Burning Questions: Thanksgiving Edition

Burning Questions: Thanksgiving Edition

When done properly, Thanksgiving is a celebration of bounty. Which is probably why there was such a bountiful response when Joanna asked on Instagram for your most Burning Questions about the feast. Here were the cooking and hosting issues that came up most…

“How do you have everything ready at one time with one oven? It’s a mystery I can never solve. The math and science of it eludes me.” — Erin

Let’s consider this radical concept: Does everything need to be served warm? If your oven space and time is limited, consider loading the menu with side dishes that don’t necessarily have to be piping hot. Green beans are arguably as delicious when blanched, chilled, and tossed with vinaigrette than they are served casserole-style with fried onions. And though it might seem sacrilegious not to serve mashed potatoes, a room-temperature potato salad is perfectly capable of pinch-hitting. Or! Consider getting creative with heating sources: A gas grill on low heat can double as a warming oven (especially for foil-covered casserole-type dishes), slow cookers can keep mashed potatoes warm, and gravy can be stored in thermoses if stovetop space is tight. By the way, gravy is the one non-negotiable thing on the table that must be hot — it’s every dish’s best friend, something that elevates every thing around it, and makes them feel like the best possible version of themselves.

“What do I say when my mother-in-law/cousin/aunt asks (again) when I will be pregnant?” — Alexis

Remember that rule with tantruming toddlers: Distract, don’t react? It works beautifully for prying aunts, inebriated uncles, and impeachment-obsessed out-of-town guests alike. Don’t engage. Repeat: Don’t engage.

“I’m always looking for vegan and vegetarian dishes that aren’t trying to mimic turkey or meat.” — So Many of You

I am, too! I enlisted the lovely Jeanine D’Onofrio of Love & Lemons for help on this one — I turn to Jeanine (and her cookbooks) whenever I’m searching for a plant-based meal that must present as beautifully as it tastes. (Everything she cooks just looks so happy to me.) Jeanine recommends a bountiful grain salad with hearty roasted squash, roasted onions, and crunchy vegetables (like this one which contains the non-vegan but very optional halloumi); or Acorn Squash with Chickpeas & Chimichurri (easily vegan when you serve the yogurt sauce on the side) and Butternut Squash Pasta with Chili Oil, Feta & Mint, which is a riot of color in addition to being vegetarian. Thanks Jeanine!

“What can we prep (or mostly prep) ahead, so we can actually enjoy the day and guests?” — Tess

If you know me, you know my philosophy for entertaining any day of the year boils down to If it can be made ahead of time, make it ahead of time. This is triply the case on Thanksgiving when you don’t want to have one eye on the kitchen timer the whole time you’re catching up with Aunt Lynn. Pies can be made ahead of time, so can cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes if you decide to serve them casserole style, and why wouldn’t you? You can also go ahead and set the mise en place to end all mise en places. But think beyond the actual cooking, too. Water pitchers can be filled, fancy barware and gravy boats removed from their year-long hiding places, tables set, extra forks and dishes procured for dessert (I always forget about them!). If it can be done ahead of time, do it ahead of time.

“What are the easiest snacks and appetizers that don’t take away from the main meal?” — Erin 

Warning: this response might be slightly controversial, but I’m just going to shift all accountability to Sam Sifton, author of the must-own manual Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, who articulated exactly what I’ve always felt: “I did not sit in my kitchen on Saturday night making lists, and deal with brining a bird on Monday night, and bake pies on Tuesday night, and spend all of Thursday cooking turkey, sides and gravy, then set a table appropriate to presidents and kings, so that you could come into my house and eat a pound and a half of nuts and guacamole before sitting down for the Thanksgiving feast.” Sifton recommends starting with oysters if possible, or (gasp!) nothing. I recommend wine, bourbon and flavored seltzers alongside a light salty snack (crunchy chickpeas or crudite) to whet the appetite, not squelch it.

“How can I make the holiday feel special beyond the food?” — Jackie

In my last book, I wrote about what I called ECS, or Empty Celebration Syndrome, that sinking feeling you get when you spend all that time making the meal perfect without anything to show for it at the end except a pile of dirty dishes. Luckily, the syndrome is eminently curable: start a ritual that is as much about the day as it is about the feast. Go for a family walk, have an epic game of charades with dessert, make everyone write a memory about the day in a dedicated journal, or bare minimum here — go around the table to express gratitude and make a moment for grace. This year, I plan to record a real sit-down interview my parents (maybe even using the Story Corps app) because there are so many things I don’t know about their personal histories that I want to preserve for generations. I’ll let you know how it goes! (I’d love to hear about your rituals, too.)

“How do you contribute to a Thanksgiving meal if you’re flying in from out of town and not able to bring a hot or prepared dish from your own kitchen?” — Keely

One idea: Have the host’s local florist deliver something the day before you arrive with a note that says “We can’t wait to see you.”

“I’m feeding a crowd with a low culinary bar. Is it worth it to try fun, new (sometimes complicated) recipes? Or just keep it easy, tried and true, and enjoy the holiday?” — Shelley

To each her own, but I find that “fun, new, complicated recipes” are for every other day of the year. The reason I love Thanksgiving so much is probably because there is zero psychic energy expended on the question you have to confront every other day of the year, i.e. What should we have for dinner? It’s the one meal a year when no one can complain about eating the exact same thing they ate last year and the year before that and the year before that. The same menu, eaten decade after decade, from coast to coast, connecting us all in a rare moment of unity, is, in fact, the point. It’s tradition and I highly recommend embracing it.

Great questions! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

P.S. 10 wonderful holiday rituals and a dinner party conversation starter.

(Photo montage by Maud Passini.)

  1. R says...

    thanks for the flowers the day before idea! just sent to our hosts to be delivered tomorrow. would never have done that without reading this post :) thanks for the great idea

  2. Nanne Cutler says...

    on the food side:
    –my husband cooks the turkey on the grill (with a cranberry glaze), it’s pretty awesome, frees up space in the oven and i am NOT in charge of it :). also, if you have an outside turkey fryer, this is the way to go.

    –roasted veggies can be done in the morning and served room temp

    –i have a great recipe for make ahead mashed potatoes that just need to be heated up.

    –make the gravy ahead of time and serve out of a small crockpot.

    as the mom who cooks EVERYTHING for thanksgiving, i have had to give in to some short cuts. i have more hacks:)

    • Simone says...

      That’s such a beautiful wreath Keely!!

  3. Jen says...

    Re the pregnancy question, I still struggle to understand why we treat talking about pregnancy so differently to other topics. I don’t think it’s rude to ask about important things in the lives of people you love. When people ask me I just answer honestly about how I’m feeling about the idea, and it usually leads to interesting conversations with people who love me and whom I love about their decisions or experiences with having or not having children. While I grapple with what it means to bring children into a climate change affected future, I get to talk about what it was like to decide whether or not to have children with the threat of nuclear war in the 80s. Or while I contemplate a life without giving birth I get to hear other relatives’ stories of the different ways they’ve built mother and grandmother roles into their lives.
    About a decade ago I just decided to be be open and direct about lots of things. People sometimes are surprised that you’re not fobbing them off with surface conversation, but you get to connect more deeply, it’s far more interesting than skating on platitudes, and you don’t bottle up frustration.
    (I say you don’t bottle up frustration because part of this decision came after reading Kate Fox’s brilliant book Watching the English. She made a point about British people sighing or shaking their heads over people cutting queues. I decided to give that up as a stupid passive aggressive thing to waste time on, and made myself a rule that if I want to sigh, tut, shake my head, roll my eyes, etc over something I either have to engage directly with kindness and ask for the change that I want, or I have to let it go because it doesn’t matter/isn’t a situation where I feel safe asking for change. It certainly makes for less pent up irritation!)

    • Jen says...

      Ok yes, but…no one ever asks men these questions. I’m also happy to just give honest answers to questions but I do resent the fact that my husband has never, not once, been asked if he plans on starting a family.

      Also, I think that questions about pregnancy are treated differently because pregnancy is a health issue intimately tied with some deeply personal topics (fertility, miscarriage, relationship status, etc.) that many people don’t really want to discuss around the dinner table. I wouldn’t ask an elderly relative that I only see once a year, “when are you going to have that mole removed?!” or “have you started menopause yet?!” Asking when I will get pregnant (and the accompanying assumptions that I even WANT to get pregnant) feels like a similar sort of “not really your business” question. Plus, in my experience, gently and lovingly explaining why I don’t want to have kids rarely results in someone supporting my choices. The question is so often asked with an agenda and the answers I give never seem to please…

    • L says...

      If you are able to talk about pregnancy in a neutral manner with your family, kudos to you. For some of us struggling to get pregnant, it is an extremely painful topic. I already feel that every holiday my family is waiting for me to make an announcement or that people are secretly looking at my belly trying to determine if it looks different. It’s not, I’m sad, and talking about it on Thanksgiving does not help me. Please have some empathy for those that don’t have it so easy.

