Saturday, November 8, 2014

Re-Planning Thanksgiving

I love cooking this meal that affords us the opportunity to spend time together in gratitude with family and dear friends. But I find that sometimes I miss out on some of that time because I'm very busy in the kitchen, while others might be playing games or enjoying conversations. Each year I vow to make next years' meal more simple, so I can have more time to relax with loved ones. And each year, I can't help myself but to cook all the elaborate favorites that keep me in the kitchen.

Last year I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving with my siblings in a cabin in the woods, celebrating a little early so we could be together (because as we grow older, our family expands, and Thanksgiving is spent at the homes of our respective in-laws). On Thanksgiving day I had a revelation as I watched my spouse's brother, a professional chef, leisurely put together a meal that he mostly prepped and cooked the day before.

Duh! Why haven't I thought of this? Why have I been so rigid in my plans to do almost everything the day of?

So now I'm re-thinking my recipes and re-planning my cooking schedule for the next time this (or any other elaborate meal I make for many others) gets cooked, which will allow me to actually enjoy the present moment, and be more relaxed and engaged with my family. Isn’t that the whole point?

If you have friends and family that enjoy working in the kitchen, make use of them! If someone asks, “Can I help?” say “Yes!” and find a task so they can share with the loving preparations for the meal. Or why not have a Thanksgiving potluck? Encourage folks to come whenever they like, bring an appetizer or their favorite holiday dish if they offer to bring something.

Another way to cut back on prep time? Make half the amount of food that you think you need. But what if we don't have enough? There will be enough. And if folks eat smaller portions, it is so much the healthier for them and the planet. Still, I'm terribly guilty of this, even after years of menu planning, so I always buy half of what I think I need and I continue to end up with plenty leftovers (which we love and eat the rest of the week).

So here's my game plan - 

A Week or More Ahead of Time:
  • create a menu, assemble recipes and make a food shopping list
  • gather or borrow any needed kitchen equipment, silverware, plates, and glasses
  • purchase all non-perishables
  • make cranberry sauce or compote (you could also freeze or can it)
The Weekend Before:
  • buy perishable ingredients
  • prepare the serving pieces, plates, flatware, glasses, etc
  • iron cloth napkins and tablecloths, if you're into that sort of thing
2 Days Before:
The Day Before:
Thanksgiving Day:

9am   Start the rolls.

11am  Prep fresh salad ingredients.

12pm  Form the rolls.

1pm  Bake the stuffing; make the salad.

2pm  As room in your stove top and oven permits: cook the mashed potatoes (for something extra special - yes, let's guild the lily - stir in grated cheese and 1 beaten egg per cup of potatoes, whip briefly and bake into a souffle until golden brown on top); roast or steam up pre-prepped vegetables; heat sauces and gravy; bake pre-prepped sweet potatoes. Finish and garnish all dishes except the rolls

3pm   Serve dinner and put the rolls in oven to be served hot. Give thanks & enjoy the bounty!

5pm  Make coffee and serve dessert. Make music & have fun!

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