Yesterday marked the two-week countdown to Thanksgiving. By this time any other November I would have in my freezer: pie crusts, pitted cherries, at least two types of rolls, and cubed bread for my stuffing. Also about this time, I would have made room in my freezer for the large turkey I would be picking up this coming weekend.
Things look a bit different this year.
I am used to cooking large and entertaining large and eating large this time of year. But not this year. Thanks to COVID, our table will only be set for two. There will be a laptop in lieu of the extra place settings. I find myself in a struggle between how to scale back to cooking for two, and at the same time, how to have ALL of our favorites on our biggest eating day of the year. Every single time I go to scratch a recipe from the list I decide there must be another less-sentimental dish to take it’s place. So far, there hasn’t been.
I will still add festive touches no matter how scaled back we go. There will be flowers on the table. I will use my favorite dishes. The glassware will be polished and ready to receive a fine wine. Perhaps Thanksgiving will be more romantic this year. Having said that, we are planning to Zoom with our kids for at least the beginning of the meal…and also with our entire family earlier in the day. Thank you, Modern Technology!!
My eldest is in charge of the alcoholic cocktail – his usual holiday task – while I am in charge of our new tradition: the mocktail. We will send our chosen recipes out to the group in advance, and during our Zoom call we will partake in one or both versions. It will kinda be like we are in the same room. Kinda.
We are toying with the idea of eating together as well. This will obviously turn our romantic dinner for two into a more family-friendly dinner. I’ll take that!! Either way is a win-win in my book.
I’m not a fan of Black Friday, so Pie Night is my invented holiday to take its place.
There will be no Pie Night this year. No. Pie. Night. This pesky pandemic is really mucking up our traditions!! I typically bake 10-15 pies for Thanksgiving. Obviously, that is a LOT of pie for one night’s dessert. In the past we have invited neighbors to join us on the night after Thanksgiving to aid in the ‘disposal’ of the excess pie. I’m not a fan of Black Friday, so Pie Night is my invented holiday to take its place. It goes like this: we spend the Friday after Thanksgiving decorating for Christmas. We eat leftovers for dinner…this might be my favorite benefit to all that advance time in the kitchen! That night our guests join us for Pie Night. If all goes well, we are left with very little pie by the end of the evening. This is a tradition I eagerly anticipate every year…such a fun way to bring in the holiday season! I’ll be sad to miss it this year.
But we all gotta eat, right?
Just because things will be scaled back doesn’t mean you can’t do advance preparation. There’s no reason to stress yourself out on the big day, whether you are hosting dinner for 20 or dinner for 2…or dinner for 1. Below are my best tips on how I get through cooking such a huge meal while still enjoying my family and friends.
A Month Ahead:
- As I mentioned above, many things can be made in advance and frozen. Breads and rolls for dinner freeze very well. If you are making stuffing/dressing, you can cube your bread and freeze it. It’s not a huge timesaver; however, on the day every minute counts!
Pie crusts can be made in advance and frozen, too. This is especially helpful if you make pies that use different types of crusts. The crust I use depends on the pie I am making. Apple and Cherry Pies get a cream cheese crust; Pumpkin gets a basic flaky butter crust; Pecan pies get a hazelnut crust. My Chocolate Ganache Pie gets a brownie crust. Advance prep here goes a long way to saving time later.
Stock can be made and frozen as well.
- Cranberry Sauce can me made early (up to 2 weeks) and is super easy to make. It will hold for 10-14 days in the fridge, or up to 2 months in the freezer. I usually make a double batch. Leftover cranberry sauce is amazing added to lemon bars!
The Day (or so) Before Thanksgiving:
- I bake my pies the day before. It helps to have them out of the way so you can clean up the kitchen and begin fresh on Thanksgiving Day.
**Take the frozen crusts the night before you plan to bake.
- Set your table the day or two before. It always takes me longer to set the table then I remember. I also make up my flower arrangements/centerpieces the night before. It looks so pretty when I wake up the morning of and motivates me to start in!
The Day Of:
- MAKE BREAKFAST THE MORNING OF THANKSGIVING EASY! I typically buy bagels and put together a platter with all of the fixings the night before. Maybe I’ll have a bowl of mixed fruit to set out with it. I have OJ (and Prosecco for those partaking) and coffee/tea. I set up a “breakfast station” with plates, toaster, napkins, flatware and glassware. My platter of fixings goes on the table when the first guest pops downstairs. As the rest roll into the kitchen, they are able to fix their own bagels and stay out of my way.
**my bagel fixings usually include cream cheese, hummus, sliced red onion, capers, sliced tomatoes and lox.
- ON THE BIG DAY (and day before depending on how much you do in advance): I ALWAYS BEGIN WITH A CLEAN KITCHEN AND A SINK OF HOT, SUDSY WATER. The sink part – for me – is critical. Whenever I have an extra minute or so, I will wash a few dishes or wipe down counters. It may not seem like much, but this makes a huge impact. Huge. HUGE!
- To go with the above tip, invest in a comfy pair of gloves for washing dishes to keep your hands from getting to water logged and eventually chapped and red. Despite all of my years prepping for Thanksgiving, I have only recently embraced this tip. Before that I suffered for years with chapped hands from all of the dish-washing.
- TAKE BREAKS! Set a timer if you find you go for hours on your feet without a break. Maybe schedule in time for a walk outside. Or just sit every so often. Your back will thank you!!
MY BIGGEST TIP:
- The biggest lesson that took me YEARS to finally ‘get’ is that in the end, as pretty as the table setting may be, as tasty as the food may be, as clean as your house may be…the most important part of this day (and every day) is taking time to appreciate and spend time with your family and friends. Accept help when offered, even if it means the potatoes are not mashed the way you like them or the flowers aren’t arranged how you imagined. Sometimes you learn new ways to do things.One year we had family from Italy…2 women who wanted to learn about our holiday traditions, and who wanted to help prepare the meal. I had never accepted help in the past (other than anyone willing to wash dishes LOL). I was a bit panicked at the idea of help. But…they INSISTED. And in the end: IT. WAS. FUN. And helpful. I learned to let go a bit that year and a bit more in each year since.
The holiday season looks different for many of us this year, but hopefully next year the pandemic will be long gone and we can get back to old traditions. Or, just maybe, we will invent some new traditions to add to our old ones.
Whatever your holiday season looks like, I wish you health and peace. Stay safe out there…
Buon appetito, y’all!