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8 Things You Can Do For Thanksgiving Dinner Right Now

If you are like many Americans, you are probably buried in Thanksgiving recipes and wondering why you bother to look at new dishes since the family will boycott if you don't make every traditional bit of dinner. Personally, I am a child when it comes to sweet potatoes (with marshmallows please) but I have never understood that green bean thing. What is up with that?

This weekend is a good time to check on some critical, and often overlooked, things so you have a chance to fix any problems you find before Thursday. You should actually get the dishes out and do this exercise; of course you think it all fits, I want you to know. Make notes as you go so you don't find yourself trying to remember what you figured out.

  • Do you have all the equipment you need to prepare and serve dinner? Extra plates, cooler for drinks, ricer for potatoes, an extra casserole for dressing, your grandmother's cut glass bowl for cranberries...whatever it is that's missing, better to find out now while you can fix it. Don't forget basics like foil and glasses. I bought a couple dozen solid color plates at a dollar store and saved my old flatware for parties and holidays. Alternatively, ask a friend to bring missing bits.
  • Does your turkey fit in your roasting pan? I mean this literally, get the turkey out of the freezer and put it in the pan. Does it fit? How about the lid?
  • Can you fit the roasting pan plus other dishes in your oven? Arrange the racks so that the covered roasting pan fits. (Make sure the racks are arranged to accomodate your turkey.) Now grab the pans you will be using for other oven-bound food. Can you fit them in, too? Do the things that go in to heat when the turkey comes out all fit? Make notes and, if it's complicated, draw a picture.
  • Do you have serving dishes and utensils for everything? People remember the turkey platter, but a Thanksgiving feast can strain even a well-equipped kitchen. Every item on your menu needs a container of some sort so make sure you account for everything. Can you fit all of them on your table or other serving spot? I set the table the day before my first big Thanksgiving dinner, complete with every serving dish (and utensil) labeled saying what it was to hold. This seemed like overkill until about when the turkey came out of the oven and my mind blanked on everything else. Labels won the day.
  • Where will drinks and pre-dinner munchies go? People always gather by drinks so find a spot away from kitchen. If you drape the table with a cloth you can stash extra supplies to replenish the table during the day.

Now that you know what you have, what you need and have a start on logistics, I'd suggest a few more things:

  • Start prep as soon as possible. Now that everything is strewn about, wash it and put as much of it as you can in one spot so that you can find it all Thursday. Look at your menu for food you can make (even partially) ahead of time. (Melissa Clark has a great list of what you can make ahead here.)
  • Drop email to your guests. Confirm your guest count, check on dietary restrictions, ask about things you are short on or lacking. If they are bringing food, ask them to bring it table-ready if possible.
  • Keeping your sanity. Consider asking a good friend to come early to help with the last minute prep work. Crack open a bottle of wine, turn on some music and get in a party mood that much sooner. My ideal Thanksgiving help (who just moved 3000 miles away) always arrived mid-day Wednesday with the last minute groceries and a box of pastries that were devoured by the cooks over the next 24 hours. I highly recommend this to anyone who can pull it off.

One last thing, remember to buy some good booze and special munchies for the kitchen crew. Wine for the cooks, something a bit harder for the cleanup folks. Pastry, great chocolate, some good cheese...just a little nosh while working to make it a bit more party-like.

I hope you have a great holiday, no matter where you end up. If you have an extra space at the table, please consider inviting someone who might otherwise be alone on Thursday. (That's us this year and I'm thankful to have been invited to a friend's house.) Turkeys are big, we can all feed an extra person.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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