    • Jenn says...

      I’m impressed as it sounds like you have a very respectful and open minded family! I’d agree with the other Jen in that for many many women those types of questions are rooted in patriarchal ideas and rarely come from a place of genuine curiosity. Lots of us would love to not have to engage with old uncles ready to tell us we’ll ‘regret’ not having children, or with a smug knowing look say they know we’ll ‘change (our) minds.’ Not to mention the great point from L about it being an inherently painful and pressure-filled topic for many others.

    • Jen says...

      I agree that women bear the brunt of this questioning, although I will say both my partner and I are copping it from all sides at our age (mid 30s) – even our electrician asked us the other day!
      And I agree that it’s often asked in a way that has an agenda or feels like pressure, but if I think about what’s behind that agenda at something like Thanksgiving it’s usually some form of love or care for me, and if I explain my thinking then those people sometimes get on the same page as me, or understand my choices more. My father-in-law is particularly clucky, but I told him I won’t even consider bringing kids into a world that has no future, so he needs to start voting for climate change action before grandkids are on the table. Now every election he tells all his conservative friends he’s voting Greens so he might get grandkids – I don’t believe him, but it has been a good way to have some of those conversations which can get pretty heated between us. But it’s also been a good way to tell people upfront that I have endometriosis and so getting pregnant might not be an option for us, and that I’ll find that hard emotionally if that’s how things pan out. I do have empathy for those finding conceiving challenging, and I get that everyone’s way of coping is different (I would need to talk about it with friends and family to survive it), but I want it to be a normal topic of conversation with my family that has depth and understanding, rather than a jokey form of pressure or a black hole that doesn’t get mentioned. My way of stopping jokey pressure, bullshit platitudes about not missing out, or a lack of understanding about potential conception challenges I’ll face has been to talk about the issue with an honesty that people usually hadn’t anticipated. I guess that was what I was trying to get at in my original post – that being direct and open, and inviting family into my current state of mind about pregnancy, has helped me defuse a lot of those cycles I could see forming in my extended family as I passed 30. I know parents on both sides will be disappointed if we don’t have kids, but at least they’ll understand how we got to that decision.

    • Annie says...

      Well said! Thank you.

    • isabelle says...

      It’s great that you feel so supported in your family environment that you can talk about all your personal and medical issues without becoming more stressed out. I would venture to say that is not the case for many (probably most) people, myself included. For example, it’s one thing for your sister to ask about family planning in a private conversation between the two of you, but it’s quite another for an older relative to start spouting off about how they disapprove of your life choices in front of a dozen people at Thanksgiving dinner. As others have mentioned, people RARELY bring up these topics without an agenda or opinion. They’re just waiting for you to respond so that they can tell you what they think.

      For me, my hormonal disorder causes a lot of strife and pain (physically, mentally, financially) and it is certainly not something I’m going to be happy discussing anywhere other than a private conversation with someone I really trust. Not to mention STRANGERS who feel the need to comment on other people’s choices (sometimes shutting up and rolling your eyes instead is the way to go). As a woman, my body and my personal choices are not up for debate or discussion, period.

      Do what works for you, but it’s foolish to assume that others are having the same reaction and experience as you. There are plenty of ways to open yourself up to thoughtful conversation without barging in with invasive personal questions. And there are plenty of thoughtful conversations that DON’T revolve around a woman’s reproductive status. Ask her about her friends, her job, her travels, her hobbies, her pets – I prefer being treated as a human, not an oven, and if people feel the need to share the details of their family planning with you then they will bring it up on their own.

    • AB says...

      Jen, thank you for such a thoughtful insight! Just wanted to lend my support to your approach of being direct and honest to questions on pregnancy. And your tip on either asking for change or letting go is spot on – although extremely difficult for me to act on! Something to work on for the new year maybe :)

  4. Martini says...

    Christmas = a Honey-Baked Spiral Cut Ham with Sweet Hawaiian Rolls and a jar of a really nice Mustard. Sides optional. Standard fare in our home is Cornbread & Chicken Dressing.

    Mr. Wonderful and I live alone. We spend holidays in our PJ’s the entire day. Thanksgiving no one else is allowed. We watch Pro Football games and traditional classic holiday movies. We hold hands across the table to give thanks for having each other for these 51 years and pray for snow.

  5. Chelsea says...

    My husband’s grandparents would always set a puzzle out on a table in the living room on Thanksgiving day. Then, throughout the day, different people would sit there for a little while and work on the puzzle. I loved this, especially when I was new to the family as it was an easy way to feel comfortable in a new setting and get to know the family. As I sat there working on the puzzles over the years I was able to get to know his aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, and the various boyfriends of cousins that came and went.

    HIs family also would go to a movie Thanksgiving night every year. This is something my family NEVER would have done, but I really loved it. It’s fun joining in on another family’s traditions and then deciding which of those traditions we would like to pass along to our family.

    • Alex M-S says...

      I love this, Chelsea! Will definitely try to implement at future Thanksgiving dinners :)

  6. Emily says...

    I want to share on making the holiday feel special. In my family, this has to do with multiple things: plenty of time to shmooze and catch up before the meal, casual appetizers and drinks before the big dinner, an annual game of apples to apples after dinner, all generations welcome. Going around and saying one thing we’re thankful is also a poignant, funny and sweet moment — with comments ranging from gratitude for family to happiness about democratic wins in the house/senate!

  7. Blair says...

    For those of you looking for vegan dishes, here are two that my family make every year even though NONE OF US ARE VEGAN. They’re just that good.

    Best Ever Vegan Mac-N-Cheese:
    https://vegnews.com/2018/7/vegnews-best-ever-vegan-macaroni-and-cheese

    How Is This Vegan?! Chocolate Mousse Pie:
    https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2011/09/06/the-ultimate-chocolate-fudge-pie/

    EXTRA POINTS! These dishes can both be made in advance! The pie can set in the fridge until dessert time, and the vegan mac-n-cheese can be assembled in advance (the night before or in the morning) and baked whenever there’s an open spot in the oven!

  8. Melanie TF says...

    There is nothing in the world that can distract my family from discussing my reproductive life plans. One year my entire family got into a very in-depth discussion about this, providing all their wise advice and invoking all the things including Céline Dion’s frozen embryos. It ended with everyone giving a toast to my ovaries!

  9. Jess says...

    When people ask me when I’m going to be pregnant (and I am British so this is a taster of peak British passive-aggression), I look them dead in the eye and say lightly, conversationally, with an innocent smile; ‘That’s a very personal question.’ And then just let that hang. Making eye contact. Smiling sweetly. No one’s ever come back from that one.

    • Olivia says...

      HAHAHHAH I love this. Perfect response for so many invasive questions. Thanks, Jess.

    • Jen says...

      Oh! I love this. I wish I had the courage to do the same on many occasions for many different “personal questions”

  10. Julie says...

    Set your table a day or two ahead. Put out all of your serving platters with utensils to be used with post-it notes attached with what is to go inside, reheating temps and times…this way anyone can step in and lend a hand. Also, take a shower and get ready first thing in the day, otherwise it will never happen!

  11. Anna says...

    British person here!
    It’s sort of traditional for us to have Turkey and a big roast dinner on Christmas day. What do you eat on Christmas day in the US? Would be interested to hear as I’m finding all the Thanksgiving food fascinating (and occasionally alarming!)

    • Sasha L says...

      My family ate the exact same meal for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Dumb! I know! And I hate all of that food, pumpkin pie, turkey, stuffing, overcooked vegetables, cranberry sauce….. To have it twice in two months, ugh.

      We don’t do holidays with my parents anymore and we do non traditional food (Korean for Thanksgiving, Italian crespelle, spinach soup with dumplings for Christmas), and we never spend all day cooking or go to great lengths. We just make something fun that everyone is excited about.

    • LB says...

      My family has ham for Christmas dinner. Almost everything else is the same as Thanksgiving but no cranberries.

    • Jenna Hutcheson says...

      Canadian here! We also do a turkey dinner for Christmas, but it’s not unheard of to do a ham or roast beef! But then again our thanksgiving is in early October so it’s much more spaced out.

    • Samantha says...

      it’s usually the same things as thanksgiving!
      my family is a little different, my dad does not like turkey, so on thanksgiving we have turkey AND ham, then on christmas my parents buy some very fancy bacon wrapped steaks with the traditional sides- mashed potatoes, green beans

    • Julie says...

      We change it up every Christmas Eve, this year my mom and I are making lasagna rollups with sausage , spinach, and ricotta, chicken francaise (in a lemon sauce), a Caesar salad, garlic bread, and then a ham and a potato and onion and cheese bake. Sometimes we do turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes.

      Last year for Christmas dinner my husband and I spent it alone, so I made filet mignon with a red wine reduction, sauteed spinach, and Yorkshire puddings! They were DELICIOUS, you guys are onto something.

