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Entertain, Cook a Turkey and Remain Stress-Free This Thanksgiving!

My mom, dad and I – Thanksgiving ’79

Thanksgiving can be stress-free. It just takes a little planning, a little flexibility and of course, a little lot of wine.  My mother modeled seamless Thanksgiving dinners filled with family and friends; scrumptious hors d’oeuvres and homemade desserts; laughter and love.  Not a suggestion of stress in the house.  As I grew older, I would soon realize there was a method behind the madness (or lack thereof). Over the years, I took some of her craft and some of my vision and mingled them into an overall stress-free Thanksgiving experience.

It’s 6:00am; hopefully, your kiddos are still in bed. I know mine are not, howeverThey rarely ever sleep past 7:00am. And, surely, you’ve read this post long before Thanksgiving morning.  So you have already picked out a cute outfit to show off the 4 lbs you lost over the last month or so; you’ve thawed your turkey; and the chic antique-silver gravy boat you ordered has arrived just in time for your feast.  In addition, you’ve already made your cheese ball, dips, desserts and you set the table late last night before finally settling down to sleep.  So you’re up and at ‘em.  Grab your cup of Joe and have a seat, won’t you?
With your handy dandy notebook (old-school or with a keyboard), jot down what time you plan on serving your meal.  Then make a list of each dish you will serve with a column for preparation, starting and finishing times:
Meal Time: 2:00 pm

The mathematical formula goes as follows:  Ending Time MINUS Preparation Time = Starting Time.  Determine your ending time based on how long that dish needs to cool or if it should be served immediately.  When you’ve completed your list, sort by Starting Time or number your dishes in the order you need to work on them. 

Now, you’ll want to refresh your cup of coffee, maybe add some Bailey’s, and get back to the planning.  If your kids are up now, go ahead and dish out some of that breakfast casserole you made yesterday afternoon.  You made one, right?
What time do you plan on serving your apps?  And did you consider what time you need to make them disappear?  You don’t want to leave them out until 1:00pm and find that nobody has an appetite for dinner.  So savvy you should decide on an “end time” and kind of like closing time at your favorite bar…okay, your favorite bar from ten years ago…give your guests a “last call” warning before you do take the goodies away.  My advice is 2 hours prior to dinner.
It should be about 9:00am now.  Turn on your TV to NBC for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In my home, this is a requirement.  I grew up watching this religiously and the magic drew me in and was likely part of the reason I needed to move to New York City at 22.  Depending on how big your turkey is-that’s what she said-and when your dinner will be served, will determine what time you should start cooking your turkey.  I’ve relied on Butterball’s calculator since I started my own Thanksgiving dinners several years ago and if I do say so myself; they’ve always been cooked to close-to-perfection.
My first Thanksgiving sans family…my friend Sara and I in our
cozy little apartment in NYC…after shivering at the Macy’s Parade.
We knew the importance of the wine, even back then!

It’s 11:00am.  If you’re going by my 2:00pm dinner schedule, the apps are out and the majority of your guests are chatting away.  This is the time you should go ahead and pour yourself a glass of wine.  I know what you’re thinking; it’s only 11:00am.  But it’s okay…it’s Thanksgiving! 

Please don’t worry about the kids-that’s what your family is here for, after all!  They’ve come to play with and snuggle and spoil your little ones.  Use your kitchen as your excuse. “Can someone come get little Evan; I’m cooking in here!”  Or try this one, “Mom, would you mind taking little Suzy with you into the family room; I don’t want her to hurt her precious little hand on the hot stove.  I wish I could keep a better eye on her, but I’m cooking in here!”  Then duck behind an open cabinet and sip away! Everyone will understand…and thank you for it when instead of screaming at them to get out of your way, you’ll be offering them a glass.    
My husband and 3-wk-old son, Thanksgiving ’08

It’s 2:00pm.  Your golden and lush turkey is center of your beautiful table.  You are relaxed.  You are thankful.  Every single person around your table are smiling and thanking you for your hard work.  Who knew Thanksgiving could be this easy! Now, let’s say grace!

*Breakfast casserole recommended by my BFF from high school, Sue MacNicoll.  She adds this comment: I have made this with raisins and dried blueberries. Never with cranberries… My favorite is with blueberries!  So good!

What tips do you have to share with other moms on how you stay stress-free when planning a big Thanksgiving dinner or entertaining guests?

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