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Nov '08

Thanksgiving Food 911: 3 Important Tips to Save Your Sanity

A Peaceful Thanksgiving DinnerAt its best, Thanksgiving is a day to surround oneself with the people one cares for the most as well as to feel gratitude for the bounty of this year and the promise of the next.

Unfortunately, with all the culinary preparation and cooking that must be done, as well as the complications of modern life, it’s all too easy to lose oneself in the myriad details that come with planning any holiday meal. Below are a few tips to help you get centered and ready to both encourage and celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving Day.

1. It’s a Celebration, Not an Audition

We can’t all be Martha Stewart, Nathalie Dupree, Thomas Keller, Paul Prudhomme, or Julia Child, so it’s important to remember to make realistic choices when planning your Thanksgiving menu.

If your daily cooking style is closer to boxed macaroni and cheese and TV dinners, it’s probably not the best idea to try that recipe for Cajun Turducken (NY Times, registration required) or Paula Wolfert’s Toulouse-Style Cassoulet for the first time in front of company.

Conversely, if you’re so comfortable in the kitchen that your hands feel empty when you’re not doing a light dice with your santoku knife, you might want to consider focusing on high quality, but less time and labor intensive dishes so you can enjoy the company of your guests. Do you really want to spend Thanksgiving laboriously peeling pound after pound of chestnuts for a classic marron glacé?

Also, whatever your kitchen comfort level, think about what dishes can be prepared in advance versus those that must be prepared on the day. Consider what preparation can and perhaps should be done in advance (ie. baking, marinating, chopping, dicing, blending meat rubs, etc.).

Any advance work you do will pay off, and in many cases it’s easier to get people to pitch in during the days before rather than on the day of the holiday itself.

Two cliches that are actually true when it comes to the spirit of Thanksgiving;  It’s the thought that counts and the company you keep. Really.

Autumn and Thanksgiving2. Free Help is Out There For the Asking

Having problems with your turkey? Cranberries giving you trouble? Is your souffle looking depressed?

A wide variety of companies have set up free Thanksgiving helplines in advance so you can get advice and tips to help you pull everything together on the big day.

(There’s even more holiday helplines here.)

Also, in addition to their traditional helpline, the folks at Butterball have recently added how-to videos, a portion calculator, and more to their revamped website to help guide Thanksgiving cooks.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Think Outside of the Holiday Box

If things are a bit tight financially, your resources are overstretched (ie. a sickness in the family, a recent move, etc.), or you feel trapped in a holiday cooking rut, this may be a good time to think outside the box (and perhaps start a few new holiday traditions).

Instead of the traditional turkey with all the trimmings and its flotilla of side dishes, consider preparing some different dishes when you celebrate Thanksgiving. Often less expensive and time consuming (and perhaps more fun), you might be surprised how many people end up dutifully eating turkey every year when they’d secretly rather be eating roasted chicken or succulent pork. In the area where I grew up, it was not at all unusual for people in my Italian neighborhood to serve a bubbly lasagna in place of the turkey.

Here’s NY Times’ food columnist, Mark Bittman’s helpful suggestions for 10 Thanksgiving meals that don’t feature turkey.

For those living far from their families and/or planning a gathering of friends, another out of the box Thanksgiving alternative would be to organize a potluck so no one person is stuck with all the cooking, cleaning, and expense. It’s also a great way for everyone to get to know each other better by sharing dishes and ingredients from various cultures.

Another possibility is to celebrate Thanksgiving at a restaurant. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website, 43% of Americans choose to eat out on Thanksgiving so you won’t be alone in that decision. (If that’s your choice, don’t forget to make a reservation in advance if the restaurant requires it.)

Whatever you decide, here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is both peaceful and pleasant!

(Photo Credits: Photos Courtesy of and Copyright Free Range Stock.)

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