects me to cook. They all look forward to my meals. They’d be horrified and disappointed if I served restaurant food.”
“They won’t care,” said Tom. “Order the food out. And by the way, I’ll fix dinner tomorrow night so you don’t have to worry about it. Spaghetti okay with you?”
“Yeah,” I replied in wonder at the prospect of the yoke of cooking being suddenly lifted from my overly tense shoulders, “spaghetti would be awesome.”
It took me a few moments to accept that it might actually be acceptable for me to order out food for our company. But only a few moments.
In fact, so freeing was the knowledge that I didn’t have to cook that by the next day my brain had ceased storming and I was able to calmly think through what was left to do for the upcoming feasts and come to the realizations that:
1. It was mostly in my mind that I was behind the eight-ball. In actuality I already had much of the food preparation done, and
2. in spite of their work, child-care and house-cleaning duties, the rest of the family who were in town were able and willing to jump in help me with the food-prep duties. All I’d needed to do was make my need known.
3. The Sunday night, Christmas Eve, and Christmas day meals were actually already pretty well prepped and ready to go. The only meal I’d need to order out was the 12-person day-after-Christmas one.
And so I looked around at the local offerings and settled on ordering the Day-After-Christmas Feast from the Gahanna Olive Garden.
OMG, it was sooooo easy!
A couple of clicks to the online menu and, voila, an Olive Garden feast for 12 was promised to be ready for pick-up and payment on the exact day and time of my choosing.
I chose to pick-up on December 26 at 11:40 am:
12 servings of salad and breadsticks for 12
6 servings of Chicken Marsala with potatoes and carrots
6 servings of Beef and Tortellini
12 servings of lasagne
Everything was waiting at the gahanna Olive Garden, hot, bagged up and ready to go at the appointed time. My bill, with a tip, came to $199, about $16.50 per person, except that the order they gave us included more food than twelve people could possibly eat - there were mountains of salad and breadsticks! - and so we ended up with sufficient left-overs to give some to Tommy to take home and also to hold Maria, Justin, Tom, myself and the two grandbabies over in meals until yesterday morning when we all left for Los Angeles, where Tom and I are staying for the week.
So how did the Olive Garden food go over with the relatives once they recovered from the initial shock that I’d had the day-after-Christmas feast catered?
And so ran the comments on the catered meal.
Sometimes we overestimate our indispensability.