    • Miss Beck says...

      I always thought it odd when a family had the exact same Christmas dinner as Thanksgiving! In our family Thanksgiving is Turkey, Christmas is a big Prime Rib or Beef Wellington, Easter is a Ham. On Christmas, we would add a lovely steamed chocolate pudding for desert rather than pie, all the other side dishes vary a bit from Thanksgiving too, just depending on what looks good at the market.

    • Beth says...

      For Christmas, our family does either different kinds of soups–like clam chowder, split pea or chicken noodle–or we have lasagna and salad. It’s very random, and it switches every year depending on what people are in the mood for!

    • Hanh vu says...

      Turkey and ham for Thanksgiving with the extended family. Goose or roast beef for Christmas with just our little family.

      Do we love all of the food all of the time? Absolutely not. But two things we keep in mind:
      1. The family traditions is more important our preferences for food. We have all year to eat whatever we want.
      2. There are always a lot of freedom in side dishes.

    • lauren says...

      Former Californian here. We make chimichangas for Christmas dinner. :)

    • J. Ray says...

      We do Italian for Christmas–I like to do stuffed shells with spinach every year. I think I got the idea because of the colors–red, white, and green.

    • Abbe says...

      South Asian American here — for us as immigrants, Thanksgiving has a much bigger emphasis on the food, so we’ll normally do the “traditional” turkey with a mix of Western and South Asian sides. Christmas seems more open to interpretation for us, anyway (case in fact, we are a bunch of Hindus who celebrate it, lol). So Christmas dinner is usually biriyani and a variety of South Asian sides. I think it’s a fun reflection of the American immigrant experience overall.

    • Chelsea says...

      I grew up in Texas and our Christmas dinners were somewhat similar to Thanksgiving but on a smaller scale, usually turkey or ham with potatoes and vegetables. But as an adult I moved to New Mexico where tamales are a traditional Christmas food because unwrapping each one is like opening a present. I love this tradition, so now when we host Christmas I like to have tamales, red chile enchiladas, and beans and rice!

    • Madie says...

      Thanksgiving is turkey, and then Christmas is variable, but usually a roast, maybe prime rib, or even rack of lamb. A celebratory cut of meat. Easter is ham! :)

    • Nanne Cutler says...

      hi, anna! growing up in alabama, my family always did the same turkey and side dishes for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But at some point we changed the Christmas dinner to a low country boil–shrimp, sausage, new potatoes, corn on the cob, etc all boiled in a turkey fryer outside and served on kraft paper on a long table inside. plus whatever sides the guests want to bring. it’s delish!!

  12. S says...

    My SIL hosts every year and she, along with her sister, do an absolutely amazing job. Through the years they have it down to a science! Definitely agree appetizers are unnecessary although she always has shrimp cocktail, nuts, etc for nibbling. Early on, she served a butternut bisque – definitely a one time only rookie mistake as it was a lot of extra work and we were all full before the turkey was served!!!

    I always say if she stops hosting, I am definitely ordering our turkey fully cooked and I will just make the sides and desserts!

    For the person who asked what they could contribute when flying in…send a gift of monogrammed napkins to be used at the table, or order bagels and cream cheese for the morning of and after to lighten the host’s load.

    • Keely says...

      Hi S,

      That was me! Thank you for these ideas… I especially love the bagel tip. Happy (early) Thanksgiving!

  13. shelley says...

    Mashed potatoes work excellent in a double boiler on the stove set extremely low and covered. That’s what my mom and mother in law have both always done.

  14. Julia L. says...

    I’m going to make Julia Turshen’s stuffed mushrooms as my vegetarian main course! (She serves them as an appetizer, but I’m not putting that much effort into an appetizer when chips and salsa exist.)

  15. alexa says...

    Fellow fastidious hand-washer here! If you have something plant-based, like olive oil, on your hands, just wipe them. Keep a kitchen towel near you at all times (and have a few backup towels) just for this purpose. When your hands are covered in something a little more disgusting like turkey juice, wash them. And the people who come over and ask what they can do to help? Offer them a cocktail when they walk in the door, and make them your designated soap squirter. That way you don’t have to touch your soap dispenser when your hands are covered in germs, and your guests still feel useful.

  16. Kara Heiniger says...

    Our family has a table cloth that we use every year, and on it, we each write down what we’re thankful for next to our names. As we eat, we can look back and find what we wrote down in previous years before sharing what we’re each adding. It’s an easy way for everyone to see what’s been said over the years and a practical way to record memories.

    • lori says...

      I love this!!

  17. Beth says...

    Jenny, I’d love any good questions / prompts you could share. I love getting to hear old stories of my grandma’s from before she was a mother of 8 and grandmother of 30. She moved from Boston to IL on a lark because she read about good paying jobs in the newspaper! She was a nurse in the NICU! She met my grandpa in a bar in Chicago in 1954! I love finding out those nuggets that make her incredibly relatable to me as a single 30 year old gal in the city.

    • F says...

      My daughter has ALWAYS loved to hear stories about when people were young and has always been good at engaging a table in conversation. When she was starting kindergarten, she used to ask everyone what they remember about kindergarten (these were great conversations—one grandma went to a one room school house!) and my favorite was when she got her ears pierced and asked all the women for their ear piecing story (some really fun histories!)
      We also like a TableTopic set that’s for “Family Gatherings” and it has some great conversation starters. Here are some of the questions (pulled from Amazon…)
      Which teacher from your childhood do you most appreciate?
      What one question would you like to ask of an ancestor and who would you ask?
      What’s the worst hairstyle you’ve had?
      Does your family have a Thanksgiving dish that is sacred?
      What’s the best story you have heard about your grandparents?
      What are kids missing today?
      How did your grandfather ask your grandmother to marry him?
      How and why did your family immigrate to America?

    • Beth says...

      Thank you F!!! Love these and will 100% be asking for ear piercing stories next week :)

  18. SB says...

    Our go-to appetizers (not really Thanksgiving-y but just what our family likes!): shrimp cocktail and homemade clam dip (I am the holder of grandma’s secret recipe now!). Just enough for everyone to have a few bites, but no one to get full!

    Also, my brother is vegetarian and he introduced this into our Thanksgiving line-up years back and now I make it even when he’s not around/I’m away – it’s always a big hit! Behold: Pumpkin Mac & Cheese! http://www.onceuponacuttingboard.com/2012/11/pumpkin-mac-cheese-with-apples-and.html

  19. Amy says...

    I tried Smitten Kitchen/Deb’s suggestion for a vegetarian main last week – mini galettes filled with white beans, leeks, and gruyere. They were delicious (and I’m not vegetarian).

    • naomi h says...

      They are delicious! My own favorite which I just made is her Butternut squash and carmelized onion gallete! So delicious and also beautiful!!

    • Kat says...

      Deb’s butternut squash galette (I make it with smoked gouda instead of fontina) is a seasonal favorite in my house! I love her!

    • Julie says...

      I made her butternut squash and caramelized onion toasts with goat cheese last night and they were HEAVEN. My husband only tolerates that squash and he had seconds.

  20. Hillary F. says...

    I couldn’t agree more about vegan and vegetarian dishes that aren’t trying to mimic turkey or meat, as a longtime vegetarian! I’ve made this vegan pot pie many times during the holidays – https://www.isachandra.com/2016/11/sorta-classic-pot-pie/. It comes together surprisingly easily and satisfies every comfort food craving (I happen to like chickpeas instead of seitan and a potato/cauliflower mash on top instead of crust). Had to share, especially if you haven’t heard of Isa Chandra. She’s the best!

  21. Katherine says...

    I grew up in a basically non-cooking household, which means I have a question that’s almost too trivial to ask: When I cook now, I find myself washing my hands five jillion times throughout the prep. I just have no intuition for when to, say, stop and wash off raw meat or oil vs. when it’s fine to press ahead. Do you have any advice or rules-of-thumb for someone who is a little *too* fastidious about kitchen hygiene?

    • Ana D says...

      Raw meat, raw eggs, or anything spicy – wash your hands.

      Oil, fruit, vegetables – wipe your hands on a dish towel. At the end of the meal prep, toss the towel in the laundry.

      You are a bad ass for being brave enough to cook with few/no examples in your upbringing. And you’re joining the ranks of many people who delight themselves and others with meals their families of origin would have no clue how to produce.

    • Lily says...

      Same here!! And I find washing my hands too much interrupts the flow of cooking/baking but I just can’t seem to help it.

      Any suggestions would be great!

    • Rosie says...

      You don’t need to wash off the oil on your hands. If things are super slippery you can use a bit of paper towel. Remember people actually rub oil into their skin for moisture. It will not hurt you. However, anything that goes near the turkey needs to be washed with hot water and soap.

    • Alice says...

      I would say keep a hand wiping towel on your shoulder- definitely wash hands after touching raw meat, but just use that to wipe everything else off. That way, you know that the towel is clean to start with and will only be getting non-meaty stuff onto it, so there’s no risk of cross contamination etc. Hope that helps!!

