More than A week BEFORE THANKSGIVING
Plan your menu: If you don’t have any tried-and-true recipes, now’s the time to test Thanksgiving recipes from Pinterest, or go with something more reliable like the NY Times Essential Thanksgiving interactive recipe guide.
Deep-clean your kitchen: For some reason, company always gathers in the kitchen. I always try to move them along, but they never listen. So, give your kitchen a truly deep clean now to create the perfect zen atmosphere for creating, roasting, mashing, chopping, whipping, stirring, shaking and basting. It won't stay spotless until Thanksgiving, but it's always good to get this room to the point where you just need to touch up before the company comes.
Delegate dishes: Ask people to bring oven-ready contributions. No one wants other cooks in their kitchen on Thanksgiving. I definitely don't, and neither does my sister, by the way. Make sure you coordinate those dishes, though, because no one wants three pans of green bean casserole either. One obligatory pan of that is delicious and plenty.
Make two grocery lists: Write out an aisle-by-aisle grocery list of perishable items (potatoes, Brussels sprouts, etc.) and another for non-perishables (spices, canned goods, etc.). Shop for the non-perishables now before they’re in short supply. If you’re buying a frozen turkey also get it now while the size selection is still good. Keep it in the freezer until it’s time to defrost and/or brine it. You have to thaw a frozen bird at about four days before the big meal. Nothing worse than a frozen turkey the day before Thanksgiving.
Make your guest rooms and/or restrooms ready for guests: Clean, prep linens and towels, and reset clocks, reboot cable boxes (sometimes they need a good reboot if no one is watching TV in there on a regular basis). Make hotel reservations for guests who prefer to stay off site.
Plan your cookware and gadgets: With your menu in hand, plan what you’ll use to cook each item on the menu. Do you have enough of everything: gravy boat, serving utensils, platters? Likewise, it’s a good idea to make sure you have the gadgets you’ll need: potato masher, turkey baster. Are your knives sharp? [Call Sheilah!]
Less than a week BEFORE THANKSGIVING
Plan your table linens: Get out your holiday tablecloth and cloth napkins and inspect them for stains. Remember the stains from last year that you said you would deal with after the holidays? That didn't happen, did it? Is it time to replace your linens?
Plan your centerpiece: Order flowers or make your own. Not into flowers? You know, Martha Stewart or DIY can tell you how to make a centerpiece if your so inclined. Or maybe you need to, um, [Call Sheilah!]
Clean the rest of your house well: Give the rest of your house a thorough weekly cleaning to deal with cobwebs, dusty baseboards, etc. (You can find weekly printable cleaning checklists for every room here.)
Buy long-lasting perishables now: Things like heavy cream, potatoes, eggs, onions and butter tend to be hard to find the closer we get to the day, and the less time spent in supermarkets the day or two before Thanksgiving, the better. Buy them now and you’ll know you’re covered. Even some vegetables (celery, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes) will stay fresh in the crisper. [Call Sheilah!]
Giving back: Do you want to purchase any extra Thanksgiving meal items for those who need an extra lift? You can do this when you are doing your own shopping. Donations of Turkey's, non perishable items, paper goods, and gift cards can be made to homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, half way houses, rehabilitation centers and other facilities that need our support and kindness. This holiday and the holiday season can be particularly trying if food scarcity, resources and shelter are a major challenge. [Call Sheilah!]
Decorate: If you’ll be decorating beyond the table, do it now and ask your family for help? They can't read your mind and if you ask, everyone will get in the holiday mood.
Make and freeze what you can: Cornbread for stuffing can be made ahead of time and frozen. It's actually better, because it dries out when baked in advance! You can make and freeze: pie crusts (and congratulations if you are making your own!), undecorated cookies, cranberry sauce/relish, and dinner rolls.
Make your game plan: Grab a notepad, and a pen or an iPad or tablet, and calculate the timing of the big day. Count back from the time you’ll be serving dinner to figure out when your turkey should go into the oven. Keep in mind the turkey must rest after it’s cooked. Your side dishes go into the oven while the turkey rests. If you have a 3-tier oven rack you don’t have to worry about running out of room. And if you don't, then you have some juggling to do. When you start thinking about this step, plan into this step, advanced forgiveness. Some things will just not be as coordinated and perfect as you would like, given space restrictions and timing.
Add two hours to this planning: You will need a buffer, so you can stop, check emails, texts, procrastinate, have a cup of coffee with your college kids and adult children who seem to have nothing to. See below for ideas about how your family can help.
Stock your bar: Make sure you have enough glasses for all of your guests. Now double that because people inevitably misplace glasses and will need a new one. If you’re serving adult beverages buy the appropriate liquors, mixers and garnishes today. Easy on the advance drinking. It's hard to stick to a plan if you start imbibing to early. [Call Sheilah!]
Begin defrosting your turkey: While the package says to move it to the fridge three days before Thanksgiving, experience shows that you may need four days. The package doesn't acknoweldge that your fridge is crammed with other holiday food and it will need to be colder and therefore defrosting will take longer. Also, if you’re going to brine the turkey you need the extra day for this. Be sure your bird in a container that will catch drips. The clean up will be easier if you are not battling bacteria in your fridge for weeks.
Plan your seating: Is there a children's table? Do you have guests that need to sit near each other, or away from each other? Do you need to plan around particular personalities in order to ensure that the conversation stays friendly and pleasant. Draw or print place cards so guests will know where to sit. This is a way for you to have a bit of control over the conversation and energy flow, disguised as a lovely and decorative accent to your table.
