10 Things to Do Now to Get a Grip on Thanksgiving

When I say 10 things, what I really mean to say is, Choose two or three things from this list of ten so you can trick yourself into feeling a little bit more in control of things. I woke up this morning in a panic. For the first time ever, I ordered a pasture-raised turkey from a local farm, but other than that I hadn’t done more than field a few calls from my mom…who has lots of questions about the pasture-raised turkey from a local farm. (#1: “Will it fit in your sister’s oven?”) But I took a few minutes today to make some pie dough and review the line-up, and I already feel better. Here are a few more suggestions:

1. Make Pie Dough. Even if you don’t know what you’re going to fill your crusts with, you’re never going to go wrong with a stack of pate brisee in your freezer.

2. Pick up Butter Wherever You See it. Even if you don’t know what you’re cooking yet, you’re never going to go wrong with a stack of unsalted sticks. (Meanwhile, Andy just texted me from Trader Joe’s that the butter is all cleaned out. I’m not panicking just yet.)

3. Set the Table. If you are hosting, and the feast is happening on a table that you can live without for a few days, throw down the table cloth or runner, distribute the china, and figure out your centerpiece. Last year, we just used a simple row of persimmons, which I’m planning to repeat this year. So elegant. So stinkin easy.

4. Make Homemade Stock.
 Cover chicken bones, carrots, onions, herbs, and a parm rind with water, add salt and pepper, simmer for a few hours, strain and freeze. Having a pot of homemade stock (turkey or chicken) on the stovetop during the Thanksgiving cooking is the best kind of insurance plan. Use it to baste the turkey, thin the gravy, simmer the sprouts, brighten the stuffing. It upgrades everything.

5. Plan Your Menu. Inspiration starts with the New York Times planner and Bon Appetit‘s Thanksgiving Headquarters.

6. Start a Thanksgiving File. Given that it’s Thanksgiving, chances are good that the menu is pretty set already, but even so, you’ll probably need to get your recipes in order to remind yourself of what you need. About six or seven years ago, I started cutting and pasting our cauliflower, brussels sprouts, scalloped potatoes, and stuffing recipes into a word doc I called “Thanksgiving File.” The second year I pulled it up, I added a shopping list for it. We always mix it up a little in our house — like, for instance, this year we are trying out that new turkey — but for the most part, the menu stays constant, as it should (Do I need to remind you how I feel about tradition?) so I don’t need to reinvent the wheel every year. I realize this is not very helpful if you don’t have a file like this sitting on your desktop ready to pull up. But what you can do that will be super helpful (for both this year and the years that follow) is start the document today. At the very least, all your recipes will be in one place and easily accessible when you are cooking. Add a page break between each recipes so that you can…

7…Post Your Recipes. Back in September, during the photo shoot for my next book, there were always three or four recipes going at once — in that way it was like Thanksgiving every day for five straight days. The way we kept our heads together was by taping the recipes to cabinets at eye level. No shuffling through papers, no craning our necks, no bobbing back and forth between page and pan. It’s a small thing, but it adds up. Note: If you are using recipes from a cookbook, you can just use photocopies. Fixing them to the cabinet door will make you feel better I promise.

8. Buy Tickets to Mockingjay 2. Just sayin. If you’ve got a lot of nieces and nephews running around, it might be nice to have some advance movie tickets to anchor the day after Thanksgiving. (If your family is still together.)

9. Finalize Outsourcing. Sure, it’s fun to embrace a day of cooking, but it’s also wise to pick a few things you know you don’t want to deal with. Send an email to your brother and ask him to bring the wine. Ask your sister to pick up the apple tart that went so fast last year. Assign the cornbread to your niece. Whatever you decide on, make a big point of crossing that item off the list. That part feels so good.

10. Pick Up Some Host Gifts. If you’re just showing up at the feast and not cooking — you’re still not off the hook. I’ve been partnering with the indie-food site Mouth this year, and I highly recommend checking out their offerings if you’re in the market for a one-of-a-kind, definitely-will-be-invited-back kind of gift. Above: A cheese board from Brooklyn Slate, Watershed Distillery Bourbon, Carr’s Ciderhouse Apple Cider Vinegar, and TenderBelly maple bacon.