    • Melanie says...

      Omg! This is why I hate hate cooking turkey. It’s so big and raw turkey juice dripping everywhere. You should see my kitchen- I butterflied the turkey two years ago; completely cleared counter and taped plastic bags across counter AND walls to protect against raw turkey juice! It looked like a scene out of a serial killer movie🤣 But no salmonella!

    • Sarah says...

      I get disposable gloves to use when cooking for a holiday or for major meal prep days. One pair for raw meat, then done with the turkey toss them in the trash. Then another pair for veg prep, and just wipe the gloves down with a towel when they have oil or veggie scraps on them and toss when done with veggies. And one last one for desserts. This saves my hands form being all chapped when we sit down for the meal from being washed so many times or smelling like onions/garlic/spices or from being stained from root veggies.

    • Blubb says...

      Firstly, don’t be too worried about it. Fish and meat are eaten raw in many countries, and the chances that you have a diseased Turkey are quite low. Do Americans also bleach the turkeys? Should kill anything.

      Secondly, as many have suggested, a simple cloth for a quick wipe will do. I like wet microfiber, gives you a clean feeling, can be rough on the skin, though.

  22. Karin says...

    This may be sacrilegious, but I hate cooking and only host Thanksgiving because I have the biggest house in my family. So, for the past six years, we have pre-ordered Thanksgiving dinner from various grocery stores. Last year we did Whole Foods , and it was amazing!You basically just reheat everything. The only thing that we didn’t like was the green beans. I still make some easy thingsLike green bean casserole and yams on my own, but buying the pre-cooked meals makes it so much easier and takes 80% of the pressure off.

    • Alex says...

      I do the exact same thing! I don’t like cooking – especially under pressure! All my guests are from out of town and can’t really contribute a cooked portion of the meal without significant help from me (a ride to the grocery store, telling them where that one pan is … blah!). The Whole Foods sides are good! I get amazing pies from a local bakery. And some pints of salt & straw. And don’t worry about the rest. I also have 2 young kids and feel I should have the least obligation to cook! I can’t take care of them and cook a feast at the same time . Maybe in a different universe. I love thanksgiving but not the pressure to all of a sudden have the skills or desire to cook a huge meal for 10 ppl.

    • SuzieQ says...

      Same! Cooking for houseguests midweek is unrealistic for me as a working parent. I make an appetizer and dessert then cater the rest from a high-end grocery store, which is surprisingly affordable. Ditto Christmas.

  23. Midge says...

    For “appetizers” we have jellybeans, toast, and popcorn while we watch “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” —-it’s a hilarious, awful combination that doesn’t fill you up at all. (For those who don’t know, that’s what Snoopy makes for Thanksgiving dinner, much to Peppermint Patty’s disgust.)

    • a Snoopy fan says...

      Love this!!

    • Melanie says...

      😂😂🥰

  24. Courtney says...

    I have a multi-page planning doc for when I host (I kind of have it down to a science), but so much can be done ahead of time … making pie crusts a few days ahead, then making pies; cranberry sauce; making cornbread and cubing loaves for stuffing, if you do homemade; prepping salad dressing; chopping/roasting veggies. Even mashed potatoes if you do Ina’s goat cheese mashed potatoes, which are amazing.

    Also, don’t forget that after the turkey comes out, it needs to rest, and then you need to carve it. So there’s lots of time to reheat sides and make the gravy then.

    For apps, we like to do spiced nuts with some bubbly, and maybe cheese straws. Light but still staving off any hangry guests in case the food gets delayed or there are any crises.

    • mindi says...

      Just make sure that mayo is Hellman’s. Nothing compares in the midwest (I’m pretty sure the Mason Dixon line is actually a line dividing us between Waffle House/IHOP, Duke’s/Hellman’s).

  25. M says...

    Help! Can anyone tell me the recipe for a classic Minnesotan broccoli salad? I need to take one to my in laws, but not sure exactly what type is fitting for the midwest. Thanks!

  26. Great Q&A! Thanks for sharing. :)

  27. p says...

    my husband and i have two huge families, both in the same city. so it’s a blessing and a curse to have to be at two parties for all holidays. they are also not ashamed to ask the baby question, so i’v become expert in response. my favorite being, “we just had sex on the way here so hopefully soon”, or any variation on that which directly references the baby making process. this year, i’m pregnant so it’s the first i won’t have to play defense!

    • Dominique says...

      Congratulations — both on the pregnancy and on the best response to that question.

    • CD says...

      👏👏👏👏👏

  28. Jen Johnson says...

    Re keeping things hot – even if you have 10 ovens and all your mains/sides are hot the BEST THING you can do to do to keep everything warm when enjoyed is to heat your plates (Assuming you are using crockery vs. paper plates.plastic :D )

    It keeps warm food warm and helps warm up food that’s losing heat. And really doesn’t it seem similar to go to all the trouble of timing the food coming out of hte oven only to slap it on a stone-cold plate??

    Make sure you plates are microwave/oven safe and slap them in the oven or microwave in a stack. It can be challenging if you’re doing buffet style (bc people need to hold their plates)

  29. E says...

    One word for mashed potatoes: COSTCO. Spoon them into a casserole dish in advance of people coming over and heat in the oven until the tops and edges get just the teensiest bit crispy. Then swear it’s a family recipe where the special ingredient is love.

    • Jill says...

      I second E’s Costco sentiment!! Absolutely the way to go. I’ve done it for 3 years in a row. And look around, Costco has other great options also! Gravy. Rolls. Pies.
      But those potatoes are worth their weight in gold.

    • Heidi says...

      Whenever I use something from Costco (usually their lasagna on Christmas) I say it’s a recipe passed down to me by the Kirkland family of Eastern Costco. ;)

  30. Margaret says...

    Ok maybe I’m a weirdo but I LOVE breaking tradition for Thanksgiving! I mean, spending all that effort and money on… turkey??? When there are so many other exciting things I’d like to cook??? I figure, if this is a holiday about togetherness and sharing a beautiful meal, I can do that any way I want. Besides, Thanksgiving then becomes an opportunity to host others extravagantly – i.e. spend more money than I usually would on ingredients for recipes that I’ve always wanted to try but can’t fit in the budget on the regular.

    Four years ago we had homemade spinach gnocchi (which did NOT turn out – my in-laws were stirring it around politely but almost no one ate a full helping and my six year old niece was in tears about trying a bite).

    Three years ago we made a bunch of homemade sushi. Mmmm!

    Two years ago we had a roasted lamb rack with mint jelly.

    And this year, it’ll be beef wellington with homemade puff pastry and duxelles (a mushroom paste which you douse in brandy and LIGHT ON FIRE). I can’t wait!

    • Laura says...

      Ha! This reminds me of a chef friend who always says, “If turkey’s so delicious, why don’t we eat it the other 355 days of the year?” His point being, it’s not that great… I’m all for variation! My favorite was the year we tried kimchi mashed potatoes. We haven’t repeated them, but they were delicious!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      laura, i always think that, too!

    • Olivia says...

      i love this! and agree, i personally am not a big turkey fan… nor some of the other traditional thanksgiving dishes. do people really like cranberry sauce and green beans and pumpkin pie?

    • allison says...

      OMG I am making beef wellington this year too!! I couldn’t deal with doing another turkey.

    • Veronica says...

      My husband, son, and I are on our own this year, so we are making sous vide duck breasts. Still special, so much less work.

    • Ana D says...

      Olivia, I adore green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. And until you said that, my love blinded me to the distaste others may have for my holiday delights.

  31. K says...

    I come from a family thanksgiving with 5 courses and 30 people. My biggest tip for a feast: RENT DISHES (and lines and glassware and tables and chairs If needed). There are so many pots and pans and platters that need to get washed that day and who needs more. Rinsing plates and throwing the crate of dirties in the garage is worth every penny

  32. deb says...

    for saving cooking space, make mash potatoes in the crock pot. I tested it out a few weeks ago and they were perfect.

  33. Sarah says...

    I love this, thank you! We host every year, and generally serve mostly the same menu. This year I’m determined to try something new, that I *hope* will become a favorite hack: squash soup. Hack for what? For getting my kids to eat. They don’t love poultry, potatoes, or anything else remotely Thanksgiving-y save possibly for cranberry sauce and rolls. But they do love squash soup :) We normally aim to have some sort of squash dish anyhow, and the soup is something we’ve made plenty of times before successfully AND it can be made the day before. Voila–getting my kids to eat and adding a simple and delicious make-ahead side dish! (Wish us luck)

    • Carol says...

      That sounds so good! I love this idea.

    • Alyssa says...

      Prior to last Thanksgiving, my kids didn’t like my sister’s long-time boyfriend and never ate any food at thanksgiving. Last Thanksgiving, my sister’s boyfriend brought Mac and Cheese. Now my kids like Thanksgiving and my sister’s boyfriend! That’s what I call a win-win. It was such a big hit that we had macaroni and cheese for Christmas too.

