So once you’ve decided who you’re spending your Thanksgiving feeding and what general sort of food you’re having, it comes time to work out precisely how you’re going to make it all happen.
After all, you don’t want the day to feel like the Battersea Town Women’s Guild’s re-enactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbor.
You want something more like this.
(sorry about the links rather than illustrations, but for some reason WordPress isn’t letting me upload images, drat it)
Anyway. Site-related technical issues aside, the point of all this is that there are simple steps anyone can follow in order to produce a low-stress Thanksgiving, even if you’ve never roasted a turkey or polished a silver spoon in your life.
Here’s how you do it.
Before you do anything else, catalogue your resources. That doesn’t mean just how many chairs and plates and wineglasses you have, oh no it doesn’t. It also means things like how many burners you have on your stove, whether you have one or two ovens, how big your refrigerator is, and how much money you have to spend on supplies. Don’t panic about what you don’t have, just take a good long look at what you do have. Let go of what isn’t possible at this point. If you don’t already own a silver service for twelve, chances are you’re not going to be buying it in time for this holiday season.
But don’t forget one of the most useful resources you could possibly have: your friends. If you don’t have enough oven space for everything you want to cook, check if someone you know would be willing to help you out by popping your gratin in their oven or bringing some rolls. If you don’t have enough plates to go around, see if you can borrow some. This usually works best if the person you’re asking for help is on the guest list, by the by.
Once you know what you have to work with, work out your menu. After all, there’s no point in planning fois gras and caviar when you can’t afford it or a ten-course meal for twelve when you’ve got a miniscule oven and two burners to cook on. Keep your budget and your cooking space in mind, then get creative. If you have limited oven or stove space, think about having some dishes that can be made ahead. If you don’t have much money, work out how to create the most exciting dishes you can out of less expensive ingredients. Things like barley, potatoes, gourd squashes, and various root vegetables are inexpensive, but can be remarkably tasty when prepared properly. Roast a few potatoes with your turkey or make a barley and acorn squash risotto for a delicious, hearty side dish that will wow your guests.
Don’t overtax your cooking skills or emotions. Look, we all like to think we can do it all every day and wind up as cool as a cucumber with our celebrity of choice offering up roses and Belgian chocolates in homage. It doesn’t work that way. Pick foods to cook that you feel very confident you can make really well even if things go a bit pear-shaped at some point during the day. If you’ve never produced a Napoleon before, this is not the day to try it out. Pick a less potentially fraught one. I’d much rather sit down to a perfect bowl of mashed potatoes, a roast chicken, and a green salad followed with a slice of decent pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving than an elaborate but ill-prepared meal.
Also, the more you give yourself to do, the more likely you will wind up heaping unnecessary stress on yourself. Consider carefully what will stress you out and what won’t. Ignore anything likely to cause undue stress. If it still needs doing, delegate it to someone else.
Schedule breaks on the big day. If you don’t have time to relax, you won’t, and then you’ll be a huge ball of stress before you sit down to the dinner you’ve been making. By the same token, be sure to eat a good breakfast. You’ll need the energy to help you do what you need to do that day.
It’s probably a good idea to write up a brief timeline of the day so that you’re sure not to forget anything. Remember to include the time you need to get washed and dressed before your guests arrive.
Speaking of writing things down, be sure to do a detailed shopping list before you head out to get your supplies. Double check basics like flour, salt, and sugar to make sure you have enough for your planned meal before you begin. You don’t want to start baking pies only to discover that you need three cups of sugar for them all, but only have two cups in your cupboard.
Don’t forget anything you need for decorating the room or setting the table!
It doesn’t all have to be homemade. I know, I know, I’m all about the fresh and the homemade, but let’s face it: we all have our Achilles’ heels in the kitchen. If you’ve never made a decent pie crust in your life, there’s no shame in ordering your pie from a bakery or using Pillsbury’s frozen pie dough. There. I said it. If you’re hopeless at certain side dishes, chances are you can find a reasonable to very good version at your local grocery store or deli. This is also helpful if your problem is more cooking space and equipment than skill.
Keep your sense of humor. Big holidays and weddings have one thing in common: something usually goes wrong. If you can find a way to laugh when the cat takes a stroll through your Tiramisu or the cranberry jelly doesn’t jell properly, you’re ahead of the game. It also makes the moment less uncomfortable for your guests. There are few things more disconcerting to witness than the hostess having a nervous breakdown. Find the funny and get over it.
Heck, even if the turkey burns you can always feast on the sides… or call an open pizzaria or Chinese take out. It can be one for the history books, a legend to pass on to the next generation.