I love Thanksgiving. I really do. I love all the foods, love having my family hang out, love the idea behind it. It is my favorite holiday until about 6:00 pm on Thanksgiving night, when the Rhoads family Christmas tree goes up. But Thanksgiving for the uninitiated can be quite daunting…hence this blog.
Begin early in November. Spend the month focused on developing an attitude of gratitude. I like to journal on the topic and immerse myelf in the real purpose of the holiday: family ties and blessings remembered. Scan articles about decorating for fall holidays. My family has a few favorites that had better be on the table, but one or two new twists keep the holiday fresh. Devour recipes on Pinterest. This cultivates a frame of mind filled with peace, not jitters. Personal preparation before meal preparation is huge for me.
Two weeks before Thanksgiving I start working on table settings. Seating 17 people requires thoughtful consideration. Who has handicapped needs? Who likes visiting with whom? Do the children sit with the adults, and if not, at what age break do they graduate to the main table? Will you serve buffet or family style with serving dishes on the table? Are you carving the turkey at the table Norman Rockwell style or plating it? Answer all these questions to determine the physical arrangement of guests and family. Then work on your tablescape. I use cloth napkins, and like to learn fancy new folding pattern each year. I also like to decorate the table with little cards at each place setting. I don’t assign seating, but I like something thought provoking or cute. Get these mudane tasks figured out well ahead of time. Trust me on this.
If you are new to preparing the family feast, you’ll find it much easier if you approach the holiday with the tactical precision of a military commander planning the invasion of Normandy. I kid you not. It takes military genius to pull this thing off. Let’s begin with the week of Thanksgiving, assigning time slots for meal preparation.
If your turkey isn’t already thawing, go now. Right now. Buy a fresh one. It takes 4 days to defrost an 18 pound turkey in the fridge. If yours is smaller, you may still have time. I keep mine in a picnic cooler with a thermometer. As it thaws it keeps the cooler about the same temperature as a fridge…but I have to watch if the oven is on too much, raising the ambient temperature. Sometimes I toss the cooler outside if it isn’t freezing, sometimes it moves in an out over the course of a day…I know, it’s a pain. But hey, that’s a lot of refrigerator real estate to fork over when the ice box is already jam-packed with everything else.
Monday is a day of rest for me. Sundays find me running myself ragged, preparing for kids’ classes, figuring out dinner, and returning for Sunday evening church. I gear up for Thanksgiving by napping on Monday. Everyone needs a day of rest, right?
Tuesday morning dawns with my preparations in full swing. I make my mashed potatoes on Tuesday, using cream cheese and sour cream to keep them creamy and delightful. I start drying 2 loaves of bread for stuffing, and I organize ingredients with spices across the dining room table. Tuesday evening is cranberry sauce. Wash your berries, taking out the ones that float. I use the recipe on the package and even though Bill is the only one of the family who likes them, I make a double batch every year. If there’s a lot left over, I can always make more Jello, lol.
Wednesday is pie, jello and stuffing day. I bake pies and try to move them around so they don’t freeze while staying the appropriate temperature. Let me just sat this: Mother Nature, I want a steady 45 degrees through Thanksgiving! Morning; While the pies are baking I’m cooking giblets. Pumpkin pie requires putting everything into the bowl in the proper order so your spices don’t clump, but making them from scratch is huge. The canned pie mix is too bland or me. Afternoon: Jello time! I usually make a blueberry concoction with a nice frosting, but it was Alma’s favorite, so I’m exploring a new recipe this year. There’s no sense in crying through the day. Evening: By Wednesday night you need to have chopped and mixed the stuffing. Don’t skimp on the sage. I mix it up and taste it an hour later to be sure it’s savory and perfect. If you can’t farm out the sweet potatoes, make those Wednesday evening as well.
Thursday morning starts at 5:00 am, when we stuff the turkey and stick it in the oven. I know. You aren’t supposed to stuff the bird, but hey, stuffing just isn’t the same in a casserole dish. I can always taste the difference, and since it’s one of my favorite things, it simply must get stuffed. Finish the Jello by 10:00 am. If your dinner is noonish, the potatoes go in the oven by 11:00. Make sure you take your turkey out a half hour before you’re ready to carve. Spoon out the stuffing.
Carving the turkey: First remove the drumsticks. Systematically remove the thighs and wings. Now cut down the center of the bird to bisect the breast. Once you’ve lifted it aside, it can be easily sliced. Do the same with the other side. Fill one half of the platter with white and the other half with dark.
Gravy time! Start with the appropriate stock, skimming off excess grease. Season it. Make a slurry of flour and water, and add it to the gravy, whisking like a madwoman. Continue the process, letting it cook as it thickens.
Thankfully, other family members are bringing sweet potatoes, rolls, appetizers, a vegetable casserole, and extra desserts. So happy about that! Trust yourself. You can do this. Just devise a plan, and be very specific. It makes Thanksgiving easy and your family will be so impressed. And thankful.