More than likely the first pilgrims had a harsh time scraping together fare for the first Thanksgiving. Even in these days of modern convenience holiday cooks too need courage to forage.
Before you even set foot out that front door get organized. Days ahead make room in your refrigerator and kitchen pantry for perishable and non-perishable items. Prune down the excess because you're stocking up.
Personally I find this clearing of kitchen real estate quite invigorating. Seriously. You might be surprised at some things that you have forgotten you've stored or that are a notch or two past the expiration date.
This is also an excellent time to swab out the refrigerator. If your relatives are anything like mine they tend to snoop. Dazzle them with your orderliness. You can tell a lot about a person from the inside of their refrigerator.
- Make a list. Seriously. Sit down, think each recipe through, and just do it. Provisioning for a major holiday event is a little like planning a major ascent of K2. Without a list you will forget something and halfway up the west face is no time to remember you forgot the celery.
This list should take in account the number of guests, how much you think they will actually consume (including leftovers), likes and dislikes, as well as substitutes for items that may be already well picked over in the market.
Do you honestly think you're the only soul in America who's thought of green bean casserole or roasted acorn squash? Just saying. Lists also help keep you focused.
If you can go early for certain items do so. Wine doesn't go bad, stock up on the appetizers and such because five seconds after Halloween the retailers went on a full court press with their Thanksgiving "deals".
- Do yourself a favor and keep your menu simple. Don't try some quaint new recipe you discovered in some overpriced magazine or some perky foodie on TV suggested you try. Guests are not guinea pigs and a special day in your home is no time to be rolling the culinary bones.
As my nine year-old daughter (a quasi vegetarian) said when I asked her what I should serve besides the turkey on Thanksgiving—"stick with the classics, dad." She's right. The crowd pleasers. You know what's expected and what you're good at. Channel your inner Thomas Keller some other time.
- Pour your focus into the star of the meal. I don't care if you're a gung-ho vegan serving up a batch of quinoa and walnut stuffed peppers or if you're roasting up Uncle Frank's fresh kill, you botch up the main event and people will notice. I'm reminded of the scene in the Baltimore-based 1988 film The Accidental Tourist, are horrified family looking in at an underdone turkey saying "…is this Thanksgiving we all die?" No. Make that main dish sing and you will bask in the glory for years to come.
Or at least until next November rolls around.
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