Although celebrating the end of harvest is observed in different ways around the globe, the Thanksgiving holiday is viewed to be a uniquely American tradition. A quick refresh of history reminds us that were it not for the writer Sarah Josepha Hale (who penned “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) – we might not be enjoying it as a national holiday. With nothing better to do (just kidding!), she famously petitioned politicians for around 40 years before Honest Abe unified the holiday across all states, and fixed the date to the final Thursday in November. Today, we are also unified in the day’s feast: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mash potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie… and of course football.
But before our beloved turkey can actually make it to the table, each household has their own stress filled whirlwind of activity. For the cooks, the flow of the day is far from sitting on the couch watching pigskin. Peeling, chopping, brining, basting, cleaning, chopping… followed by more peeling, mashing, stirring, basting, roasting, baking, cleaning. It can be an exhausting and overwhelming process.
In an attempt to ease some of the stress, we put together a quick Thanksgiving Day survival guide. With a little pre-game planning, Thanksgiving can be enjoyable for the cooks as well as the football fans.
1 – Know your limits
Common sense would suggest that this isn’t the day to attempt a soufflé or anything complicated. Chances are crazy Uncle Jack who normally noshes on fast food and beers probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. Keep the menu simple, map out the time, and start early. The prep work always takes longer than you think, so anything that can be done ahead of time (like the pie / stuffing) can be made the day before.
2 – Clean out the fridge and empty the dishwasher
This is all in anticipation for the leftovers and dirty dishes later on. Huge time saver and ensures quick clean up later.
3 – Set the table the night before
One less thing to do.
4 – Pull out all platters, dishes and serving utensils the day before
Saves you from fumbling through the drawers looking for serving spoons in front of your guests or running around with a hot sheet pan full of brussels sprouts trying to see if you have a nice serving bowl.
5 – The morning of: have breakfast / lay out your outfit and accessories
All in the name of keeping your sanity and energy up for the day.
6 – Enlist help
If people offer to help, say yes and put them to work. Chopping, serving, tidying up are all less stressful when others chip in. Plus it can be a great relaxed way to catch up on the family gossip. I find that secrets are usually divulged not at the table but during those pockets of in between time. Especially after a few glasses of vino but before the tryptophan really kicks in.
Thanksgiving can be a stressful yet very rewarding day for the cook. When your guests compliment how tasty everything is, graciously accept and never apologize for anything. No one needs to know about that one batch of burnt carrots that never made it to the table. While giving thanks to family and friends, don’t forget to give yourself some thanks for persevering, and turning the “harvest” (courtesy of your local supermarket) into a meal to remember. The saving grace is that you only have 364 days until it happens all over again.