  34. Maire says...

    This will be my fifth year hosting Tgiving dinner, and the tradition I relish the most is taking off Wednesday to do the majority of my food prep (someone else brings the turkey!), so on Tgiving morning, I can have a leisurely morning (hitting the yoga studio!) before it’s time to starting heating up my sides for dinner.

  35. Stephanie says...

    I highly recommend holding mashed potatoes in a crockpot. A couple of tips: set it on low (seems obvious, but maybe not) and put a bunch of butter in the bottom before adding the mashed potatoes. It will keep them even more moist and will stop the bottom of the potatoes from browning or burning (just mix the butter into the potatoes when you’re ready to serve them). On that note: don’t hold them any longer than two hours. More than that, and the bottom-most potatoes will get brown. And if the idea of extra butter makes you queasy, tip a little of the potato cooking water into the crockpot before adding the potatoes; just keep the potatoes a little on the dry side when you mash them so you can mix the potato water in when you’re ready to serve them.

    • margie says...

      that sounds amazing and I am making that for a dinner ASAP

  36. Elizabeth says...

    The Thanksgiving book by Sam Sifton and a bottle of wine would make a great gift for the hosts if you’re an out-of-towner. We have it and reference it every year!

  37. kl says...

    yessssssss!

  38. Chelsey says...

    haha noted, love it, saving it!

  39. Catherine says...

    Our go-to Thanksgiving appetizer: a plate of olives, pickles, and pickled vegetables. Hard to get full off of, in my experience, especially if there’s some heat (peppers, etc.).

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      This is a perfect line-up. Giardiniera is my favorite thing in the world, I don’t know why I never thought of it for a pre-Thanksgiving snack.

  40. Mary says...

    I never get asked directly about when I’ll get married or have kids…instead I just overhear my mom talking about it to extended family (even though she also never asks me directly about dating!) and then I usually come in to the conversation just in time to feel guilty about “not giving grandchildren”.

    • Alex says...

      I’m so sorry. That’s not fair! You are prefect as you are in this (and every) stage of life.

  41. Camille says...

    I love the idea of a floral arrangement from the person coming from out of town! Some other ways to contribute could be to help the host with set up on the day of if your’re arriving before the meal. Offer to wash the prep dishes as they cook. Definitely offer to help wash up afterward the meal. Volunteer to run out for the bag of ice that was forgotten or the whipped cream for the pumpkin pie. Help out with the drinks: some wine, sparkling cider for the kids, a bag of a favorite coffee roast, or restock their K-cups.

    • D says...

      Love Eatingbirdfood’s vegan lentil walnut loaf is a huge wow! We spend every other Thankgiving at a rental house with 18 other family members every “mom” is jostling for the one oven and there have been some hurt feelings. I just plan to make everything in a crockpot.

    • Keely says...

      Thank you Camille!! You’re right, just being an extra set of hands to help with drinks, dishes, etc. can be all that’s needed. I appreciate the great ideas!!

  42. Hannah says...

    On the timing question. I take the turkey out of the oven about 45 minutes before we eat, then put everything that needs reheating/cooking in the oven for 30 minutes at the same temperature. Any hot items that don’t fit this timeline or more than I have space for in my oven – I ask others to make and bring them as their contribution to the table.

    My biggest nemesis has always been mashed potatoes, because I really don’t want to peel a bunch of potatoes that day, worry about mashing them just before eating. Plus, I’ve got a family that has to have their mashed potatoes, not just a related casserole. So I’ve made the executive decision to use mashed potato flakes. Once you load them up with cream/butter/gravy, you can’t tell the difference.

    • Lynn says...

      Re: Mashed potatoes. I make them a day or two ahead and reheat in microwave or keep warm for a while over a double boiler. Might need another dash of milk or two, but otherwise A-OK.

    • sarah says...

      I love both of these ideas! On the potatoes, another thought: outsource it. My husband is our resident chef and makes absolutely everything for Thanksgiving dinner, except for mashed potatoes. He knows that one dish is my jam, so my only kitchen-related job that day is to prep, cook, and mash those potatoes!

  43. Margaret says...

    I just had to comment to say that I love the phrase “low culinary bar”😂😂😂

    • Hello from the Midwest says...

      Amen! I felt so seen. I have had gatherings based around creating your own salad and beautiful, carefully considered cheeseboards/charcuterie, and my biggest takeaway is to KNOW MY AUDIENCE. My (rural) family and friends would be equally impressed with a taco bar or a bunch of take and bake pizzas, so why kill myself? I love curating the perfect salad toppers or sourcing french cornichons, but it just doesn’t compute here.

  44. Monica says...

    On making Thanksgiving feel special… I have kids 10 & 7, and for the past several years, I’ve created a “treasure hunt” for them to do after everyone eats dinner. Prior to the holiday, I spend about 15 minutes typing up a sheet of little clue cards pointing to places throughout the house and outdoors. Things like, “Find the next clue where you brush your teeth”, or “A stone statue will tell you where to go next”. The clues are clever enough to be tricky but nothing too complicated. The kids sequester themselves while I set up the clues. Then, the kids go CRAZY running around following the clues, especially a good combination of indoor/outdoor/upstairs/downstairs.. The one rule is they have to hunt together (so no one finds clues ahead of another). The “treasure” at the end is usually something small like a box of coins or jewelry from the dress-up box. They don’t really care, it’s the thrill of the hunt! It keeps them busy for 20-30 minutes, which also gives the grownups a chance to visit a little bit. ;) And once the hunt is over, the kids then spend at least another hour setting up the same clues in a different order for each other and repeating the hunt! It’s something they always look forward to, and it’s a fun childhood memory for them, too.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I love this idea. When my daughters were young, we used to do this, too, and draw pictures for the clues instead of words. They still talk about those hunts!

  45. LB says...

    I’ve noticed for large family gatherings, women are the first to get up to clear the table and put everything away. Tips to encourage everyone to contribute to the post-dinner cleanup?

    • M says...

      I want to know the answer to this too! it makes me angry every gathering!

    • Sandra says...

      Announce that there are two teams on Thanksgiving this year: the cookers, and the cleaner/putawayers. Then tell everyone they get pick one team or the other. If they don’t choose a team the host will assign them to one. #endthepatriarchy

    • Kelly says...

      assign! something like: everyone who cooked something for the meal, sit! everyone else: clear and clean!

      or: my husband and i agreed years ago that at his family gatherings, he was responsible for bringing a dish for potluck and any cleanup responsibilities. He’s often the only man in the kitchen during cleanup (eyeroll), but at least it gets me off the hook and takes the edge off my rage.

      get it going with the younger generation too, all kids can clear the table, scrap dishes etc. I can’t tell you how many times I see girls taking on these chores while boys go play. or maybe that is just my extended family? ugh thinking about this makes me want to barf.

    • Marlena says...

      Easy. Simply tell everyone that they will be helping in the clean up. For instance – “Hey everyone, this year we’re all pitching in after the meal. We need people to clear the table, load the dishwasher and wipe down the surfaces. Aaaaaand go!” Start handing plates to the men and boys and they will have no choice but to take them to the sink. Hand the wash rag to them and point to the sink. Boom. Problem solved.

      And if they resist that method, well then there are clearly deeper issues that need solving. I’m the type that, if they didn’t respect a simple request to help, I would leave the mess until they get the point. But I know that holidays for some people can be contentious enough without imparting lessons in respect on family members in a more aggressive way (you better believe I would do it anyway, because NOPE.)

    • Annie says...

      I think this can really depend on the group and the group dynamics. I’m very fortunate that in my husband’s family it has been the norm that men help out with clearing up and dishes. In my family, not so much. I’ve tried to be light about it with my three older brothers, “If your last name is X, raise your hand! If your hand is raised, you’re on dish duty!” Or just saying, “Who’s going to help with dishes?” However, I really think this is a role modeling thing and I hope we all encourage the men/spouses/partners in our lives to lend a hand and show our little ones that everyone chips in and holidays are also times to be family in work as well as play.

    • Robin says...

      My trick is, simply don’t jump up to clear the table! Usually at some point a male will start taking plates in. When I hosted my family for Christmas one year, I bossed everyone around. I made them alternate between who was cleaning up and who was cooking. It was quite evenly distributed among the men and women. If men grew up as boys with mothers/sisters cleaning up after them, they need a bit of prompting and I think that’s perfectly fine.

    • LB says...

      All great suggestions. Thanks, all. Excited to try them out next week. :)

  46. S says...

    One burning question I have is: in our family potluck style Thanksgiving, there are those who sit back and drink, and those of us, who all happen to be women, prepare the meal and clean up as we go. How can I politely nudge the non-helpers to step up and contribute at any point in the day?

    • Marlena says...

