This week, Mom Mom was asked a question in person. All the more fun!
I ran into a friend at school the other day, and she shared that she was hosting her first big Thanksgiving for about twenty people and could use some advice/hand holding/Xanax. Like most people would be, she was a little anxious about…well, about the whole production of it all. Thanksgiving is not for sissies. Most people forgive and forget a bad meal on any given Tuesday, but Thanksgiving? That one stays with you. However, with a little planning and preparation, this can be one of your greatest victories.
Luck favors the prepared, darling. — Edna Mode, The Incredibles
Step 1: Menu Plan
This may seem obvious to some, but I am sure others are saying, “Turkey, stuffing, what plan?” NOW is the time to sit down with your food magazines or your DVRd Food Network shows or Google and DECIDE EXACTLY what will be going on your table.
Part A of this plan is deciding what category of food you want, and Part B is deciding which recipes you will use or which relatives you will ask to contribute. If I were hosting 20 people, my plan would look like this:
Light Appetizer (nothing to upstage my hard work)
1 standard green vegetable
1 adventurous green vegetable
1 stuffing with sausage
1 vegetarian stuffing
1 mashed potato dish
1 sweet potato dish
2 other desserts
Once you’ve gotten all your food listed, it’s simply a matter of choosing your recipes. Remember, no need to be a martyr! If (and only if) your guests have offered to contribute, you can certainly shorten your list by delegating. Desserts are a good one to farm out. And if a trusted guest/cook can help you knock a potato off the list, all the better! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, and I promise I will try my best to guide you.
Do the bulk of your shopping for non perishables the Friday or Saturday before Thanksgiving, and the earlier in the morning the better. Each passing hour, things get exponentially more crazy. But as bad as it will be on those two days, it will only get worse, so refer to your shopping list and knock out every single item you possibly can (soda, beer, wine, cheese, etc.) I am a huge fan of off-hours shopping, so shopping really early or really late helps preserve my sanity. Save your fresh vegetables and any other last minute items for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. In a perfect world, you will have very little left on your list by that point.
Step 2: Logistics
This is a boring and often overlooked step, but let me assure you that it’s every bit as important. Make sure each one of your guests has a place to sit down and a proper place setting. It doesn’t have to be fine china, crystal or silver — warehouse clubs like BJs and Costco have nice quality disposables that are neutral enough to blend with your good stuff. If at all possible, give each guest a seat on a real chair and a real table rather than a sofa and coffee table. Sure, it’s fine to put your grandmother and the real dining room table and your eight year old at the fold-up card table, but to have some guests sit at a real table and others jockey for space on the sofa seems rude and unfair. Take the time to map out where people will be sitting, and if there is not obvious space available for everyone, tell them ahead of time where you expect them to eat. There is nothing worse than people with full plates in hand nomadically shuffling from room to room looking for an open spot to sit down. Everyone deserves a spot, and it’s your job to make sure they have one.
Step 3: Turkey, fresh or frozen?
This is a matter of personal preference. I have done both, and believe it or not, fresh has never come out significantly better. People are passionate on this subject, and I’m sorry, but I can’t take a firm stand based on taste. Obviously a humanely-raised-locally farmed-Montessori-educated-vegan-fed turkey is better for variety of reasons, most of which allow you to feel morally superior, but from a culinary standpoint? Eh, not so much in my book. Preparation is everything.
And by preparation, here is your reminder to order your fresh turkey N O W, especially if you require something in the neighborhood of 20 pounds or more. Don’t expect to waltz into the supermarket the Monday before Thanksgiving and pick up your 20+ pound turkey. It will be known as The Year You Made Two Twelve Pound Turkeys if you don’t plan ahead. There are a variety of turkey calculators online. Use them! You will be able to plug in your specifics and plan accordingly. For example, 15 adults and 5 kids who are big eaters would require a 26 pound turkey. If that turkey is frozen, it will take six and a half days to thaw in the refrigerator. Needless to say, these are not details you can just work out three days before Thanksgiving. Spend a few minutes today thinking about this.
Step 4: The Set Up
Start cleaning your house (or have someone else clean it for you) the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and leave the minor last minute touch up for Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday night, set the table(s), move furniture to accommodate more tables, inspect/dust folding chairs, make sure table cloths are clean and fit. Inspect your china/crystal/silver and make sure it is clean and polished (or at least clean and sanitary). This always takes more time than you think it will, so do it the night before and save yourself some stress. I have been that person in cashmere and pearls cleaning a toilet while the first guest rang the doorbell. Learn from my mistakes.
Step 5: Food Prep
Bright and early Thursday morning, I like to go through each recipe and measure and chop ingredients ahead of time. It’s so much easier to make a stuffing with fourteen ingredients when they’ve all been prepped and measured and put into neat little baggies.
This is also the time where you fine tune your game plan and assign oven space. Before I got a double oven (and even some years after) I would use the oven of my neighbor across the street who would always travel during Thanksgiving. Most friendly neighbors are happy to lend you their ovens or refrigerators if they’re away, so that’s an option to consider. If not, you just have to work it out. It’s like a bad math problem: Sally has a turkey in the oven at 325 for five hours and it has to rest for 30 minutes. Once the turkey is out she has two dishes to cook, one at 375 for 30 minutes and one at 350 for 40 minutes...
The time to solve this sixth grade word problem is not when your guests have arrived and you’re drinking wine. Make your schedule with a sharp mind and a clear head, and stick to it accordingly.
Step 6: Enjoy your guests, enjoy your blessings
Take time to enjoy the day. Some of my best memories are of having Mom Mom and Pop Pop in my house for Thanksgiving. They were so happy and proud of all my hard work and enjoying their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids surrounding them. Watching the cousins play, seeing family from near and far, even if it’s just that one day a year, is so important. It’s a great honor to provide a venue for your family to gather, enjoy good food, and count their blessings. It is a big job, yes, but it is always worth the effort. Be thankful you are up to the challenge.