>It’s time to toss out the Halloween candy (can we say high-fructose corn syrup?) and move on to a more complex culinary holiday: Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s coming.
It’s tempting to go into denial, but then you’ll find yourself racing around looking for baking pans, roasters, turkeys, and exotic ingredients at the last minute — paying top dollar, and standing in long checkout lines with all the other people who tried that tactic.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed wonderful, storybook Thanksgivings — and had turkey days that ended with me staring miserably at a kitchen full of greasy poultry leftovers and ruined tablecloths.
I like to think I’m getting better at it. Here are five steps I’ve learned to take in order to come to grips with the very real logistic and emotional issues that surround Thanksgiving:
1. Clean out the pantry well in advance. Whether it’s your storage locker, basement, garage, or pantry, get in there and make sure you have a clear path to the stuff for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And that you have the equipment you need: roasters, baking pans, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, pie plates, large serving bowls and platters, a functioning mixer (for whipped cream and mashed potatoes), enough place settings of china and stainless for the number of guests you expect, and a nice tablecloth and napkins. A punchbowl and a large coffee pot will help, too. Make a list of what’s missing (for Step 4).
2. Check the appliances. If your refrigerator is acting up, or your oven seems to be baking unevenly, or if some of your burners don’t work, this is the time to get replacements or call in the repair person — not the week before Thanksgiving. And make sure the dishwasher is on its best behavior, as well.
3. Read up on Thanksgiving cooking. Don’t leave yourself at the mercy of some lifestyle magazine at the checkout counter, either. Do some research and find a Thanksgiving cookbook that suits your style, be it vegetarian, traditional, gourmet, or natural foods. Then read it. I can strongly recommend Cook’s Illustrated Thanksgiving Survival Guide (online) for its thoroughly tested recipes. If you like to cook, but are not used to orchestrating complete meals for a crowd of guests, I’d suggest the ebook Take Control of Thanksgiving Dinner. It takes a project management approach to the meal, with checklists and charts — as well as all the recipes you’ll need to prepare a classic Thanksgiving meal.
4. Buy (or borrow) the necessary equipment. Take your list (from Step 1) and look up the items you need on Amazon, getting a sense for prices and creating a wish list. Then head for your local consignment shop or a discount store such as Ross. You should be able to get much of what you need very cheaply at one of those shops; the remainder you can buy online at Amazon, Cooking.com, or similar. It’s fine to borrow these items, but don’t rely on someone to remember to bring them to the Thanksgiving event. Get them in advance.
5. Plan for enjoyment. Think about your favorite Thanksgiving meals from the past and what made them really wonderful. Do you enjoy simple, informal buffets or elegant sit-downs? Traditional recipes, or the latest gourmet trends? A big, energetic group of guests or a small group of quiet, reflective people? Plan a Thanksgiving experience that’s as close to your ideal as possible. Strongly resist taking responsibility for a meal that’s outside your comfort zone! If someone insists you provide an ultra-gourmet experience, a strict vegetarian meal, a feast for 24 with elegant linens and silver, or cater to a guest list full of people who creep you out, don’t do it. Tell whoever is asking for something you don’t want to prepare that they can host Thanksgiving and you’ll bring a dessert or wine!