      I would have all the helpers stop and sit down to drink with the non-helpers. If they ask when the meal will be ready, let ’em know it depends on them and you’re fine with a cold meal if it’s fine with them.

    • Midge says...

      My dad writes up a schedule and everyone has a job at a specific time. Not just “make gravy” but fill the water glasses, refill people’s wine, press the on button on the coffeemaker for dessert, pass out coffee cups. The making of the list is a big production during appetizer time and nobody escapes— it’s fun! Then he shouts out reminders, “It’s 5:47, where’s Travis with the peas?!” Kids in particular love being a part of the prep.

  47. Erica says...

    Regarding keeping it all warm, in my catering days we kept mashed potatoes warm by topping them with a thin layer of half and half (or milk) and setting them over a double boiler. Stir in the cream just before serving and they’ll be rich, warm, and not at all gloppy.

    For sweet potatoes, stuffing, and any other casserole-type things, I throw them in the oven the minute the turkey comes out. Between resting and carving, it takes 30-40 minutes to actually get it to the table, which is plenty of time to warm other dishes through.

  48. SLG says...

    Yes! My other favorite, slightly-more-confrontational response for when you really need to shut things down:

    Uncle Nosy: “Are you pregnant this year? It’s about time, isn’t it?”

    Me, calmly: “… wow.”

    Uncle Nosy:

    Me, smiling nicely: “… so how are things at work?” [or any other innocent, bland change of subject]

  49. Nicole says...

    Re: flying in/how to contribute – We’re out of town every year for Thanksgiving, so I always volunteer to bring wine and dessert because I can pick up wine on the way, or order a pie from a local bakery ahead of time for either delivery or pickup! Also “don’t engage” had me laughing so hard because it is SO true!

    • Keely says...

      Thanks Nicole!! I appreciate the ideas… wine and dessert are always a hit : ) Happy Thanksgiving!

  50. Ess says...

    Vegetarian main – Butternut bread pudding was a big hit one year: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/butternut-squash-and-cheddar-bread-pudding

    And to deal with a small oven, in addition to serving some cold things, the turkey does have to rest after it comes out for a while, so you can always make ahead somethings and then pop them back in the oven to reheat!

  51. Twyla says...

    My stand-by response to the pregnancy question is: “Why do you ask?”. It puts the focus back on them, and often they’re so startled they get embarrassed and stop talking about it. It works with any question of a personal nature that really is nobody’s business, like “How much did you pay for this house?”.

    • katie says...

      i LOVE this tip. thank you!

    • Sara says...

      This. THIS. THISSSS!

    • Amy says...

      Twyla! I just took a screenshot of your response so I can memorize it!! It’s so simple yet life changing. I feel like I’m going to be using this on so many occasions. I need to be your friend/understudy.

    • Nancy says...

      Using this!

    • L says...

      We waited a while to have kids and were fairly constantly asked, which made me very angry as it’s no one business. My standard response became, “How’s your sex life?” because that’s what they’re asking you about. Pretty sure people got the message and no, I didn’t feel badly about it.

    • Esme says...

      This is INSPIRED!

    • Sally says...

      Such great advice!!! I’m going to remember this one. Thanks for sharing.

    • Katie says...

      This is genius!

    • Elizabeth PFB says...

      My relatives would respond with, “Because I want to know when you’re having kids! That’s why!”

    • Samantha says...

      GENIUS!

  52. Maclean Nash says...

    In our family, our longest standing tradition has been “gratefuls” which everyone says before Thanksgiving dinner.
    We started this tradition when the kids in the family were about 5 and has continued for the past 20+ years.
    Over the years, how and where our Thanksgiving has been has drastically shifted.
    Members of our family have moved, divorce, death, illness, new family members!
    The only thing that has remained the same has been our tradition of gratefuls, It is always so heartwarming to hear what people are grateful for and it is always a welcoming reminder that we have SO much to be grateful for. And, inevitably, there are laughs, and plenty of waterworks!
    It’s my families favourite tradition and one I cant wait to share with my young family!

  53. Carolyn says...

    My question is: do you have to serve gravy in a gravy boat?

    • Lane Hinson says...

      You don’t have to, but it’s nice to have a vessel with a spout on it just to keep your tablecloth clean.

    • Lynn says...

      No! You could use measuring cups, coffee cups, whatever you have!

    • CC says...

      Carolyn I’ll jump in, I entertain lots and my mantra is use what you have! No gravy boat use a large mug, a small planter, a can that you’ve removed the label from. To unify different plates, platters, serving vessels I often tie garden twine around each item and cut labels from kraft paper, write what the food is, or the name of who made it, or a funny anecdote about the person who may not be with us anymore but whose original recipe it was. So, feel empowered to do it your way, your friends and family will love it. Promise 💗

    • Liz says...

      Our first time we hosted we didn’t have one and used a glass measuring cup. The next year my Mother-in-law gifted us a gravy boat!

    • Samantha says...

      i use a big creamer cup! it has a spout and there are much more fun ones than a traditional gravy boat

  54. Awads says...

    I love Sam Sifton’s book on Thanksgiving, but it’s just rude to NOT offer your guests a nosh before the meal, especially when there are cocktails (and there ARE cocktails!) We tried oysters last year, which turned into a shucking ordeal (harder than you think at home!). We are just going with the simple relish tray and maybe ONE cheese this year. I love this holiday so much and can’t wait to start preparing this saturday!

    • Katie says...

      That’s exactly what we’re doing this year! Some pickled things and a cheese.

    • Juliet says...

      I agree! Having something out…shrimp cocktail and veggies or a few crackers so people are relaxed and having fun while the turkey takes that inevitable extra 45 minutes. Guests arrive starving already as they are expecting a feast. If you aren’t sitting down to dinner immediately (does anyone do that??) then a little bite is always appreciated!

  55. Catherine says...

    I don’t enjoy cooking, but we often host our families at Thanksgiving and it’s a fun gathering of about 11-15 people. Our secret is to order the main meat and a few sides from a beloved restaurant (usually brisket because we’re in Texas), which we pick up on Wednesday. Then I make a few sides the day before, like mashed and sweet potatoes. Those can go in the oven Thursday morning, along with things that need to bake, like green bean casserole, and the meat.

    Ask each guest to bring a dessert or a side that they like, invite them to come around noon, and then everything is ready to go when they arrive. Once everyone eats, you have the rest of the day to just visit and hang out.

    I really think that hosting shouldn’t be too stressful and I’ve learned to make things easy for me so I can enjoy the day, too.

  56. Lauren E. says...

    A few years back my not-yet-MIL sent us a bunch of stuff in anticipation of her arrival at our TINY apartment for Thanksgiving. She sent (I kid you not): a fake fireplace with a glowing log and heater; a FULL SET of dishes including silverware (yes, we did already have a set of dishes); and a giant crock pot meant for cooking a turkey.

    While the rest of the items have since been donated, that turkey roaster saved my life. I’ve used it at every Thanksgiving since and it totally frees up my oven for everything else. I highly recommend if you’re hosting Thanksgiving that you purchase one. They’re $35 on Amazon, they store easily (even in my tiny apartment), and they cook a perfect bird with no effort.

    • Amy says...

      A FIREPLACE?!? Dying.

    • Maggie says...

      I came here to recommend a turkey roaster – we have a tiny 1950’s wall oven and a big Thanksgiving crowd, and the roaster has saved us. Ours is less crock pot, more giant hotplate with a lid. They’re cheap and handy if you have the space to store them!

    • annie says...

      oh good to know!! can you link the crock pot you use here?

    • Anna says...

      this made me lol. i can only imagine the fake fireplace, hahaha.

      can you post the link to the turkey roaster you have???

    • ANDREA says...

      Mind. Blown.

    • Anna says...

      @Lauren E thank you! Ordered it and picking it up at Target later today. So excited! I am making the turkey for the first time this year and felt so intimidated and lost until I saw your comment. :)

    • Lauren E. says...

      So happy I could help, Anna! I truly couldn’t believe how this wildly inexpensive appliance could make such a nice bird. Good luck!

  57. Sarah says...

    This Love and Lemons butternut squash soup is another (vegan) favorite. https://www.loveandlemons.com/butternut-squash-soup/
    One year we went to a cabin for the holidays, and my mom made the soup, froze it in flat gallon ziploc bags for the drive, and we heated it on the stove the night we arrived (with crusty bread). The best!

  58. Casey says...

    Re: the pregnancy question. I’m coming up on two years trying to conceive. I’ve decided my response to anyone who asks “when are you going to have a baby?” will be “we’d love to but it just hasn’t happened yet” (accompanied by a sad smile). Polite but just enough honesty to hopefully make the question-asker feel embarrassed for asking :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i think that’s an excellent approach. wishing you all the luck in your journey, it sounds really hard. xoxo

    • Mo says...

      I once answered that question with “none of your g*ddamn business” and she never asked me again. Worked like a charm! ;-) Thinking of you and hoping that this year everyone minds their g*ddamn business.

