Friendsgiving: A First-Person Account of an Inflated Guest List, Potato Peeling and Ham

Illustration by Gary Meader / gmeader@duluthnews.com
By Melinda Lavine, Duluth News Tribune

I had a 20-pound ham, 18 pounds of potatoes, four boxes of stuffing and one economy-size can of green beans. It was my first Friendsgiving dinner in years, and last weekend, I invited 40 people into my one-bedroom duplex apartment.

I didn’t think this would be an issue until my coworker’s eyes widened when I told her about my guest list and that I was afraid of running out of food.

My trigger-happy e-vite finger was part naivete and part wanting to pay it forward. My family lives in South Carolina, and for various reasons, including poor planning, I haven’t made it there for the holiday season the past couple of years. And since I moved to Duluth, so many have invited me into their homes. This year, I wanted to give back to some of the people that I consider family here.

Along with a big invite list, I had grand delusions of DIY centerpieces, homemade food labels, fancy fondue. Instead, there was late-night potato peeling and early morning ham baking.

A big driver for Friendsgiving was my desire to recreate my mother’s holiday dinners.

She knew how to make a warm home. Candles, lovely tablescaping, jazz music. The food would come out at the perfect temperature at the perfect time. And it was like an Asian / Southern fusion buffet.

There was ham, turkey, a pot roast, homemade macaroni and cheese, collard greens, white rice, potato salad, pinto beans and ham hocks, stuffing, yams, cranberry sauce. For dessert, three types of pie.

With a much smaller menu, I aimed to bring her holiday warmth to my dinner — and I had a lot of help.

My coworkers gave me a much-needed backup of silverware and coffee cups. Three friends showed up early and helped mash and blend and carve. Thanks, too, to the man stocking grocery-store shelves and his sage advice to go for 20 rather than 11 pounds of meat.

And that ham was the belle of the ball, thanks to mom’s recipe and my own personal touch of love (and anxiety).

Late the night before, I mixed brown sugar and mustard with a bit of pineapple juice. With it, I glazed that ham like a cake. I carefully set whole cloves in, and from them, I hung pineapple slices before placing it in the oven.

“Fifteen minutes for every pound,” my mother instructed via text. Five-plus hours later, my new meat thermometer said it was done. I ladled juice over it throughout the day, awaiting some of my Duluth loved ones.

They filtered into my place, and I greeted with bear hugs and smiles, directing them to coffee and tea — an act that made me feel grown up. About 20 RSVPed, and my guess is there were 30.

Now, my place isn’t small. I’ve got a decent-sized kitchen, living room, dining room — and all were full. Even with my friend’s 10 folding chairs, we ran out of places to sit, but we didn’t run out of floor. To those guests, I handed “butt throw pillows.” A couple of kids ate in a makeshift fort under my dining table.

It was cozy and snug and happy — and no one had to eat in my bedroom (which I feared). We ran out of stuffing and green bean casserole, but we were set otherwise because everyone brought goodies: three veggie trays, endless pies, bars, cases of Klarbrunn. My home was buzzing with laughter and chatter. Whenever I walked into my kitchen, someone different was washing dishes.

I peeked in on kids playing in my room to see if they needed anything, a movie, some dessert. They shook their heads “no,” more than content with their imaginations as entertainment.

I smiled every time someone grabbed something off the ironing board / appetizer table, every time I heard a “thank you,” every time someone hid their plate for a later helping.

Through some light bullying, I got rid of most of the leftovers. (I have two tubs of ice cream, though, Bueller?)

About an hour before go time, I hadn’t showered yet, but I’d decided to make a last-minute run for fresh flowers for my coffee table. At a stoplight on the way back, flowers in tow, I felt a wave of calm and contentment.

And I understood.

Growing up, it looked like so much work for my mother, and I secretly wondered if it was worth it. But in that moment, throughout the evening and after everyone left, I saw that feeding people I love feeds me more than a 20-pound ham ever could.

Melinda Lavine is a features reporter at the News Tribune. Contact her at mlavine@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5346.

Tips to hosting Friendsgiving

• Make what you want to eat. If you don’t like turkey, don’t make turkey. Maybe give your guests a fair warning of the nontraditional route.

• Have gluten-free options or share the menu beforehand. Many have dietary restrictions, and this gives them a heads-up of what to expect / what to bring.

• Ask for and accept help. People want to pitch in and hang with you in your kitchen.

• Tell people what you need. Again, they want to help, and it’ll save you time answering texts about what people should bring.

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