I took just a couple photos the first time I hosted Thanksgiving dinner in my tiny studio apartment, and you can see everything in one shot: the dinner table, the front door, my bed, three walls, my toaster oven (my only oven), my hot plate, and all eight of my guests, smiling and well-fed and a little inebriated. The entirety of my 195-square-foot home fits pretty neatly inside the frame (minus the bathroom, which is out in the hall across from my front door and approximately the size of the lavatory on your last flight in coach).
It's not that I recommend hosting Thanksgiving in a space that's reminiscent of the cabin scene in Night At the Opera. But if the size of your apartment is what's stopping you from gathering your friends, cooking a big meal, and overindulging into the wee hours of the morning, I urge you to reconsider. A Thanksgiving feast in a tiny apartment can be successful if you are confident and unapologetic. And if you pull it off, it'll be one for the books.
Certain demographic groups are doubly urged to consider hosting Thanksgiving despite their limited real estate. These include but are not limited to the following: collegiate Thanksgiving orphans, newly transplanted professionals, American expats, and the recently dumped. Last year, I belonged to two of these special interest groups: an American in Europe, I got the heave-ho last Halloween from a man who — among his other fine qualities — possessed an oven, a dishwasher, and a dining room table.
If only we'd lasted until Christmas, his place would have comfortably accommodated the festivities. But if ever there was a time to clean up my apartment and pull my friends close, this was it. (And I should say that we were close, indeed.)
How did I host a dignified Thanksgiving for nine in a tiny studio without an oven, a stovetop, a partner, or an elaborate budget? With good humor and a great guest list. This is as much an exercise in self-respect as it is a recipe for an excellent party. Here are my tips.
1. Love your space (at every size).
If your home is, like mine, truly an exceptional size for a dinner party, you need to own it. That means no apologizing. In fact, unless you give your guests food poisoning, you should never apologize for making a home-cooked meal and opening your home to anyone. Ever. Your hemming and hawing only makes perfectly satisfied guests do a formal song-and-dance when they'd rather be enjoying the food you've lovingly prepared.
2. Mind the details.
I come from a long line of seasoned Southern hostesses who would get the vapors if I hosted a dinner party with paper napkins. (I did, once, in my first apartment after college, and after I offered up my guilty conscience to my mother, she immediately put a box of table linens in the mail for me. We still don't talk about it.)
The same goes for real flatware and china (read: IKEA plates — I'm a writer, not an investment banker) and maybe a clean tablecloth. I'm not here to judge if any of these things are outside of your means, but the more polish you give your event, the less you'll feel like an undergrad hosting Thanksgiving in the dorm (unless you are one; in which case, own that).
3. Don't beg, but do borrow.
If you can lie in bed and touch your toaster, you probably don't have enough cutlery for a crowd. Do you have a sense of humor? Ask your friends to bring their own. This only works if you aren't apologetic about it (see point 1). If you are, you'll seem a little desperate.
I also recommend keeping an eye out at your friends' homes for ways in which they can contribute to the event. I once made a mental note at a friend's apartment of a table that could be disassembled and transported to my place. We're close, and he didn't mind lending it to me for the evening. Plus, it got him off the hook of bringing a hostess gift.
4. Practice spatial reasoning.
If you want to get by with just a toaster oven, you're going to need either a very small bird or an alternative entrée. If you usually run out of counter space cooking your morning oatmeal, you need to take that into account, too. The less square-footage you have, the more you need to prepare ahead of time. I made pot pies in individual ramekins, which could be prepped ahead of time and even frozen if necessary. Think creatively and be flexible.
5. Favor quality over quantity.
No one wants or expects you to provide a Michelin-starred tasting menu when you're working with a hotplate and three-quarters of a square-foot of counter space. Again, a home-cooked meal from a friend or relative is one of life's great pleasures; trust that your guests will be delighted with your meal and scale things back. (Guests who will not be delighted do not make the guest list, unless they are blood relatives; in which case, longer-term coping strategies are advised.)
Stick with simple recipes, particularly for side dishes, and focus instead on the quality of your ingredients. A minimalist salad with good farmers market vegetables can win you just as many points and induce less anxiety than a big production with a hundred components.
6. Let friends bring dessert.
They're going to do it anyway. Why fight it? Just be sure you have the surface area to accommodate all those pies. You've been meaning to tidy up your bookshelves and clear the clutter from your chest of drawers anyway, right?
Have you hosted a holiday in a teeny-tiny space? Share your experience — and your tips — in the comments!