    • Sonja says...

      Casey, sending you all the love! It’s not always a straight line to parenthood. Shout out to COJ for bring her to my attention but Elizabeth Holmes, of SMT fame, writes so beautifully on this topic. Additionally, and in a different vein, Gemma Burgess’ honesty about miscarriage brought me great comfort and hope when enduring my own. I hope you get good news soon.

    • A says...

      We’ve been trying for two years as well, and I love this answer! I’m fairly open about our struggles so that thankfully I don’t get asked very often anymore.

    • Kelly says...

      it is such a good plan to have your response thought out, and even practice it! i would not have been able to get that sentence out without bursting into tears during my infertility journey…my strategy was usually to hide in corners with wine, especially around my husband’s family who both procreates like rabbits and is phenomenally insensitive.

      i’ve found a good general response to insensitive or annoying questions is a bright smile and “Why do you ask?” which buys you a moment to think and also gives the asker a genuine opportunity to reflect on their motive…I’m now an adoptive mama of 2, and people ask the craziest questions about adoption…but if i find out they’re asking bc they’re adopted themselves, or considering adoption, it changes my willingness to enter a dialogue about it.

      i actually learned a lot from reading up on how to coach my kids to answer adoption questions…there’s a few styles to choose from: humor, set a limit (that’s personal and I’m not going to answer), educate, etc.

      for anyone going through infertility at this time of year, my heart goes out to you. decide your priorities, skip things that will be too hard if you can, come up with a self care follow up plan for things you have to do that are hard, pre-plan how you’ll answer questions, line up an ally you can download to, line up an ally at family events if you can and know that you deserve celebration and joy even in this moment of your life! My husband and I used to find the local bars that were open late on Christmas eve (some even had bands!) and stop in after our family gathering with approx 1 billion kids to have an old fashioned and enjoy the company of other adults who were not in a kid-focused phase of life. even though it felt a little forced and i still had a heaviness that never went away, i look back at those nights fondly.

      hang in there and may 2020 bring you all your dreams!

    • Cait says...

      I have to say I’m with Mo on this one. If someone is going to ask such an impolite question, they’re going to get an impolite answer. What I’ve offered my mother in law was “we’re not entirely in charge of that, you’re welcome to pray for us if you like.”

    • Kate says...

      Just make sure your significant other is in on the charade. Last Thanksgiving at the in-laws while 6 weeks pregnant, I replaced wine with some flat Izzy’s soda that I hoped passed as rose. During a conversation lull, my husband blurts out, “Honey, what are you drinking?” All the in-laws swivel their eyes to my glass, which is then scrutinized until my sister-in-law blurts “Are you pregnant?!” My husband felt bad but I was so mad at him!

    • H says...

      Casey-

      Giving you a hug! We struggled to conceive and went through IVF to have our sweet babe. We always tried to play off the pregnancy questions and then this happened…

      Grandma: When are you giving me great grandbabies?
      Husband: We’re workin’ on it…
      Grandma: Well work harder

      Cue me bursting into tears. As if we weren’t trying hard enough and that was the problem. I still cannot believe people ask these kinds of questions. Hoping you have a stress free Thanksgiving!

    • Marlena says...

      I’m with Mo on this one!

      I also like “Well, it hasn’t happened just yet. You’re welcome to help out if you like.” Then smile. That weirds people out just enough to go away.

    • Julie says...

      Three years here-now my aunts ask me why I’m not on Clomid and if I’ll consider IUI (my mother, love her to pieces, tends to gab about my fertility struggles). My answer is now “__and I are considering certain options, if I am ever lucky enough to get pregnant you’ll get the ecstatic call from my mother.”

      My one aunt was haranguing me about it during my grandmother’s FUNERAL LUNCH. Like…you’re holding my cousin’s beautiful 3 week old baby which breaks my heart harder than it already was on this difficult day, please shut up Captain Fertilepants.

    • Another Kate says...

      When we were on year two, I would answer – you don’t always control the timeline to people I liked, walk away to people I couldn’t be polite to, and oh, someday to everyone else. Also, my husband new that if I said to was time to go on a walk, to drop everything and go on a walk with me so I could vent/have a cry/get away when needed. Hugs!!!

    • Ana D says...

      Bursting out in tears in front of people is one of my power moves. If they have any ability to take in other people’s emotions and modulate themselves accordingly, the experience can be very instructive for them.

    • Elizabeth PFB says...

      Holidays are also a time for others to share such news, which can be very hard. A friend of mine had been struggling to conceive for years, and her sister-in-law announced her FOURTH pregnancy at Thanksgiving dinner. My friend started sobbing and had to leave the table.

  59. Lacey says...

    How about some suggestions for if you ARE PREGNANT and not willing to share the news with your family who subsists on boxed wine and will be watching whether you are drinking or not with laser hawk-eyed focus?? HELP!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you could always pour a glass but not drink it? that’s such a tough situation! (and congratulations!:)

    • Hannah says...

      I remember this from either the Dinner a Love Story blog or maybe her cookbook…Jenny Rosenstratch drank chilled white grape juice in a wine glass and no one knew until she was ready to tell them she was pregnant. Genius move and one I used myself when I was pregnant.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hannah, that is genius!!!!

    • Emily says...

      Jesus, story of my life recently. My husband and I have deployed a nice trick, wherein we both get the same drink, then do a discreet hand-off when his drink is getting low. Magically, you have a less-full drink. I have personally chosen to potentially endanger the baby with a few sips here and there to really commit to the charade, but to each her own. Also, canned or even bottled beer is amazing. Go to the bathroom, pour it out, fill it with water, and chug away. Also, you can always say you’re really hungover from the night before and taking it easy – this would be very believable for my family. Good luck! (and congratulations!)

    • Emily says...

      ALSO, a few shakes of angostura bitters into some seltzer water turns the perfect shade of cotes de provence rosé. (topo chico has the smallest, most wine-like bubbles). obviously, this isn’t perfect if you’re drinking boxed wine at someone else’s house where you don’t get any alone time to pour fake wine in the kitchen, but just a general suggestion!

    • Claire says...

      I was in a wedding during early pregnancy where I wandered off holding my champagne glass and literally dumped a little down a sink drain to make it look like I was making progress on the drink.

      Not a solution for the boxed wine crowd, but in a different setting you can also do a G+T sans the G – the bubbly tonic and lime looks the same!

    • Mary says...

      This is majorly extra effort, but worth it: buy a bota box (holds 3 glasses) AND a bottle of non-alcoholic wine. Fill the bota with your fake wine and stash it in your purse. Pour your wine from the communal box and switch it out in another room. I have had to do this as well and fooled my whole family.

    • Fiona says...

      I highly recommend a “Gin and tonic” with no Gin (or vodka soda with no vodka) – a mentor of mine recommended it for endless work dinners, no one knows when you switch to just tonic in the same glass and same fizz and same citrus twist. Its great for moderation, pacing, or non-consumption! Other options I’ve heard are “I’m on antibiotics for an ear infection”, or in How I Met Your Mother, Marshall was in charge of drinking all Lilly’s wine that she was served and walked around carrying. Congratulations and good luck with the family!

    • MRM says...

      What Joanna suggested. Or have your significant other discreetly take sips. Or use taking a medication as an excuse. Other people really won’t pay as much attention as you think they will. Speaking from experience here as I was pregnant during the holidays a few years ago. Good luck and congrats!

    • molly says...

      Oh, this will forever be one of my biggest pet peeves about people in general!! This is a rant, not a solution to your problem. But, why do people insist on asking women if they are pregnant? You are either asking them to lie, which is uncomfortable, or you’re asking them to share information they’re not yet ready to share. I’d love to see PSAs on TV and public transportation about this haha! All that said, these are great suggestions. Seltzer with lemon or lime is always good. I’ve gone with the antibiotic excuse with success (getting over a sinus infection sounds bad enough that people don’t question it but it doesn’t gross people out). To family who I love and can be blunt with, I’ve also just said, “well that’s a rude thing to ask somebody” but that’s not always an option! Congratulations on your little one and good luck!!

    • LS says...

      I don’t even think it’s worth “pretending” to drink. if anyone is nosy enough to ask all you have to say is that you’re trying for a baby so laying off the alcohol..simple as that! They don’t need to know you’re actually pregnant!

    • Devorah says...

      I could win an Oscar for my fake wine-sipping! The trick is to pour a small amount in your glass to start, so it won’t look obviously full after you take a few fake sips. If you have a spouse or someone else around to take the fall (who doesn’t mind drinking extra ;) ) you can slip them your glass after a little while and switch to seltzer. If people see the wine glass in front of you, they won’t notice that you’re not actually drinking from it.

    • Glenda says...

      Pour a glass, don’t refuse refills. Sneakily trade glasses with partner here and there through evening. Works like a charm, but he might end up asleep before end of meal.

    • Lauren E. says...

