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Notes From Marinda

Prepping for Thanksgiving . . . with Ease

Are you daunted by the looming Thanksgiving holiday dinner? How to get everything ready for the family and friends that will be descending on Thursday? Is it possible to be relaxed in your planning and preparation? Can you really enjoy the day? Yes! Try following these steps and suggestions and see if you can ease up on the stress and have more fun.

  • Write out your menu (a week or even two weeks) ahead of Thanksgiving. Determine what you will be making and what you will ask others to bring.
  • Designing the menu.
  • For me this means listing the non-negotiable items first – turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and/or mashed potatoes. Since everything is white or orange with a dash of cranberry, green is needed.
  • That means vegetables – at least two dishes. Be creative. Yes, you can do basic green beans but why not do something a little different? It’s also helpful to make one or both dishes that can be made earlier in the day and served at room temperature. See below some vegetable suggestions.
  • Plan what you will make on what days.

Some suggestions for timing are:

  • Cooked cranberry sauce can be made days ahead. Raw cranberry orange relish can be made the day before.
  • Shopping for most ingredients can be done 5 days to a week ahead.
  • Purchase your turkey a week ahead so it can defrost in the refrigerator. If you get a fresh turkey, of course, there’s no defrosting. I like the dry brine recipes – easier to do than immersing the turkey in liquid. Who has the space for that?!
  • Pies – the pie dough can be made days ahead and refrigerated. Pies can be made the day before.
  • Vegetables – Thanksgiving day while the turkey is roasting.
  • Mashed potatoes and/or sweet potatoes – the day of.
  • Gravy – after the turkey is out of the oven and you can access the drippings. I use cornstarch instead of flour to thicken the gravy – which takes care of anyone that’s gluten free. No one has ever noticed it’s not flour in all the years I’ve made it this way.
  • What to ask others to bring? Call them up to ask what they are thinking of bringing or, conversely, give them one or two suggestions from your list of what you would like them to bring. See below for vegetable side dish suggestions. Let them know how many will be coming for dinner. Confirm the prepared dish they will bring (emphasize prepared – you don’t want them making at your house). Be clear about what time they should plan to arrive.
  • Set the table the day before Thanksgiving or the day before that. Linen tablecloth and napkins, low centerpiece (no higher than 12-inches) of flowers or harvest gourds and small pumpkins plus votive candles or tapers. I get inspired setting a beautiful table – anticipating family and friends coming together. I believe that if the table is attractively and elegantly set, I don’t have to get dressed up.
  • After setting the table, pull out all the serving dishes and put post it notes in each one naming the dish it will hold. Put the required serving utensils in each serving dish.
  • Set aside the dessert plates and forks/spoons so they are ready with your pies and serving utensils – knives and pie servers.
  • Take the two-minute guest exercise. Start outside your front door, walk in and look around your home to see if there is anything that needs to go away. You can move those items or you can drape them in fabric or sheets to make then disappear. Do you need to open up the space for all the guests gathering? Will you set up some hors d’oeuvres on the coffee table or another place that guests will first gather? Have you set up a bar with beverages and glasses, so guests can help themselves? The goal is to create a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
  • Remember that this day is set aside for gratitude and thanksgiving. By planning ahead you can enjoy the preparation – the cooking and baking – and the celebrating with family and friends. It’s good to stop and be grateful for our life, the love and connections – and the beauty that surrounds us.

Vegetable Recipe Suggestions

  • Haricots Verts – these French green beans are smaller and cook more quickly. Try them as a salad – blanch and chill, then toss with a balsamic shallot vinaigrette or with a hazelnut Dijon vinaigrette (featured in the recent SF Chronicle Sunday paper). Both can be served room temperature.
  • What about brussels sprouts? I’ve collected a few recipes over the years – roasted with shallots, or thinly sliced and sautéed with bacon and served at room temperature. I also love the recipe from Yotem Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Plenty More, with haricots verts, snow peas and broccolini with cilantro in a tahini dressing (the name doesn’t do it justice: Sprouting Broccoli with Sweet Tahini, page 69). I’ve made this a number of times. Pictured above.
  • Every year I make a Butternut Squash Parsnip Puree – that is a requirement by my brother. It’s two recipes in one – leftovers can be made into soup.
  • A wonderful recipe for Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette is in Yotem Ottolenghi’s cookbook, Plenty, page 16. Pictured above.
  • Carrots sautéed with radicchio – French-cut the carrots and blanch them, then sauté in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Toss in thinly sliced radicchio and sauté for a couple minutes. Add salt & pepper, and finish with a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Delicious and great color!
  • My other new favorite cookbook is Tartine Every Day, by Elizabeth Prueitt. I’m eyeing her Roasted Fall Vegetables and Apples to make (page 175).
  • Finally, here are some recipes recently posted by the NY Times as suggestions of what to bring when you are the guest. There are many yummy recipes. You could suggest a recipe for one of your guests, or make one yourself. They sound really delicious. I may try one or two.