Countdown to Thanksgiving

It’s coming, and we all know that as soon as it’s here and gone, Christmas is going to tap us on the shoulder and scare us to death because yet another year has gone by! But that’s too much to think about right now so I am going to reign it in and focus on the next six days.

Growing up, Thanksgiving day meant waking up to a bird in the sink, rolls proofing on the counter, and a table full of pies we dare not touch. Oh, and the simmering pot on the stove that always contained creepy-looking giblets but you would forget each year what it was and still crack the lid with excitement, then immediately regret it. I would put the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the television, have some breakfast, then help my mom with whatever I could. It was usually just the six of us as our extended family is predominantly Canadian so the BIG Thanksgiving dinner was in October. Twice. So by the time this one rolled around, it was our third feast of the season. Did I ever tire of turkey sandwiches on homemade buns? Never! But this day was usually low-key for us, and as I got older, the evening was spent with my mom and sister, sipping coffee and reading the flyers, planning our big 3am shop the next morning. Back when it was still black FRIDAY. I miss those days; I miss wondering whether or not I can get a cup of coffee on holidays, or making sure the grocery shopping was done because the stores were closed. I’m getting a little tired of all the conveniences we allow ourselves, while cutting into the family time we already have so little of. Even if you don’t celebrate with your blood-related family, it’s so important to take some time off and allow yourself a real break this time of year.

Now that I am married, my Thanksgivings can change quite a bit from year to year; sometimes we get home, sometimes we host, sometimes we are travelling all day! Anytime I host a large dinner or party, I always get excited to try new recipes, show off my classics, and most of all, enjoy time with those I love. I want to give you a few tips as to how I pull it off without going crazy or locking myself away in the kitchen. First of all, it starts out looking like this:

Brainstorming

Phase One: Brainstorming

This is the fun phase! Anything goes - grab that recipe you have been wanting to try that you tore out of the magazine in the waiting room, email your mother-in-law for the family potato recipe, jump online and read a ten-page-long forum about whether or not you should brine! If you are like me and also like to craft and set a perfect table, pull some of that inspiration out too.

Phase Two: Components

Grab a notebook or piece of paper (or start a new Google doc if that’s more your style!) and write down what you know you for sure want, even if you haven’t decided on a recipe yet, and leave some space between each one like this:

Turkey/Gravy -

Cranberry Sauce -

Stuffing -

Salad -

Potatoes -

Vegetable Side #1 -

Vegetable Side #2 -

Dessert -

Misc -

Then, if you know someone else  is bringing something, add their name in. And folks, if you are hosting but others are bringing dishes, for the love of turkey - assign them something! The last thing you want is three sweet potato pies. If you have a self-proclaimed ‘I keep sweaters in my oven’ type of guest, have them bring some nice cheeses for an appetizer platter! When thinking of the dishes you’ll make, consider oven space and perhaps try a new stovetop dish or a squash you can roash ahead of time then pan fry with a glaze to reheat. So now your paper might look something like this:

Turkey/Gravy - Classic roast turkey/pan gravy

Cranberry Sauce - Ginger-Orange infused recipe from my BA mag

Stuffing - try cornbread this year! foodnetwork.com

Salad - Melissa is bringing

Potatoes - Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Potatoes cookbook pg. 257

Vegetable Side #1 - Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash

Vegetable Side #2 - Carrot & Sweet Potato puree - BHG pg 431

Dessert - Mom’s Pumpkin Pie & whipped cream/ Mark is bringing a gluten free torte

Misc - ice, rolls, Wine/Barbara, appies?


Phase Three: THE LIST

Now that you know all of the items that you are making and what miscellaneous items you need to be a good host, make that list! But not haphazardly. When I do my regular grocery shops, I use an app called Grocery IQ; however, for something like this where I *cannot* forget anything, I map it all out on paper. {Remember that time your finger slipped and you accidently ‘checked’ something off your list but cannot retrieve what it was?! Not the best game to play for Thanksgiving}

  1. Write down all your headings, leaving the appropriate space underneath for items. I used: Meats/Deli, Dairy, Canned/Dry, Baking, Produce, Alcohol, and ‘Misc’ for items like ice, club soda, paper towel, etc.

  2. Take each recipe, in the order it’s written above, and write down every ingredient under it’s proper heading on your shopping list. You aren’t worried about different store at this point - this is your master list you can always reference. Unless it’s something you have a large supply of, write it on the list now, just in case.

  3. Depending on how far in advance you do this step(for any future dinners or parties!), use your master list to check weekly sales and flyers so you can grab items as they come on sale, and then you can check them off and keep all the items together.

  4. The final shop - check your list against your cupboards and fridge to ensure there isn't anything you can already check off - space is key so you don't want too many "extras" lying around. If you have your go-to places you know will have everything, just hit the store with you list and go to town. Just remember that on holidays, everyone tends to shop at the same time for the same things so planning is key! At this point, I break my list down on my phone because I can separate lists by store/market: Farmers Market, Sprouts, Whole Foods. I’m going on Tuesday, and my list is down to fresh produce, dairy and the bird - no diving for the last can of Libby’s for me!


Phase Four: Fruition

Give yourself a couple hours on a quiet Sunday morning or set your alarm for 2am if that’s the only quiet time you get while the kids are sleeping. The planning of your meal prep should be done no later than the weekend before the big day so that you can go into the week calmly. You also must know your dinner start time!

Take a look at phase two again, and starting from the first component, read through the WHOLE recipe and make some notes, ie Brine 24 hrs, let stand 30 minutes, place in freezer for 15 minutes, can be made 2 days in advance, etc. Think about what time you want to sit down to dinner, and work backward, making timing notes such as ‘oven @ 3pm’ ‘make dough Wed. a.m.’. Do this for all the recipes - and yes, your page might end up looking a bit like this:

Thanksgiving Plan

Now all you need to do is look at those notes and take the step that can start the earliest - for me it’s homemade jelly candies that can be made up to one week in advance before cutting. I am starting my timeline there on Sunday, then following with the next three days of little things I can do to prepare; Thursday will get it’s own piece of paper. Now since you already got your craziness out on the ‘phase two’ sheet, your timeline can look like this:

Daily Lists

Believe me, come crunch time, you want to be looking at that organized page! I have the ability to be at home the days leading up to the holiday so I am a bit more open with my plan, however, you may want to write specific times in the margins so you have a grasp on what the day looks like in detail.

Now, the final piece of this crazy-organized puzzle, Thanksgiving day. Start with a few key times, building a framework:

7am - Make largest pot of coffee possible

8am - Mix up bun dough and let rise / Have breakfast

9am

    -9:30- start stuffing for bird/turn on oven

10am - Start preparing turkey - in at 10:45!

11am -

12pm -

    -Take break to do makeup and hair!!/Quick snack

1pm -

    -1:45-Quickly get changed

2pm - Appies out/Guests start arriving

3pm -

4pm - Sit down to dinner!

Fill in the rest according to cook & prep time, taking care to note when something needs to be removed from the freezer or oven, chilled, etc. Look over your recipes one last time, and make any adjustments needed, and remember to allow yourself time to do your hair & makeup and to get dressed. By the time your guests start arriving, that alone will make a huge difference on your overall stress level - I’ll even go as far to say set a time on your phone to remind yourself! You are now ready to go forth and conquer Thanksgiving with stressless grace and style. Okay, not stressless...but less stress ;)

Through all of this, remember to give thanks - to God, the universe, those who came before us - and enjoy some time {and food!} with those you love.


With a full heart and an empty plate,

Katie