Over Deep River and through British Woods / To Grandmother’s house we go / The Tesla knows the way / To the seasonal buffet / Through every Triad ZIP code

This is a busy time of year, from start to finish. While Thanksgiving 2019 falls on the latest possible calendar date, that doesn’t mean we can slack off with the planning or shopping. With a little info and a few tips, that big, delicious feast will feel effortless and, dare I say, fun? If it’s your first or fiftieth time hosting the biggest meal of the year, here are some practical tips.

1. Plan your menu first. 

Once the menu is set, you are free to start getting yourself organized. Pull out all your recipes and write your grocery lists. It’s never too early to get a jump start and purchase non-perishable items.

2. Match up each recipe to a serving dish and a serving utensil.

Label each with a Post-it note. Double-check that you have enough baking pans and casserole dishes for everything on your menu. Take the extra step to make sure you have enough plates, glassware, cutlery and napkins. Not everything needs to match or be in the same type serving dish. Relax. It will taste great, no matter what!

3. Plan for leftovers. 

Invest in some one-use foil containers for guests to take home leftovers. This way you don’t have to worry about finding matching lids or getting your Tupperware back.

4. Make sure you cover the traditional basics of the meal.

You know, the stuff people expect to see: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing/dressing, cranberry sauce and pie. And then, if you like to be a little more creative, you can concentrate on spicing up the sides. Here are a few ideas: Instead of green bean casserole, think about grilled green beans with crispy shallots. Instead of corn pudding, try corn custard pie.

5. Don’t be afraid to delegate and outsource. 

The last few days leading up to the feast are often chaotic. There’s family in town, holiday traffic and plenty of last-minute tasks to complete the menu. Let others help. It enhances the holiday cheer. We all have gifts and talents so delegate accordingly. Ask your “chef” friends to bring dishes. Someone who doesn’t like to cook can be in charge of bringing ice or picking up wine. Order side dishes, bread, desserts or even the turkey and ham. Let the pros handle the bulk of the work and free up your oven. Place that order and move on down the to-do list. Lastly, plan to pick up on Tuesday to avoid the Wednesday crowds.

1. Don’t arrive early.

There’s nothing more annoying than a guest who has decided to ring the doorbell while the host is still in stocking feet. Your only job is to show up and eat. Don’t make more work for the host by having to deal with you while running around making sure the baseboards have been scrubbed to completion.

2. Don’t bring a surprise dish that no one asked for.

The only thing you should consider bringing to the table is a pleasant disposition and maybe a few points for small talk. If there is a dish or side that you feel compelled to bring, not only should you ask the host ahead of time if it’s okay, it should not be overly complicated. Don’t bring a salad that needs to be assembled in the kitchen or potatoes with a special crystal ritual that needs to be performed over it.

3. Be a gracious guest. 

Once I had a Thanksgiving guest bypass the linen napkin I lovingly placed on the table to repeatedly wipe his gravy-covered, cranberry-stained fingers on the pillows of my couch. After I called him out on it, he apologized for upsetting me but acted as if he’d done nothing wrong. Two moments later, I spied him scraping his dirty fingers on my couch pillows again and I completely lost it. Kicking someone out of your house and telling them never to come back is unpleasant for both parties. Please do your best to mind your manners and when in doubt, follow the host’s lead on when to eat, drink and be merry.

4. Bring wine, flowers or both for the host

Don’t show up empty-handed. Yes, even if your host insists that you do (it’s a trap). Flowers should come trimmed and arranged in a vase; Don’t send your already frazzled host rummaging through cabinets with yet another thing to find. Wine (or sparkling juice or soft beverages) is always welcome. Call ahead to ask what your host would prefer, and if need be bring (beer or some wines), and be sure it arrives chilled. 

5. Offer to help and do what you’re told.

An offer to help is always welcome and unwelcomed at the same time. Thanksgiving dinner is an orchestrated event and upgrading your status from guest to sous chef or head dishwasher might make you more of a hindrance than help. If the host refuses assistance, stay out of the kitchen, out of the way, and do exactly as you’re told. 

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