If there was ever a year to appreciate your family more but scale back on the stress of entertaining and money spent, this is the year! COVID, quarantines, job losses, homeschooling, isolation…surviving the year is an achievement in and of itself.
Make all the major decisions now, before you plan anything else. Set a schedule and keep to it. These are my suggestions to make the day more fun and less work:
Ever tried a potluck with your family? I have and it’s been wonderful. I cook a turkey, ham or prime rib and delegate the rest.
Give the good cooks in your family a description of what you want, maybe even a recipe. The biggest challenge for people is correctly estimating the amount of food to prepare. Don’t leave people guessing, tell them how much you want them to bring. If you are really kind, send them a grocery list too.
A gravy thermos is a wonderful item. I make my gravy, sauce or béarnaise as soon as I can and pour it in the thermos. It’ll stay hot for a few hours, no last-minute cooking.
I make stuffing the night before in a separate baking dish. Add some drippings from your roasting pan for extra flavor if you like. Stuffing that has had a day to sit tastes better anyway.
Decide on your menu. Does your family want traditional or are they flexible? Are you taking any special diets into consideration? Gluten free? Arrange your menu around that now. Vegan? Use dairy-free substitution and vegans can eat everything but the turkey or roast. Your vegan guests know more about the dishes they like best so ask them to bring an alternative entree.
Instead of mashed potatoes and candied yams, how about a sliced potato and yam casserole. Use fresh herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Choose a recipe that can be baked the day. Simply reheat before serving.
You have the 30 minutes while your turkey or roast rests, this is how you manage your oven space. Warm rolls and, potatoes or veggies during this time,
The vegetable assignment is easy—ask a guest to bring a big bag of already cleaned broccoli or a bunch or two of asparagus. Quickly sauté in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Have a small bowl of shaved parmesan nearby for the guests who want it to sprinkle on top.
I always tell my family and friends to bring everything prepped. If it’s a green salad, pour dressing in the bottom of the salad bowl. Add a layer of sliced cucumbers to act as a barrier then add all other ingredients, with lettuce last. This can be done the night before, place a damp paper towel over the lettuce and cover with plastic wrap. The salad will be ready to toss right before serving. Send along a recipe with amounts included so people know how much to make.
If someone insists on a family favorite, have them make it. That will teach them! Bwa ha ha!
Add some orange zest to a can of cranberry sauce to snazzy it up. Or use a jar of Trader Joe’s cranberry relish. It’s delicious and inexpensive.
Appetizers--keep them light. A crudite tray or small antipasto platter with a few different cheeses and salamis.
I have found with my family or friends that less cocktail time makes for better conversation at the table.
Who’s the family baker? Give them dessert! Two pies are enough for most gatherings. Who cooks 4-5 pies? That is just too much stress. Focus on the best. And vanilla ice cream goes with everything!
Give the well-off people the job of buying great wine. Tell them how many bottles. If you know wines yourself then look on Bev-mo’s website and pick out what you want them to buy.
Do you have a guest that makes a natural bartender or is outgoing? Give them the job of bringing ingredients for a big pitcher or two of cocktails. Cosmopolitans, hard cider sangria, and mulled wine are all great Thanksgiving drinks.
There is nothing wrong with a beautiful box of luxury chocolates at the end of dinner.
Ask around to see if anyone has Nespresso machines or similar that they can bring so you can offer coffee at the end of the meal. I have one and I love it but it would take a long time to make 10 espressos. Having an extra machine will come in handy!
Ask a talented teen to set your table the day before. A diagram makes it smooth!
If they are crafty, have them make small floral arrangements to scatter around your table.
If nothing else, these past 2 years have taught us is to be grateful for life, love and friends.
Women Beyond a Certain Age is an award-winning weekly podcast with Denise Vivaldo. She brings her own lively, humorous, and experienced viewpoint to the topics she discusses with her guests. The podcast covers wide-ranging subjects of importance to older women.