Thanksgiving Prep

Thanksgiving just doesn’t happen on Thursday. It requires some planning, especially when you are expecting 16 guests, and everyone is still recovering from two years of pandemic hermitage.

This year involved some of the usual prep work. Two weeks ago, I placed the order for the bird from the local chicken/turkey farm. I’ll pick it up later today, after my morning run and then give the bird a 3-day bath in salt and lemon. I use Ina Garten’s dry brine recipe, but I triple the recipe for my much larger bird.

A number of those celebrity cooks, including Ina, confess that they actually make the bird ahead of time. Here’s Ina recipe for the make ahead turkey. In Appetites: A Cookbook (an excellent book), Anthony Bourdain suggests making two birds.

“Prepare a stunt turkey and a business turkey,” Bourdain wrote in his book. Prepare a smaller, more artful turkey that has all the trimmings that people know and love including “chop frills, rainbow pinwheels of skewered citrus fruit slices, maraschino cherries, curly kale, lit sparklers, and crisp, new $100 bills and/or gold leaf.” And while they’re admiring your artistry, you can carve up the larger ready-to-eat bird in the back.

Of course, Thanksgiving involves more than just the turkey. People feel very sentiment about all those side dishes. So, we wrote out our menu, and I gave the guests various assignments. We will do the lion share of the work, but with my brother bringing the stuffing and my mom bringing the potatoes, it makes the day a whole lot easier.

Then we look at the menu and start preparing dishes can be done way ahead of time. Steve make the cranberry sauce this weekend. We’ll roast the pumpkin tomorrow and make the mash. The pie will be made on Wednesday. I did almost all of the food shopping this weekend, including 3 pounds of cauliflower at the Farmer’s market for the Cauliflower gratin and a huge bag of Brussel sprouts for the roasted sprouts with bacon and onion. I’ll make those veggies on Thursday morning, in between the Turkey Trot 5K and the bird in the oven. When the bird is resting, I’ll warm up the side dishes and veggies in the oven.

All that is the usual Thanksgiving dinner. The recipes are in plastic sleeves in the holiday binder in the cookbook cupboard. (What? Doesn’t everyone have an OCD holiday recipe binder?) This year, I’m making my life more difficult by setting a fancy table.

Usually, I throw a table cloth over the dining room table and a Target foldout table. I’ll bring out the fancy plates, which aren’t that fancy — just some hand-me-downs white plates with a platinum rim. I’ll put the plates and cutlery on the kitchen counter and create a buffet with all the food. It’s a fine system that works well, when you want the food to be the star of the show. But this year, I want to play.

So, I’m setting up the table and side table ahead of time. We’ll still put the food on the kitchen counter, but people can take their plates into the kitchen to load up. Since my table cloths are different colors, I’ll pull it together with matching burlap table runners. I’ll put some mismatched candlesticks, random bud vases, and water jugs down the middle. Nothing is going to match, but that’s cool. For drinking, I’ll have Mexican water glasses and wine glasses from Crate and Barrel.

And then the next day, we’ll eat leftovers and make turkey broth.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

20 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Prep

  1. I’m glad you are having fun with your thanksgiving. Our thanksgiving is a “destination” gathering for my spouse’s extended family. We are 25+ years in the running, missing only last year. I put “destination” in quotes because someone has always traveled, but sometimes it wasn’t to very exciting destinations (though Seattle, Portland, Orlando, Sedona probably qualify as destinations even when they are places people live).

    The last 3 thanksgivings have been gatherings of 15 in houses where we all stayed with catered meals (a step aunt married “well” in her 70’s). This one will be in a city on the Oregon coast, but with meal collectively gathered. Two turkeys are involved, family favorite side dishes (my kiddo is in charge of the brussel sprouts and just told me that she’s modified her recipe), and food gathered from groceries. I’m looking forward to the gathering, which, I realized, will be the first time I sleep somewhere other than my own bed since January 2020 (not true for the rest of my family, just me).

    I look forward to the pictures of the table setting and food and wish you a joyful thanksgiving.

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    1. First time in another bed since pre-pandemic? I’m glad you’re getting out! I wish we were traveling somewhere cool, like Sedona or Portland. I am feeling itchy for a good road trip.

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    2. Yes, it’s good. I’ve been needing pushes to get out. Our road trip wont be more adventurous than yours berkshires trip, but it will be good for me.

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  2. Thanksgiving for us was last month and is more of a minor holiday than the American one. Because of where our family all is in terms of immune systems etc. we celebrated separately but we did a dish exchange where we met on one family’s porch and kind of doubled our spreads with a modified version of a potluck.

    This NYT recipe was our beet-laden version of your cauliflower and it was really yummy: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016159-beet-greens-and-cheddar-crumble

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  3. Our 39 cent a pound loss leader turkey is slowly defrosting in the fridge and we are looking at food porn on the computer… My task is the mashed potatoes and one of the cranberry sauces.

