Phil's Foolproof Thanksgiving Hints

Articles
November 22, 2009

Phil's Foolproof Thanksgiving Hints

You're hosting family and friends for Thanksgiving and, whether it's the first time or the 40th, you're going over the to-do lists and wondering what's missing, how will I do it all, and what if something goes wrong?

You're hosting family and friends for Thanksgiving and, whether it's the first time or the 40th, you're going over the to-do lists and wondering what's missing, how will I do it all, and what if something goes wrong?

The most important thing you need to know, unlike the reality in our parents' generation, is that it is OK — really, it's OK — to ask for help. Don't be shy about asking friends, family or delivery services to buy, pick up, clean, or do whatever needs to be done.

And sometimes, things do go wrong, but because you'll be among friends and family, they'll accept your missteps if you maintain your sense of humor and warm, hospitable ways.

Here's my list of ways to insure a cool head and steady hand, no matter how many cranky family members you invite.

Prep the children. Sometimes it can be overwhelming for young children to be in the same house with assorted friends and family members they see only occasionally. Tell the kids who is coming and what to expect, and what you expect of them. Help them choose clothes that will make them feel special yet comfy.

Make assignments for Turkey Day. Whether it's popping the pies in the oven, manning the bar, greeting guests, or placing the food on the table, people love to help. It's also a marvelous way to make newcomers feel a part of your family, encourage shy people to talk to guests, and teach children that hosting is fun.

Set the table completely. Include everything you'll need: tablecloth or placemats, dinnerware and flatware, napkins, glasses for water and wine, candlesticks, candles and matches, wine bottle openers, water pitchers. Extras that are nice (but not necessary): napkin rings and place cards; centerpiece of flowers, autumn gourds or fruits; wine bottle coaster and of course, a drip cloth. And do it the day before — it's one fewer thing to do before the guests arrive.

Gather ye platters while ye may. Whether setting up a buffet or using counter space in the kitchen, now is the time to set out all the serving dishes and platters and bowls for each course, plus the necessary serving forks and spoons. From the gravy bowl to the coffee urn, set out every single item; it's the only way to figure out what's missing.

Think mood. You have the candles at the ready, now select a great all-music radio station or your favorite CDs to play softly while people arrive. (Avoid vocals; all the words today should be conversation with one another.)

Plan "just in case" dishes for those with allergies or other eating concerns. It's always a good idea to ask whether anyone you've invited can't eat a particular item. So, check the larder for alternatives to throw together if Aunt Susie has given up pork tenderloin and Cousin Ethel still refuses to touch carbs, or if 80-year-old Grandpa Harold can't chew like he used to. Thing eggs for a quickie omelet, heat up some veggies, or pass the rice crackers for the gluten-sensitive.

Got hang-ups? If you have a clothes rack, roll it into the hallway or a nearby room. Assign one of your children or a friend to take the coats and hats from your guests and hang them up rather than tossing them into a chaotic pile on a bed. Makes it so much easier to find the right bag or coat when guests leave, too.

Set up the beverages. Set aside a particular space dedicated to both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages, iced and ready for your guests when they arrive. Your choices should be exciting, but be considerate of your guests' tastes: Offer a cranberry juice spritzer with or without a dash of vodka; eggnog with or without rum; champagne or beer. If you're serving wine at the meal you might want to offer something else while guests enter and mingle with one another.

Invite a stranger who's away from home. Contact the local colleges for references to students who may not be able to make it home for the holidays. You provide them a great meal, a little bit of family feeling, and the distraction from the fact that they've been unable to return home for their own holiday celebration.

Get some rest! You're ready. The house is ready. The food and accessories are planned, and it's going to be fabulous. So, take a long soak in the tub and get a good night's sleep.

ON THE BIG DAY: Take 10. Before you get caught up in the last-minute details, sit still and quiet for 10 minutes. Breathe in slowly and deeply; think of all you have to be grateful for, especially your guests: friends you adore, family you love, and they're coming because of you and your hospitality, right? So, get up, get going, have FUN!

And last, but not least: never try to pick up a 20-pound turkey pan with just a dish towel — use proper potholders and two hands. Sorry, Pop!