Updated: Dec 10, 2021
First to quote the inimitable Fanny Cradock, "Turkey, let's face it, as traditional as it is, is a very dry bird." That's right! Someone said it. I'm not sharing this quote to discourage you, or to diss turkey. What Fanny's words sum up to me is that Thanksgiving Dinner is an uphill battle from the start. As amateur cooks we annually challenge ourselves to prepare and serve a cornucopia of dishes (see what I did there?) at their peak of enjoyability in a kitchen that, "let's face it", rarely accomplishes the same task for a nuclear family throughout the year.
Don't lose heart! My name may not be Ann Landers or Abigail van Buren, but I've got some tips for you to host a "Perfect" Thanksgiving.
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - Martha Stewart has engendered a cottage industry of people trying to sell you products to make your Thanksgiving table the most adorable Norman Rockwell vignette you've ever seen. But take a look at that table. This painting that's been held up as the epitome of Thanksgiving in America for decades has more than a few flaws. The silverware isn't perfectly set. In fact, one place setting doesn't have a knife and spoon (lower left). The point is, if Norman Rockwell can't set a table perfectly, you don't have to either. If your dishes don't match, or you need to serve on paper plates to accommodate that many people, you do you.
You Have a Job - You're allowed some shortcuts. Whatever you need to do to make it easier, we applaud. The woman in this painting is very clearly retired. We know this from her apron, her glasses, the fact that she's presenting the bird to two younger generations of family members, etc. She's had all the time in the world this week to get this dinner ready. You don't have that time. Cranberry from a can? Most of the people I know prefer it. No time to bake an apple pie? Buy one from your local market. Don't Cut Corners on the Important Things - Pick the items on your list that you absolutely must make from scratch. Did you do that? I'll give you a minute. OK. Now that you've drawn your battle lines, I want you to find one dish where you could buy it pre-made or cut some corners on it. I always make my pumpkin pies. I refuse to do without my pumpkin pie recipe. Check out next week's blog for a fantastic pie that simultaneously wows and cuts corners at the same time! Jeremy insists on making homemade butter for every big dinner. You read that correctly, he makes his own butter for every holiday. It's a place where we refuse to cut any corners.
Create a Buffer Zone - It's going to be very easy to pile tasks upon yourself to the point that you don't actually have time to engage with your guests. Try to avoid this. You need time for you. Put the green bean casserole in the oven to crisp and grab yourself a Brandy Old-Fashioned and take a breather. Seriously, give yourself a break. You could easily spend all day getting that dinner ready, serve it and then collapse in a puddle. I've done it. You've done it. We've all watched our mother do it. Find a way to create some time for you.
It's Not About the Food - Period. Many people get wrapped up in serving the perfect meal that impresses everyone at the table. No lie, my mother for years baked 1.5 full pies for everyone in attendance. Much of this was borne of her love of baking, but it always felt to me like she was working herself to the bone for little return. Honestly, though, the food was never the focus for me. It was about watching the parade on the TV, enjoying a day with family as the focus. Yeah, the pie was great (have I mentioned pie enough yet?), but the rest of the meal was a symbolic gesture of love. In retrospect, I wish she'd have skipped the sweet potatoes (I hate them anyway) and taken a few minutes to sit and enjoy the day.