Christmas dinner on the cheap

Published 11:37 am Monday, December 19, 2022

Dear Aunty Pam,


Help! I’m under a lot of pressure and need some guidance. Can you help me, oh wise one?

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The dilemma: My family (four people total) is coming to my apartment for Christmas dinner and I’m afraid I don’t have enough to feed them. I’ve always been considered the ‘black sheep’ of my family because I dropped out of college to start a business, and it failed. I waited tables to pay off debts and tried another business, and it failed, and while my other siblings have cushy jobs, here I am, in my mid-30s, still in a 1 bedroom apartment and still struggling.


What my family doesn’t know is that I am really broke right now and that’s the last thing I want them to know. I can’t handle the “we told you so” and looks of disapproval. I don’t want to ask anyone to bring anything, I just want to be able to put together a dinner, like everyone else has in the past, and I think I can, but for sure can’t afford enough food for big helpings, or even seconds. I’m ashamed to say I went to a food pantry to get the turkey, and it’s a small one. I have something like $10 left for a dessert for 5 of us. I can buy a cake or brownie mix, but that’s not very fancy for Christmas, especially when my sister made one of those decadent chocolate yule logs last year.


I’m really trying not to feel like a complete failure, and what’s worse is that I know I’m hiding from everybody what the real truth is—that I’m so broke that it’s all I can do to make the rent.


Any ideas to expand the feast?



Black Sheep 


Dear Sheepie,


Come on over here and let me hug your neck, masked. 


Pretty much everyone has been broke at some point in their life and I really hear your struggle, as well as your embarrassment about your situation. I’m especially sorry that it doesn’t appear that you can truly present yourself as you are to your family without some sort of repercussions. It’s exhausting to keep up a facade of false appearances. Just ask Hyacinth.


So now that we got that out of the way, Aunty Pam is here to help. I think we can choreograph this dinner the same way I would tell a comedian to structure their act. At the end of the day, as long as you start strong, and end strong, the audience hardly remembers the middle. Same with a meal. As Sir Thomas Malory once wrote, ‘Enough is as much as a feast.’ Right? People don’t need to be stuffed to the gills, they’re just used to it from going to places like Outback Steakhouse. 


You’ve got the turkey which is a great beginning. Mashed potatoes, or sweet potatoes, and whatever other veg shouldn’t cost that much, and then you can dazzle them with a great ending and the only thing Aunty Pam happens to know how to make. And it’s always a huge hit: English Trifle! Plus, it could not be easier. You’re not going to make the custard from scratch, or any of that nonsense—we’ve got to do this on the cheap! Ready? 


What you need (get at a Dollar Store)


  • 6 packets of instant vanilla pudding (might be able to do this with 5 to save a buck)
  • 1 can Ready Whip or whatever whipped topping you can find 
  • 1 small loaf of angel food, or some kind of sponge cake. I’ve even used spongecake dessert shells and cut them into squares.
  • 1 jar of whatever jam you’ve got on hand (I prefer raspberry)
  • Booze. Like a really cheap sherry. I’ve even used bourbon/brandy/flavored moonshine. Whatever you have lying around. Probably not vodka/gin/beer. 
  • 1 big glass bowl for presentation


OK, here we go: Slice up the angel food cake and make little jam sandwiches out of them and use them to layer the bottom of the bowl. Drizzle with booze. Cover them with a layer of vanilla pudding. Then layer over more jam sandwiches, drizzle with more booze and add the remainder of the pudding over those. Stick it in the fridge. Then, just before serving, cover the top with the whipped cream. If you have any pennies left, you can decorate the whipped pudding by sprinkling little chocolate chips over it.


Trust me, sister, when everyone gets a big bowl of that decadent trifle they won’t know what hit them. It never fails. And they should have enough booze in them to turn their moods all warm and fuzzy. 


Happy Yule, Y’all!

Aunty Pam