Giving Them The Bird

Home & Yard Blvd. Section

It’s High Noon on Thanksgiving, and the house is a disaster. Instead of finely crafted silverware, plastic forks and spoons lie strewn about the kitchen table. Instead of an elegant arrangement of soothing, fall-colored decorations, a plastic cornucopia and a freshly printed “Happy Thanksgiving” sign awkwardly greet guests at the front door.

And instead of casually strolling through the house playing the role of hostess with the mostess, you’re left scrambling in the kitchen. The mashed potatoes are runny, the turkey’s still half- frozen, and the pumpkin pie you attempted to make tastes like lemon meringue.

At last, you awake in a panic from your nightmare. Sweat, which just a second ago you thought was gravy, drips down your forehead. Now that you’re alert and fully aware Thanksgiving hasn’t arrived yet, your heart returns to its usual slow and steady beat.

But then, your foggy head clears, and you begin to think, “Crap, Thanksgiving’s a week away, and I still haven’t planned a thing.”

The nightmare you just had suddenly doesn’t seem so bad after all, and, in fact, is like a dream compared to the situation you now find yourself in.

For any prospective first-time party planner, making sure your gathering is a success can be a daunting task. Throw hungry and expectant diners plus a cupboard full of relatives into the mix, and even the most seasoned Thanksgiving hostess could buckle at the knees under the weight.

Before your stress level rises to an extreme (and besides, you really don’t have time for stress anyway), several suggestions can prevent you from being upstream in a gravy boat without a paddle.

First things first: Make a list. Write down anything and everything you will need to accomplish Thanksgiving Day and the week leading up to it. When you begin your planning is up to you, but if you’re a procrastinator—which means you more than likely will disregard this column, or stow it away some place safe until November 27 anyway—get your party planning going early. On that list of things to do: Purchase decorations; call guests; coordinate who’s bringing what; and, finally, dive into turkey preparation.

Start by purchasing the nonperishables, and work your way up. Whatever the party’s intended feel (casual, elegant, etc.), snatching a few Turkey Day accessories should be a breeze. Considering that retail stores give you months in advance to pick and sort through holiday decorations, time is really not of the essence.

Procrastinators, however, very well may reap some reward just by being themselves in this department. Discounts and half-price bargains typically fill store shelves the week before said holiday arrives, and remain there during the following weeks until all that’s left are some garish decorations even Martha Stewart would pass up.

With your Thanksgiving decor in hand and under control, it’s time to tackle the unenvious task all Thanksgiving hostesses must endure: food preparation. Cooking for others can be hard enough without the amped-up expectations of Thanksgiving diners determined to gorge themselves as much as possible before reaching their tryptophan-induced euphoria.

Just like your guests, the culinary mission you are about to embark on has its own long line of tradition and lore. Everyone has expectations of what the turkey should look and taste like; what dessert should be served; and what delicacies are worthy to be or even should be present at the kitchen table.

No hostess, seasoned or otherwise, should have to produce such quantity and quality under such high expectations. That being the case, give yourself a slight break, and invite each of your guests to bring one of his or her own favorite side dishes to the gathering. Not only will each person be glad to do so, but also it guarantees he or she will have at least one home-cooked tradition on the table to chomp down on.

You obviously will want to coordinate or get a sense of who is bringing what—no matter how much anyone loves sweet potatoes, nine servings just seems a bit much—but figuring that list out is perhaps the least of your worries. Enter turkey, stage left.

As hard as you may try to pawn off the turkey production, the pièce de résistance of holiday tradition generally falls squarely on the shoulders of the hostess. If you’re worried about getting it right, ask a friend or relative for a great recipe, or peruse the Internet to look for an oft-repeated one. If you have the time and money to do so, practice making the turkey a week or two in advance—you may feel quite a bit more comfortable when it’s time to produce the real thing.

Apart from the turkey, keep everything else simple. Yes, it is Thanksgiving, and yes, that usually means producing enough food to feed a village of people, but do the waistlines of your guests and you a favor by scaling back if need be. Focus on the essentials. The turkey, stuffing, and perhaps mashed potatoes you provide surely will be enough when supplemented by the dishes your guests bring with them.

Producing only the basics is not tacky or lazy. It’s smart thinking. Besides, not having to slave away in the kitchen—dealing with runny mashed potatoes, a still half-frozen turkey, and pumpkin pie that tastes like lemon meringue—means you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family.

And who wouldn’t want that, right?

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