      I so agree with LS! If I’m not drinking because I am pregnant but I haven’t said anything yet, then there’s your answer. You’re not the ONE person in the room I haven’t told!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Hannah – My husband called it my “late harvest Riesling” (it was a 2002 Welch’s) and my sister still hasn’t forgiven me for tricking her. “But you were drinking wine last weekend…!?” And I still feel guilty about that one.

    • Natasha says...

      On a similar note, does anyone have ideas on how to hide an early pregnancy belly in this setting? We’re hoping to wait a little longer, but I feel like my belly is too obvious to hide (have had a bit of a pregnant belly since a miscarriage earlier this year)… but I don’t want to create the awkwardness of being very obviously pregnant, but not saying anything! Loose shirts seem to rest right on my bump. Is there some miracle hack for this?

    • Samantha says...

      it really says something about our society that the ONLY reason people come up with for a women not drinking alcohol is because she is pregnant. why is simply saying “i’m not drinking right now” not enough??? why do we need to make up excuses? why is it even a topic of conversation that, for whatever reason, someone has decided to not imbibe?

    • Astrid says...

      I used to be the driver of the car on those evenings. Or if you’re not driving over there by car, just say that you are not feeling so well or have a bad reaction on last nights food and don’t want to drink alcohol right now. Or put some seltzer in a wine glass. Good luck!

  60. Andrea says...

    1. Microwave dishes to warm them before serving.
    2. IMO Don’t bother trying to sub in a vegetarian entree. The sides are enough. I make a version of my mom’s dressing with vegetarian sausage and otherwise I can feast!

  61. Kate says...

    Re: Keeping it all warm
    Coolers! Fill the cooler with very hot water & close it to ‘heat it up.’ When your items come out of the oven, dump the water, line with old towels, cover the food with foil and then set in the cooler. Separate the dishes with cardboard & more towels. The cooler will keep 2-3 dishes (mostly casserole style stuff, dressin, etc.) warm for a lot longer than you might realize. Also, I’d second the thermos idea for the gravy, but also suggest heating up the thermos also, with boiling water. Will keep your gravy warm, steaming hot, for hours. Finally, pre-plan the prep, baking & timing and make a chart so that you know how long each item needs so that you can balance out the timing + your ovens. Good luck and whatever you do, it will be brilliant.

    • Laura F says...

      I’ve done the cooler thing, but put heating pads inside, on top of and beneath casserole dishes. Worked brilliantly.

    • Amy says...

      Love your cooler suggestion! I’ll be doing this!

    • Malia says...

      Such a good idea for the gravy! I am definitely doing that this year since we’ll be traveling to a party that last year had no gravy (sob).

  62. Olivia says...

    As an appetizer, my grandmother always served chilled shrimp cocktail (boiled with dill a day ahead) and Swedish bondost cheese with hard tack. It was enough to tide us over so no one got too cranky waiting for the main meal (and, in retrospect, something to help line the adults’ bellies if they were drinking). It was perfect, and now dill shrimp always make me think of her.

  63. lk says...

    I make the dinner every year- always the traditional things- but add one new thing every year- this year it will be brussel sprouts which I hate but my 20 something year old son loves- and he is a great cook now so he gets to start his own tradition for when we transfer the dinner to his house sometime in the future. I just made the plan this morning- 3 pieces of paper- one with the guests and menu, one with the shopping list and recipes and one with the timing and plan for cooking and setting the table. I have done it this way for years and kept all of the packets in a binder- it is a beautiful history of our holiday past- usually it has some food stains and coffee mug rings- cause I am quite human and real!

    • Lisa says...

      That’s a really sweet idea!
      I live in the Ik and I’ve always been quite jealous of Thanksgiving. It seems such a nice idea to have a secular holiday that all Americans can participate in. We are actually in the USA for thanksgiving this year, but it’s our daughter’s second birthday so we’ll be celebrating that instead.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that looks beautiful and delicious!

    • Liz says...

      I made that for the first time about two weeks ago! So delicious and fun (although it took about 4 hours since I made the crust :)

    • Anonygirl says...

      YES! I’m only at Thanksgiving dinner for the pie.

    • Nicole says...

      It is SO Good. A little bit of work (easier if you make the dough the day before), but worth it. I have also done Giada’s butternut squash lasagna, which is also delicious.

    • Rachel H Le Roux says...

      If you, someone you know, or the library has her first book, there’s a recipe for a bigger one that’s great for a crowd….

  64. Christina says...

    I can really relate to Jackie’s question. We were invited by American friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with them for several years in a row. Then they moved, and we didn’t know what to do. Our children love the food, and want to continue the tradition, but it feels like a lot of effort to make for just us, and we can’t really invite anyone else, since we feel like all we know is the food……like what do we even celebrate? (We’re Europeans).

    • Anne says...

      Celebrate anyway! Don’t bother with alllll of the side dishes, just pick a few favorites. It’s exciting to do fancy things on weeknights, and you can never overdo gratitude.

    • Iaia says...

      Hi Christina… I am European as well, but we do celebrate Thanksgiving, since we live here and we embrace this great tradition. We usually host it, in fact, inviting all the non-American as well as the American friends we have. We have the turkey, but since there are a lot of non-Americans involved, it always ends up being a dinner with a lot of food from other cultures. Which makes it even more special. I strongly suggest you start your own tradition.

    • Rachel says...

      Pro-tip: don’t roast a whole turkey, instead roast a turkey breast only. It’s enough meat for roughly 4 – 6 people depending on the size and you don’t have to worry about all the prep and the meal still turns out fabulous! You can then reduce the sides to 1 – 3 options and make a smaller amount. I have done this for ex-pats for a few years in a row when there was only 4 of us non-Americans that still wanted to celebrate! Good luck and enjoy a new found food tradition :)

    • JMarie says...

      The best part about Thanksgiving is that there is very little you have to do to get it right–make some/buy/go out for food that is yummy and comforting, enjoy it by yourself or with people you care about, and take a moment to be thankful. Everyone I know puts their own family and cultural twist on the holiday. But if you want the “traditional” turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and stuffing kind of food and don’t want to make it, I’d recommend seeing if you can buy a meal from your local grocery store or making a reservation at a local restaurant.

  65. Meghan says...

    My mom started the tradition of a Thanksgiving Tablecloth about 10 years ago. Our family and guests each sign our names in Sharpie and a little diddy about what we’re thankful for. It’s evolved into some great self expression like haikus, doodles, the temperature that day (my dad!) or what activities we did. It’s a great and easy tradition and I love looking back on mine and others previous years entries! I can remember my brother surprising us from out of town, a big break up, or moving back to my hometown after 10 years away. I love it!

    • Rachel Elizabeth says...

      This is such a great idea!! I’d love to do the same! What sort of material is the tablecloth that she uses?

    • Mary says...

      As someone who didn’t grow up with a lot of holiday traditions and is trying to create some for my own kids, this is a fantastic idea, thank you for sharing!

      And is there a more “dad” thing than keeping track of the weather?

    • Renee says...

      Your dad’s contribution cracked me up! Why are all dads the same? hahaha!

  66. Katie says...

    I want to second Love and Lemons! Anytime I want a vegetable forward meal, I turn to her. A good Thanksgiving side from her cookbook/web site is the shaved brussel sprout salad. So refreshing next to all the carbs.

    Oh, and Jenny, I just want to say that my now favorite easy salad came from your cookbook, the “leaf” salad. In fact, I might make that for our Thanksgiving salad this year.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      So funny — doesn’t get simpler than that salad!

    • Amanda says...

      If you like playing with new recipes, my strategy is: one new thing at a time, and keep the essentials. I’ll try a new side but keep the basic turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie since those are my essentials. One new thing means that you aren’t stressed trying to master several new recipes, and even if it doesn’t work out you’ve still got a solid meal.

  67. Allie says...

    Re: invasive pregnancy questions, the age-old recommendation to respond “Why do you ask?” with a very sweet smile really does work 9 times out of 10. The person starts trying to explain, hears themselves and (sometimes) apologizes. And if they try to double down, you can be a little more blunt: “I feel that’s a really personal question and I’m sure you don’t mean to be rude.” and move on. It requires a little practice to muster up the energy but it has been the nicest, most effective way I’ve found to get people to shuuuut up.

    • Sarah A. says...

      That’s a great response. On the one hand, as a non-confrontational person, I totally get not engaging. But on the other, this person needs the polite heads up that their inquiry, while perhaps well-intentioned, is not appropriate. (Also, any remarks about body size…)

    • Christy says...

      Oooooh I like this, Allie!!! Thanks for sharing. <3

    • A says...

      I’ve started being blunt. I can’t help but engage! “Actually, I”ve had two miscarriages this year” usually shuts people up pretty quickly.

    • L says...

      A, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been going through. Having been there, it is not easy. Also, good for you for being honest with people asking such invasive questions. Whether they realize it is not, their questions are rude and that needs to be pointed out.