December 5, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving: Lessons Learned


(1) Simple is better.

As a foodie, I constantly have to restrain myself from going overboard on any major holiday, but Thanksgiving makes it an especially difficult task. There are just so many options! So many herbs, spices, and ingredients to explore! The problem is, however, that if every Thanksgiving dish on the table is unique, edgy, and unexpected they all lose their impact. Nobody knows where to focus and, as a result, all of those star ingredients and crafty new techniques get tragically overlooked. It’s a mistake that I’ve made several times and an experience with which I am familiar.

This year was different. Rather than coat the turkey with a thousand different Italian herbs, stuff the cavity with exotic tropical fruits, and pipe my name in mashed potatoes on top (note: I have thankfully never gone this far), I opted for a beautifully simple bird seasoned only with garlic butter, salt, and pepper.

You and me both know that there’s no pretty way to photograph an entire roasted turkey, so that’s the best picture we’ll be seeing.

Beyond the turkey, I stuck to traditional sides and occasional, minute variations, which we’ll talk about in my next tip…

(2) Be a nerd and work ahead.

This was seriously the best thing I learned from Thanksgiving 2012. I will carry this lesson with me forevermore. I will needlepoint it onto a sampler and hang above my fireplace. Work ahead!

After several years of busy bee Thanksgivings scrambling around the kitchen to complete half a dozen dishes in the span of three hours, taking the time to plan and prepare those same dishes a day or two ahead of time made all the difference. My Thanksgiving stress levels were at an all-time low and I was able to fully enjoy that special holiday food, rather than collapse on the couch and take a pre-turkey nap.

Here’s a look at the beauties of overachieving…

7 Days Before: Canned Cranberry Sauce.

cranberry sauce
Yes, yes, it may not be the proper food blogger thing to do, but I will freely stand…er, type…before you that there is no other cranberry sauce in my heart than that plate of gelatinous glory. Chilled in the fridge and sliced along those gorgeous tin can lines, it’s just not Thanksgiving without it.

4 Days Before: Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie.

watermarked pie
Making this pie ahead of time got it crossed off my to-do list and made me a responsible, season-appropriate food blogger. I just popped in the freezer and it was ready to go for a quick Thanksgiving defrost.

4 Days Before: Cranberry-Pancetta Stuffing

Crunchy cubes of ciabatta (say that three times fast) served as the perfect base for meaty pancetta pieces, dried cranberries, and earthy, savory rosemary in this recipe of my own creation.

1 Day Before: Crunchy Corn Pie

corn pie
1 Day Before: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Breadcrumbs, Butter, and Lemon

brussels sprouts
1 Day Before: Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

mashed potatoes
Another Thanksgiving revelation! As far as I can remember, I’ve never had mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. After trying out this recipe, I’m a believer. Mashed potatoes are now a must.

3-ish Hours Before: Garlic Butter Turkey
We already covered this yumminess.

30 Minutes Before: Parker House Rolls & Green Bean Casserole

green bean casserole
And finally, lesson number three is…

(3) Chill out!

Seriously. Thanksgiving has so many expectations attached to it. We’re all supposed to happily spend all day in the crowded kitchen with dozens of family members wearing matching sweaters and seamlessly preparing a gourmet feast without breaking a sweat. Then all the dirty dishes disappear and we all go outside into the crisp fall air and play a friendly game of football.

So not happening.

Rather than think we have to live up to those kinds of lofty, cookie-cutter expectations, my best tip is to try and let Thanksgiving unfold naturally, without trying to force everything to be perfect. When you take all of those burdensome expectations away from the day, it’s actually a lot easier to enjoy.

The only problem is, I still don’t have any tips for making the kitchen clean itself.


I hope you all had a really great Thanksgiving! This year I was definitely the most thankful for my family, both for pitching in and helping with cooking as well as kindly turning a blind eye to the extremely messy kitchen. And, you know, being my favorite people and all that jazz, too.

What were you most thankful for this year?


  1. These are great tips! but what do you MEEEEAN you hadn't had mashed potatoes before?! I'm shocked.
    Also, your thoughts about not trying to live up to cookie cutter expectations are so true. The more people try to do that, the angrier they end up getting about the fact that their day wasn't perfect, which just messes everything and everyone up. Glad you had a good holiday, your pictures are so great!

  2. I completely agree with your suggestions! A lot of dishes can be made or at least prepped ahead. Definitely makes the meal more enjoyable when you're not stressed or exhausted. Hope you had a very happy holiday.


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