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  4. I’m going to the store Wednesday to do our Thanksgiving dinner shopping because a) I like to live on the edge but mostly b) it’s just for the 5 of us, so no biggie if something’s missing. If there’s no rotisserie turkey, I’ll get a ham.

    (There better be a ham.)

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    1. Amy said “I’m going to the store Wednesday to do our Thanksgiving dinner shopping because a) I like to live on the edge”

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  5. I am the Thanksgiving humbug. 😀 I hate turkey and the smells of Thanksgiving. But husband and son love the feast, so I’m picking up a complete family dinner from Whole Foods tomorrow.

    Today I have to go pick up E from college. I have to teach him how to use the ferry by himself, because for me it’s going to be a 10 hour day, and I don’t want to do this again on Sunday. This was all supposed to be easier because my mom and sisters live 35 minutes away from E’s college, but Covid….

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    1. Wendy wrote, “I am the Thanksgiving humbug. 😀 I hate turkey and the smells of Thanksgiving.”

      I LOVE Thanksgiving (it’s so low stakes compared to Christmas) but here is an anecdote you may appreciate.

      My auntie used to board 3 or 4 overseas Asian college students at a time and one Thanksgiving, she brought them to grandma’s big Thanksgiving shindig in my home town in WA. I was sitting next to them at dinner when one of them (perhaps trying to make the best of the Thanksgiving turkey) asked plaintively if there was any sriracha available.

      Sadly, there was no sriracha sauce. In fact, it’s possible that at the time, there was none for 60 miles…

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  6. We generally spend our Thanksgiving weeks staying with all the grandparents near a Texas park, so we can hike and do outdoorsy stuff and the older folks have an excuse to travel and visit and participate in activities as they are able. This means doing most of the cooking two weeks before Thanksgiving, smoking a Turkey and other meats–we topped 80 lbs this year–and cooking big batches of chili or other dinner items.

    This year is a bit of a challenge, as we’ve got an AirBnB outside of Palo Duro Canyon which is problematic at best. The dining table is a smallish four-top (for a 4-bedroom house!), the dishwasher doesn’t work, and the heater makes a buzzing/rattling noise too loud to sleep through. The whole house is so thoroughly under-furnished and over-designed that I suspect the owners optimized the place to photograph well. After all, you can’t smell the Amarillo feedlots over the computer screen when you’re booking.

    Not quite a nightmare trip yet, but the potential is worrisome. How often does this happen, I wonder?

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    1. Our rental, a restored “mansion” is still being renovated. It’s set up for catered, photogenic weddings, and we are not certain how food will be cooked for 15 in it, but are hoping for the best.

      The kitchen is not quite finished yet — there’s tape for drawer pulls, for example.

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  7. Amy said “I’m going to the store Wednesday to do our Thanksgiving dinner shopping because a) I like to live on the edge”

    We don’t, of course, do Thanksgiving here – but we’re in the big advertising run-up to Christmas.

    Because of supply chain issues, all the major companies are putting the message out, loud and clear, that you’ll need to order/purchase *well* in advance to be guaranteed supply/delivery.
    Christmas hams are going to be in short supply (no, I don’t know why – surely pigs still grow even in Covid?) – and I have our one reserved at my favourite up-market supermarket.
    But we’ve missed out on the luxury chocolate advent calendar (comes from Italy) – apparently the supply to NZ was strictly limited due to international orders – and those they were able to import were pre-sold even before they arrived in NZ. And the Italian pannetone won’t arrive until this week (at the earliest)

    Deliveries to NZ are utterly chaotic. [I get to see this from a work aspect, as well as a consumer] – deliveries are moved on and off planes, shipments broken up (e.g. 40 cartons in a shipment, 20 arrive, 10 are on the next flight, and no one knows where the other 10 are). Customs clearing the imported goods is also backed up. Local courier delivery is also massively over-subscribed (largely due to our largest city, Auckland, being in lockdown for 3 months and counting – and the government mandating and now encouraging courier delivery, rather than in-person shopping). It’s now frequently taking 10 days for a product to be delivered across the city….
    Courier companies in both NZ and Australia are reportedly finding difficulty in staffing warehouse/sorting/delivery positions – people have better job opportunities.

    I’ve placed several Christmas orders for presents – 6 weeks out – and crossing fingers in the hope they’ll arrive before the big day.

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  8. Travelled a few hours to be with my parents; partner went across the country to be with his, though will stay here for Christmas. We ordered in turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, and are making stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Going over to a friends’ for dessert tomorrow.

    I brought along a Shaker lemon pie – my parents cannot handle the sticky floury countertops that I generate when I make a homemade crust. (For pumpkin pie the premade graham cracker crust works fine, but I homemade crust is absolutely required for the lemon pie.)

    Just did a little big-city shopping trip to the independent art store and book store, and the non-independent Container store. Otherwise will avoid shopping this week; I buy a limited number of Christmas presents and got most of them online already.

    The idea of a “stunt turkey” is crazy, but I guess some people do like their pageantry. And your table setting and food ensemble sounds delightful! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

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