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Nov 29, 2010 11:07 AM

Kitchen martyrs

I have to confess: I have reason to believe I exhibit martyr behavior in the kitchen. The horrors!

See, from my perspective, nobody knows my kitchen. People ask if they can get me things, but why, when I'd have to tell them in detail where it is? People ask to wash dishes, but why, when I have to tell them what can go in the dishwasher and what cannot. (I tried to get over this one year and sacrificed cast iron, which some people, apparently, think can be washed with soap.) Ostensibly "helping" people set pans off the stove onto plastic cutting boards, load my knives in the dishwasher, and use my rather pricey Rosle cheese knife to chop vegetables. Yeah.

But, I was reading an article on how to handle annoying relatives over the holidays (see how self-righteous I was feeling?) and there I was: the martyr. She's clearly overworked, but will not accept help.

Here is my ideal scenario: I would like help and/or company during the sort of boring early prep stages. During the last stages, I would like all people who are not setting the table, lighting candles, etc. to go away. I would especially like them to not ask me for anything, or to decide to make complicated espresso drinks in the middle of my kitchen a hour before dinner. Is this possible? Can this be arranged without people hating you?

So, how to resolve this? All advice is 100% welcome.

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  1. this is why parlour games were invented, right?

    1 Reply
    1. re: soupkitten

      Or Wii and Netflix in my family... Video distractions work for most of the meddlers. The most persistent cousin is tasked with multiple trips to the basement to retrieve china and glass wear, which all need to be wiped down before he sets the table. Oh, and I'm pretty sure the table cloth needs to be ironed as well.

    2. When everyone is bugging you in the kitchen, open the bar in the living room.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Whinerdiner

        Oh yes, this is a classic. With friends. But my friends are all people I chose, and so don't exhibit any of the above behaviors anyway. They are welcome in my kitchen anytime.

        I should have specified that we are talking about the family. And they don't really drink much. Which isn't to say I didn't try. They like white wine? German? Let's get four bottles and a couple of champagne for good measure!

      2. Here's a solution that worked for me when I was cooking for a large crowd with inexperienced volunteers as my helpers. A week or two in advance, I typed up a list of all the foods to be served, and added a timeline of what had to be done when in order to be able to serve everything at once. Each step was described, including what kind of tools to use (example: slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices using serrated knife, put on serving platter, cover with plastic wrap). I then labeled the tools, or sorted them into containers which were labeled. Then I made multiple copies of the task list, and kept the master for me. As people would come in to help, I would give them a copy of the task list, and circle their particular task. I crossed stuff off my master list as it was completed.

        Even this isn't fool-proof. Some folks are more skilled than others in the kitchen, and as I got to know the volunteers better, I realized that some folks just weren't capable of doing any of the tasks to my standards without driving me crazy. So when those folks would ask what they could do, unless I had something very basic like filling ice buckets or emptying trash, I'd just smile and tell them "Nothing right now, please go enjoy yourself"

        It might also help to verbalize your desire to be left alone during the final prep stage. Say something along the lines of " I appreciate all of your assistance, but I get a bit flustered while I'm putting the final touches on dinner. I'd really, really appreciate it if you would all please socialize with one another in any room except the kitchn while I'm getting ready to serve, and then we can enjoy a wonderful meal together!" In my experience, asking for what you need clearly and politely goes a long way toward helping to get it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Niki in Dayton

          You're either one squared away lady, or I think you need a few glasses of wine ;)

          1. re: BiscuitBoy

            This level of organization was for a weekend scholarship fund raising event, where we fed about 150 people. We fed them dinner on Friday, breakfast lunch and dinner on Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. I was working with volunteers, many of whom I had never met before. But by Saturday night, believe me, I was drinking wine!

        2. "You're a guest! Take advantage of it and put up your feet, that's what I'll be doing at your house!"

          But I also understand that there are those who need to feel needed and useful (whether or not you actually need help). Perhaps delegating tasks you don't like (polishing flatware) or tasks that keep them out of the kitchen (freshening drinks, replenishing nibbles, taking the dog for a walk, figuring out how to get Internet through your TV). As for barring people from the kitchen during the last hour--just make a house rule (it's going to be very BZ, lots of scurrying around and hot things and heavy things and sharp things all don't want to test the extent of your medical coverage, do you?).

          1. Raids, what you describe does not sound like martyr behavior at all. Martyrs are the barely smiling, deep-sighing drones who tell the rest of us "go ahead to the parade/party/theatre, someone has to stay home and watch the turkey/roast beef/ham/scrub the floor/set the table/peel the potatoes, etc" while they exhibit the classic poor-little-me behavior accompanied by deep sighs and rolled eyes.

            You are just trying to keep your kitchen in the same condition it was when the "help" began (knives still sharp, cutting boards unmelted, cast iron unsoaped, etc).

            Martyrs suck the fun out of everyone around them as well as the gathering itself. The rest of us just want to get the dinner on the table so we can get on with the fun.

            I will admit to having the same feelings about "help" when it intereferes with my schedule as you do. Someone taking over the kitchen to make a pitcher of blue Margueritas when I'm slicing the bird is not my idea of "help" but turning it away doesn't make me a martyr either.

            I am of une certaine age so I simply ask for what help I need and direct the rest of them to vacate the kitchen until I call. In every gathering, there are those who are great kitchen help and others who are nothing but a hindrance. Give the second group something to do which capitalizes on their strengths. It may take a bit of thinking on your part to come up with the make-work but you'll be a happier hostess knowing they're not underfoot causing your homeowner premiums to increase.
            NB: I give one of the PITAs a hand-held phone with instructions that they are to field all phone calls because someone ALWAYS gets lost, needs the gate code, etc. Another is in charge of flowers, which takes place in a different room than the kitchen. Have one open wine and man the bar in a different room than the kitchen. Getting them out from underfoot is key.

            None of this is martyrdom. Think of it as parenting for the older crowd. You wouldn't dream of letting young children run directionless in a crowded, busy kitchen. These often well-meaning dolts are just like children, only they're taller.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Sherri

              See, this is why my open floorplan is a huge, huge problem. The kitchen is totally open and right in the middle of one big room that also includes the living room and dining room space. This is magic for cocktail parties, but a freaking nightmare for prepping a large formal dinner.

              This year they all stood hovering around the island until I just asked them to get a drink and to sit down for a few minutes to give me a chance to put the final touches on everything. It worked for about precisely three minutes, and then they were back. You can't help it - there's that "must be near the kitchen" thing that occurs in all houses, and then it's just right there in the middle of the room.

              I blame my apartment.

              1. re: Raids

                Perhaps rethink your meal to have some more casual elements rather than a fully formal dinner? Do passed appetizers and then buffet main, to keep people occupied with the food. Work with the layout you have... as you describe it, these guests may never be comfortable letting you do all the work while they sit and watch you. It would make me a little nervous too, to be honest.
                Actually. come to think about it, it's not even about letting you do all the work. I'm pretty lazy and I don't like feeling in the way in other people's kitchens; I have to remind myself to go help the host in situations where it is expected or truly needed. I think it's about nervous energy and yeah, the kitchen as party hotspot thing. I would work with it rather than against it and do more formal events for those guests that get it.

                1. re: Raids

                  Everything is better if you just have something/someone else to blame!

                  Invest in a holiday-theme jigsaw puzzle and challenge your guests to get it done before dinner is ready.

                  Remember that one reason they are there is to visit with you.