Get out the holiday dishes: Run the dishes, glasses, platters, and serving utensils through the dishwasher. You never know what has been happening in boxes and cabinets during the last several months.
Shop for perishable items: Make room in your refrigerator and give the shelves a quick wipe down so it’s ready.
Clean your coat closet: This is a good time to clean out your coat closet. Your local dry cleaner may be doing a coat drive for a homeless shelter. See what you have that can be donated, which will create space for the holiday gathering.
Two Days BEFORE THANKSGIVING
Defrost frozen dishes: If you’ve made cornbread or other dishes ahead of time, transfer them to the fridge to defrost.
Confirm with guests: If you’ve delegated dishes to others to cook, take a few minutes to send a text and confirm their plans haven’t changed. Doing this a few days before lets you rearrange your own menu if needed. And helps you deal with the guests who decide that they don't want to make what you actually asked them to make. Infuriating, yes, but if you have advance information, you will be less likely to react in a way that creates a scenario where YOU to have to apologize later on.
One Day BEFORE THANKSGIVING:
Brine your turkey: If you’re going to brine your turkey, now’s the time to do it. Be sure to keep it refrigerated in the brine!
Dry out stuffing ingredients: Cornbread, regular bread, whatever you’re using — most stuffing recipes call for dried-out bread. Set yours on paper towels on a clean counter.
Prep ingredients: Go ahead and chop things like onions, carrots and celery today. You can peel potatoes a day ahead of time and refrigerate them in a bowl of water. (Where are your family members: partner, roommates, children...they make great potato peelers). Make dips and appetizers if you are serving them. Don't go overboard with appetizers. Your focus is the main meal and you want to help your guests stay hungry for maximum enjoyment.
Bake pies: Don’t put the pie off until tomorrow. Make them now, let them cool on the counter, then cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil. [Call Sheilah! -- We are baking a limited menu of pies, and are working with a local genius baker for an assortment of other delicious ones. Call today to inquire: 518 937.7908]
Get your recipes ready: Gather every recipe you’ll be using and set them on your counter so you won’t have to hunt for them tomorrow. My sister tapes them to her cabinets, so she can stare at them throughout the day. She doesn't really need the recipes at this point, but it's a good, strategic, smart move and it's been working for years. It also acts as an excuse to take a deep breath - look up at the recipe as if you are strategically calculating the next delicious move, while you buy yourself a moment to appreciate all you've done to make the day special.
Clean: Since you’ve done thorough cleanings recently, you can get away with a quick dusting of horizontal surfaces followed by a good vacuum/sweep. Give the bathrooms a once-over, too, and make sure you have ample supplies available: toilet paper, soap, disposable bathroom towels.
Get the bar/beverage area ready: Set up a beverage center away from where you’ll be cooking so guests can help themselves. If you’re serving adult beverages, set out the bottles and glasses now. Chop garnishes like lemons and limes and store them in the refrigerator (again, family, roommates, where are they today?).
Trash area: Make sure your garbage cans are empty so you can remove trash from the kitchen as Thanksgiving day progresses. Have plenty of kitchen trash bags on hand. Have plenty of trash can liners for your outdoor cans on hand as well.
Pets: Do you need a plan for pets? Does your dog jump on guests? Do they need to be on a leash until after the guests arrive? Is the kitty litter box empty and is someone assigned to checking that during the holiday festivities?
Prep table linens and set the table: Does your table linen need to be ironed? (FAMILY? ROOMMATES?)
Follow your game plan: Use those extra two pre-cooking hours you budgeted to have a nice cup of coffee/tea and a moment to meditate before the madness; a moment to assure yourself that the day will be delightful, even if it is not perfect. Something will go wrong, but that doesn't mean that everything IS wrong.
Finish placing towels and linens in guest bedrooms and bathrooms.
More tasks for your family and roommates: Greet guests, coat check, continuous check on bar and beverage area, check on bathrooms as the evening progresses, remove trash from kitchen to garage or trash bins outside, cat box clean up, do the dogs need to be walked or let out?
Wash as you work: Keep a sink of hot, soapy water available for washing things as you use them, or just load the dishwasher as you work. Maybe one of those guests, who consistently and generously asks if they can help, can be assigned to the sink, so they can wash as you go, or can fill the dishwasher so it can run before the meal is over. Running, emptying and refilling the dishwasher repeatedly while cooking is happening, makes clean-up a bit easier!
And finally, enjoy your meal: Remember what it is that you are truly thankful for as you eat and enjoy your friends and family. Sometimes this is the hardest part: go slow, be mindful, practice gratitude, give yourself a break, and enjoy.
One more reminder: Giving so others can enjoy the holiday: Do you want to purchase any extra Thanksgiving meal items for those who need an extra lift? You can do this when you are doing your own shopping or Call Sheilah! to coordinate . Donations of Turkey's, Ham's or non perishable items, paper goods, and gift cards can be made to homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, half way houses, rehabilitation centers and other facilities that need our support and kindness. This holiday and the holiday season can be particularly trying if food scarcity, resources and shelter are a major challenge. [We would be happy to help with this.]
We all know life's many tasks, whatever the season or reason, can be overwhelming. At Call Sheilah! we believe that suffering because of them is truly optional. Let us help bring balance to your life.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.