In what you now consider to be a moment of questionable good sense, you have invited an extended group of family and friends to your house for Thanksgiving dinner. Oops. Before you know it you will be staring at a frozen turkey asking yourself, why me? Since this is a holiday steeped in tradition, it’s not one that is easy to improvise. After all, you can’t possibly substitute a store bought ham or frozen lasagna for a golden roasted, aroma-flowing turkey. Can you? Well….
Whether you’re hosting a Friendsgiving or a Thanksgiving, the love among guests is unconditional, and a perfect excuse to blend new holiday traditions with the old ones. What’s a Friendsgiving, you ask? That’s when you hold a turkey day celebration with friends instead of family, because you’re a college student, on a business trip or far away from loved ones. OR, it simply means you may decide to host more than one gathering this November.
First thing’s first, you have to plan
Since you are the host, you take on the star of the meal: the turkey and gravy. Choose from the million or so side dishes that are designed to accent the bird. Peruse your file box, favorite cookbooks and websites (I recommend Sur La Table) to assemble the yummiest recipes.
Now, call upon your most reliable friends to contribute everything that surrounds the main feast. I may just get my best friends, who just happen to be my recipes testers, to bring the best family style recipes from SUNDAY BEST DISHES.
Cardinal rule #1: Let your guests help!
Ask Aunt Edna…
to bring her scrumptious crab appetizer. (Closed-mouth Edna is never going to give away that secret recipe anyway.) When once-removed cousin Jack offers to make his broccoli and avocado gratin, laced with chopped pecans and garnished with candied lemon zest, take a deep breath. Instead, offer to email him your simple recipe for sautéed green beans. Hopefully, battle weary Jack will oblige with this creative and edible veggie side dish.
Every year I share my new tradition’s side dish recipes, like corn soufflé casserole and white raisin dressing with my best pals (write me at jorj.com if you’d like either of these emailed to you!) – and they share theirs in return. We try to find dishes that can be made in advance and then baked ahead of time and brought warm to the dinner. My favorite dressing for Thanksgiving was published to jorj.com last year, and I’ll be rolling it out this year too!
Pick a shopping day a week or two in advance
Check out specialty markets for hard to find ingredients like white raisins, aged sherry and new varieties of fresh herbs. It may shock you to know that early planning can be fun: autumn scented candles, cakes and coffees!
Start trying new things, and auditioning the possibilities….
GET IN THE MOOD! Make your first shopping day stop, your favorite coffee house. Order a cup of pumpkin spiced coffee and a fresh baked pumpkin and butterscotch scone. While you are there, buy a pound of coffee you will eventually serve to Friendsgiving or thanksgiving guests!With tummy full, stroll the aisles of your favorite food boutique for cranberry relish or chutney. Look for jars of pumpkin butter for a fragrant and appealing addition to warm, fresh rolls.
Visit the butcher at your grocery store, and place an order for your great big bird. His first question is, “Do you want fresh or frozen?” Both are full of flavor and easily prepared. My quick rule of thumb is to choose a fresh turkey if you have room to store him properly in your refrigerator and have the time to pick him up the day before. Choose a frozen bird if you have more freezer space than time to run errands. Remember, the bigger the bird the longer the defrosting time.
Shop…then get ready at home
Thanksgiving is the holiday that takes advantage of your best china and crystal. Take stock of your tableware early. Make sure you have enough for all of your guests. Coordinate the place settings, but remember, they don’t have to match — an eclectic table is loads of fun. Go antiquing for that tablescape!
F-U-N blends with functionality when you pre-plan the table. Do you have several gravy boats or pitchers? Can you find enough serving platters and utensils? Bring out any special place card holders, porcelain salt and pepper shakers and newly popular pieces like menu holders.
On shopping day, squeeze in a side trip to your favorite second hand store, antique shop or mall store china department to browse for some new fun pieces that will bring your table together. Find an antique mall near you, with this fabulous link!
With shopping day done, kick off your shoes and flop into that favorite chair. The menu is complete, the china sorted. You’ve purchased hard-to-find ingredients and bought all of the pantry staples you will need. Your favorite recipes have been texted or PM’d to friends and family. Guess what – you are well on your way to a stress free, yummy Thanksgiving Day… the start of your NEW TRADITION.