In honor of the Food Writer’s Super Bowl being only three days away, I wanted to weigh in with a few nuggets of advice on how to make it feel like you’ve done the holiday right. This is heavier on strategy and big-picture stuff than recipes (last week’s Round-up has lots of suggestions if that’s what you’re in the market for) but I wanted to be sure you had everything you needed to reap the sentimental dividends of Thanksgiving if you know what I mean. Also, reminder for book owners: our entire Thanksgiving menu, start-to-finish, begins on page 42. Happy Holidays everyone!
Embrace the Ironic Dish at Your Table. Until about a decade ago, one of the signature dishes at our Thanksgiving (and Christmas and any major holiday) table was a molded orange Jell-O number similar to the one you are looking at above. We called it Glark, and even though it was a fixture of my 80s childhood, for reasons I probably do not have to articulate, the poor thing became the source of much laughter and ridicule and eventually disappeared from our table. Which is too bad because it’s as much a part of our Thanksgiving story as my mom’s chocolate pudding pies. I wrote all about our beloved Glark Real Simple this month, but the more people I tell about it the more I realize that every table has its own Glark and I really want to hear about them. Please feel free to share below, we promise we won’t laugh. (PS: I also wrote a downloadable “What I’m Thankful For” Mad Lib for Real Simple, so check that out, too.)
Start a Whipped Cream Throw-Down. Do you guys know that Lisa Leake, the woman behind the wildly popular 100 Days of Real Food empire, has a new book out called Fast & Fabulous? There are some super simple family recipes in there — all real-food approved, bien sur — but I think my favorite recipe was one for whipped cream. Recipe might be overstating it. It’s more like a ritual, where she just has her guests shake cream in jars until it’s whipped. In her words: “Let me rock your world with this super fun method for making whipped cream — I don’t even get my mixer out to make it anymore. If you’re entertaining, it’s a fabulous way to put your guests to work, especially the little ones. I’ve even been known to put together two whipped cream jars and have two teams to see who can whip their cream the fastest.” Love that idea, Lisa! Congrats on the book! (And don’t judge me for my Glark.)
Make Special Thanksgiving Tableware This is probably not very fair of me to spring on you three days before the big day, but if you can swing by a toy store, try to pick up a bunch of those old-school Make-a-Plate Kits for your kids. When my daughters were three and four, we brought them to my sister’s house and sat with the girls and their cousins and had a grand old time coloring hand-traced turkeys. Actually that’s kind of a lie. Like most arts and crafts, it was not as fun as it promised to be, but the difference with this project was that it yielded an object with massive sentimental pay-off. (And yes, that’s Andy’s make-a-plate, circa 1979.)
Keep a Record. My mom calls this the Post-Mortem. The day after Thanksgiving, she sits down and takes notes on the whole affair. What went right? What went wrong? Who was in attendance? What was the temperature outside? No detail too small to escape the Thanksgiving Secretary. (You can read more about her system here.)
Keep a Word Doc. Before I wrote a cookbook (which contains all the information I need for my own Thanksgiving) I used to cut and paste the recipes I was using into a word doc called “Thanksgiving Master Plan,” and then type in my shopping list based on those recipes. The document grew and grew and it was a good way of not having to re-invent the wheel every year. (I dread writing shopping lists so much, do you?) Like my mom, I’d take notes as I cooked, then after the holiday, I’d doctor up the file before saving the plan for next year. Reminder: Whenever possible, organize your shopping list by aisle.
Whatever You Can Do in Advance, Do in Advance. That means setting the table, making your homemade stock, cranberry sauce, pie crusts and pies. But it also means potato casseroles that you can make from start to finish the day before so all you have to do is heat it up in the oven once the turkey is roasted and resting. This will save you from the anxiety of carrying and straining a large pot of potatoes in boiling hot water across the kitchen, around the toddlers, right at T-30 minutes crunch time. The potato gratin dish in my book (page 56) is good for this, as is this mashed potato casserole from the New York Times. Lastly: If you have already bought your turkey and it is frozen, take it out of the freezer now to begin its thawing process. You do not have a lot of good options if you forget this. Unless Moo Shu Pork is your idea of a great Thanksgiving.
Photo credits Plated Thanksgiving dinner, Thanksgiving plates, My Mom’s notes, Gratin: Chelsea Cavanaugh; Whipped Cream: Lindsey Johnson; Glark: Russel Smith.