How to cook a holiday dinner in a construction zone

Cooking up a traditional meal is one of my favorite things to do at holiday time. Every year I eagerly anticipate devoting the whole day to wrestling a turkey with all the trimmings, or glazing the perfect ham … filling the house with delectable smells … somehow choreographing everything to come out on time. Then, after the enormous meal that only Eric and I are present to eat, I’m faced with mountains of cooling leftovers, potential botulism, and kitchen wreckage that resembles hurricane debris.

Many years ago when I was a proud new homeowner, I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for my parents and some friends. It was on that exact day that I lost control of my housekeeping. I have never regained the upper hand. Maybe that’s why I’m not going too crazy … yet … as our kitchen is torn apart. Maybe that’s why I’m foolish enough to slave over the hot stove this year, too. Never mind that the stovetop itself often represents the closest thing to a countertop and food prep area right now. If you dare to cook in the midst of remodeling, here are a few tips that I learned from my Thanksgiving experience.

vintage ornaments 2010

1. Guests? Are you kidding?? Don’t invite anyone over. Period. That’s easy for Eric and me, because our families are both thousands of miles away. This year, that has its advantages … next year will be a different story. If you can’t risk offending your family, when they ask what they can bring, suggest a palm sander. And when they ask what they can do to help, send them to the basement to sand and prime the face frames. Where would we put guests, anyway? All the former contents of the kitchen cabinets have taken up residency in the dining room for the winter (please, let them move back home by spring). The tabletop has disappeared under renovation books, countertop samples, paint samples, Home Show ephemera, and a cat bed. Of course, a cat bed. You don’t have a cat bed on your dining room table?

2. Embrace your dust. It protects the furniture. I truly fear our house will never be clean again unless I can turn the garden hose on the interior when this is all over. Despite continually mopping the food prep area every time we eat, I suspect we’ve consumed several ounces of dust apiece—wood dust, paint dust (lead paint dust?), 100-year-old dust. When I walk through the kitchen, little rooster tails of dust rise up in my wake. Who needs sticky notes when you can simply write on the furniture?


3. Think inside the box. When I packed our dishes away, I carefully labeled the boxes and interlocked their top flaps. We kept out a few things to get us by: two microwavable plates, two bowls, a couple of pots and pans and some basic cooking implements. But if I cook anything out of the ordinary, I have to dive into the boxes and root around for specific equipment. Consequently, the box tops now flap open, the labels are illegible, and the cats have scratched the corners so often that a pothandle is sticking out the side of its box like a zombie limb protruding from a grave.  The storage boxes double not only as scratching posts, but climbing jungle, lookout perches, and more cat beds. (I have even watched as one of our cats precision-vomited into the small open slot of a closed box top. I am not kidding. No worries, though—all the dishes will go through our new dishwasher before they go back on the shelf.)

Rosey's perch

4. Find your balance. It’s not easy to balance heaping plates of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, slippery cranberry, and viscous gravy on our knees, but we can do it! At our house, we have to perform this feat under the critical and focused stare of an optimistic boxer and several opportunistic cats. I remember the good old days when I could set the dining room table for a nice meal. So long ago …

vintage ornaments 2

Today, between sandings and coats of polyurethane, I’m baking Christmas cookies. Oh—another thing—I have to brag about my awesome temporary plywood countertops. They’re the ideal surface! You can put hot pans on them, cut veggies on them, park your grassy golf shoes on them, write on them … collect splinters from them. Anything goes. Now, where did I put those cookie sheets? I hope they’re not in the box with the … you-know-what.

plywood counters

May your holidays be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be dust-free.

Christmas 2012



6 thoughts on “How to cook a holiday dinner in a construction zone

  1. Tom& Judy Huppert

    Sounds like you have a great deal more ambition than I would in a similiar situation. I’m sure it will all be worth it in the end. I hope you all have a Wonderful and Safe Christmas and New Years. One of these years Tom and I are going to make it to MN for Christmas and hopefully you all will too. Love, Judy and Tom

  2. Anita

    Now WHAT would cause a cat to vomit in to a box?! LOL! Do they simply know this is a rude thing to do and want to do it anyway? Or perhaps they like the fact it will disappear down in to the hole? My cats have always vomited where they lay. Cats are so amusing!

  3. Nine Dark Moons

    “I have even watched as one of our cats precision-vomited into the small open slot of a closed box top. I am not kidding.” – that made me laugh out loud – and I’m at work – oops! awkward… but they’ll get over it. I have managed to catch Bonkers’ projectile vomit in an empty kleenex box by launching myself through the air and landing next to him right when it erupted. my husband was impressed.


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