FYI: All December long, DALS readers get 20% off everything at Mouth. Just type in code DALS20 at checkout. And definitely check in with them on the day after Thanksgiving. They are having a huuuuge Black Friday sale. So you can get ahead for the next holiday.

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A Thanksgiving file is such a great idea! Maybe I’ll start Christmas and Easter files, too. I always think I’ll remember every year what I do and then I forget. Although, there are traditional dishes at each Holiday, I do like to change things up a little each year.

Raising The Capable Student

I have a 3-ring binder with all my Thanksgiving and Christmas menus with recipes from years past. I include who ate with us on the back of the menus. It’s a little crazy because Thanksgiving is almost always the same, but I love to read over past menus and remember my family at our different stages of growing up. Happy Thanksgiving to you!


Thursday will mark my sixteen (!) year hosting Thanksgiving! About 5 years ago, I created a file for the holiday, including all the recipes and the shopping list with items organized by department. It makes the trip(s) to the store less chaotic and helps me plan out the days leading up to the feast. I always try something new (Sam Sifton’s cauliflowers this year) and add/detract dishes that were hits/misses.


What is it with moms and the skepticism of free range turkeys? I begged my mom a few Thanksgivings back to get one, which she agreed to do with reluctance. She cooked it like a typical supermarket saltwater injected bird so it didn’t come out right (dry), her not realizing they cook differently. She won’t try again with an organic free range bird and the lesson is lost; I must chock it up to generational misunderstandings. BTW, last year I roasted a free range organic turkey for our first annual ‘Friendsgiving’ one week after Thanksgiving and it came out perfect (could have been beginners luck) and everyone thought it was delicious. Jenny thank you for the useful info, your advice never disappoints! I’ve never tried buttermilk pie-is that tradition in your family?


Julie – thank you for this nice note. I’m glad you’ve found my advice useful. Do you have any advice on cooking the free range organic turkey for a first-timer? And no, buttermilk pie is not really a tradition in the family. We made it a few years ago (using the Hominy Grill recipe) and were toying with the idea of doing it again, but i”m not fully committed yet, even though the Sharpie says otherwise!


I just have to add that the Bon Appetit link you listed in this post has great info-especially their etiquette section and sample seating chart. It’s hilarious, and the conversation do’s and dont’s- so funny, thank you!


Lovely tips as always, and I totally have to check out Mouth! What awesome gift ideas.
Hope you and your family have a wonderful thanksgiving!


A quick note to tell that whenever I say my “thankfuls” (as our family calls them), you are always on the list. You don’t know me from Adam’s apple, but you are an important part of my week, every week! I love your writing and love your cookbooks. I’m thankful for your blog and the good work you put into it.

Happy Thanksgiving! M.


Thank you M. You’re right, I don’t know you from Adam, but you, and all DALS readers, are an important part of my week every week, too. I am so grateful for your gratitude. (And around and around we spin!) Happy Thanksgiving.


Yes!! Made my pie crusts and cranberry sauce over the weekend, so feeling somewhat less panicky. But still haven’t settled on a few sides. I’m having 12 for our meal, and half are out-of-towners, so I’m just doing it all myself. I do have a file from years past, but I am not smart enough to have made notes! Can’t recall which sides were hits and which were “meh”. Will be sure to pay more attention this year. I hate re-inventing the wheel!


** Adam’s HOUSECAT, not Adam’s apple (“I don’t know him from Adam’s housecat” is the expression around here) – clearly my mind is on Thanksgiving to do lists as well!


Do you have a picture of the persimmon? I picked up a bunch at T’Js bc thought they would be pretty but I am centerpiece challenged….thanks

Susan C.

Hi Jenny. I love your blog and can’t wait to show my mom when I go home for Thanksgiving. Can you show a picture of the persimmon centerpiece? I think this a simple but lovely idea.


I use Evernote to keep track of all of my recipes. It’s fantastic for organizing them. I created a notebook in it for holiday meals with individual notes for each recipe. I love looking back to see what I made in previous years. Happy Thanksgiving!


Taping my recipes to the cabinet door was such a good idea. It was so much easier to follow and less walking back and forth. I’ll be doing this whenever I cook from a recipe from now on. Thanks for the tip!