It’s about time, you thankless brats. Your mother and/or father (hey, it’s 5768) have worked for years providing you with chag-y goodness, from brisket to bison brisket. They’ve bought your lulavim, paid for your Rosh Hashannah tickets, put on amazing displays of familial harmony in front of significant others whom they knew, deep down, wouldn’t end up being that significant in a month or so.
Now you’ve got your own place, and – if you’ve followed my scholarly advice – even suckered someone into spending their life with you. You might even have children. And it’s time to give back to the people from whom you’ve taken so very much. It’s time for you to host on yom tov.
This may only apply to those of us whose parents live in different cities, but you know what? Those of you who next door to the house in which you were raised can host a meal or two, as well. Stop making your mother rehash the same tired tzimmes recipe – although I’m sure it’s delicious, and never fails to bring a nostalgic tear to your eye, what with all the pepper she pours on. I thought it’s supposed to be sweet, but what do I know? Worst-case scenario (which is how it will be the first time you do this) is the dreaded 3-day yom tov, or G-d’s reminder that we are still in galus.
Before the menu, before the arguments about which side is coming when, about whether your lazy brother will get off the couch and help for once and maybe lay off the Slivovitz this year, there are living arrangements to be made. Because if you don’t feel like getting divorced this year (they say 2009 will be a much better singles crop anyway), you should avoid having family stay in your apartment. Of course, if you have a house already, you can go to hell. If you live somewhere like Pittsburgh, where you can buy a house for less than a Metrocard, please read that last sentence with less anger, more good-natured ribbing (but still a little anger). Either way, make sure there’s an open apartment or house nearby to stash the folks. It can be a friend’s, or some strangers who don’t know how to lock their windows; feel free to explore the neighborhood. Down the block from me is a lovely red brick home with a sunroom that is vacant while they have a second house built on the plot. Not that I would advocate that sort of thing (e-mail me for the address – please be discreet, and no loud parties).
Now that you have your parents or in-laws, a sibling or two, and maybe another random relative, coming to your town to visit and relax and pray, you need to feed and entertain them. The most efficient method is tranquilizers and a glucose drip, but it’s hard knocking them all our without at least one or two getting wise to the plan. Then there’s the chasing, the cops, the bloody tzedakah box – my grandfather is doing much better, thanks for asking.
Think about food like a college English paper: you want to have as much as possible so the quality (or lack thereof) is lost among the sheer volume, and to get it all done with as little effort or no effort. Because no matter what you make, it will be burnt, or underdone, or you will run out of eggs at 11:30 erev chag.
Barbecuing is easy, and fast, and you can make a lot without much cleanup. If you only have a charcoal grill, you are obviously not committed to hosting 9 people for 6 meals, so you should go ahead and cancel now. It’s propane or nothing, folks. Just slather some random sauce on some chicken, and cook it until it’s kind-of-but-not-really pink inside, and there is your main dish for at least 3 meals. The other foolproof food? Soup. Make enough soup, and no one will have any appetite for the green beans you boiled until they dissolved into a fine green paste. Finally – and this one should be obvious – cholent. Serve it once, serve it 5 times, it tastes the same.
Do I need to mention alcohol, that fantastic social lubricant, the cause and solution to all life’s problems? If you think you have enough booze to get an entire fraternity to admit they kinda do want to make out with their frat brothers, go out and buy some more. The drunker your family is, the easier they will be to handle. The reverse is also true (and that, my friends, is a logic palindrome. Your mind just exploded).
Last but not least, entertainment. I am fortunate that my family is disturbingly competitive, and a simple card game can soak up hours of time between meals. But if you think games are juvenile and boring because you’re not very good at them, you’ll walk, and walk some more. If it’s raining, though, you’ll slowly go mad, and eventually you’ll have to be sedated. On one hand, your family will get to go through your place looking for loose change and por…alternative magazines. On the other, before you know it, yom tov is over! And you’ve just burned through $750 of food in 72 hours. Be proud.