We just celebrated Halloween, a singular holiday of unalloyed fun: costumes, candy, spooky thrills — what could be better than that? Well, how about Thanksgiving, with its great food, family and/or friends getting together, and sports on television or taking place in the yard.

But no; for some reason, cooking a huge naked bird and a few sides produces dread, if not panic, in many people. True, it’s not as easy as passing out trick-or-treat candy, but it’s a lot easier than Christmas, since there’s no gifts or decorating to do. With a week left before Turkey Day, you have plenty of time to pull it all together, if you just promise yourself to a) delegate and b) keep it simple.

First of all, most of the trick to putting together a holiday meal is in making shopping lists. Getting everything you need purchased and put away is, I sometimes think, harder than the actual preparation. So make lists. One should be for nonperishables and cooking and serving gear. This includes, by the way, such items as toilet paper (it’s amazing how fast the rolls disappear when there’re guests), paper towels and sponges, and any pans, plates and utensils needed. If you have a minimal supply of dishes, silverware and glasses, you might want to make a trip to the local thrift store, where these items can be purchased for very little. Mismatched dinnerware and silverware are très chic these days, as well as ecologically and esthetically more pleasing than paper or plastic, and once you’re done with them, they can be donated back. Thrift stores are also often a good source of pans, such as tart tins with removeable bottoms, muffin tins or pie plates.

Another list will be a menu-specific grocery list, based on your planned dinner for the day, as well one for general grocery staples that you may need in greater quantities than usual if you have houseguests who, it must be remembered, cannot live on turkey and pumpkin pie alone. Along with the extra toilet paper, you’ll want to have extra butter and perhaps a variety of breads for breakfasts and lunches, tea and coffee, sandwich fixings and fruits for snacking. Then there will be the items that are specifically needed for the feast, both food and extra foil and plastic wrap, not to mention storage containers for leftovers. This means a big shopping trip, undertaken at a time when the rest of the population is also intent on filling their carts at the market. My advice to you is to shop at an odd time, not during prime daytime hours or on the weekend, unless you enjoy playing bumper carts or waiting in long lines. Take a couple of picnic coolers with you and hit the market before work: most open at 7 a.m. and you can be done with your list, with perishables stored in coolers, before others have finished their morning coffee. Another hint: before you shop, clean out your cupboards, freezer and refrigerator. Clear out as much as you can to make space for all the stuff you’ll need to store or refrigerate in the coming week.

As for the turkey, put it in the refrigerator to thaw as soon as you get it home. That way you don’t have to worry about it being frozen on Thanksgiving morning. A frozen turkey needs about five hours per pound to thaw in the refrigerator, but if thawed early, it will be in the refrigerator. If you don’t believe me, check the sell-by date.



Whether this is your first or fortieth turkey, whether you’re an accomplished or novice cook, there’s always the impulse to do it all yourself, but check that impulse and delegate. If guests offer to bring something, have them do a special cranberry sauce or favorite dessert. If they aren’t cooks, let them bring wine or good cheese, fruit, nuts or fancy olives. Put them in charge of the relish tray or cheese board on the big day.

As for keeping it simple, yes, you want to shine on the big day and show everyone you know a thing or three about cooking, but is this really the time to fuss over mini crab cake appetizers or a winter-vegetable galette? My personal choice of menu items for Thanksgiving would include the following: the bird, with its de rigueur stuffing and gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, one orange and one green vegetable. Any more than this and the plate is too crowded and food gets cold while you pass around all the totally unnecessary sides. As for the nature of the vegetables, while I have a favorite carrot souffle recipe, for simplicity’s sake I’d go with plain boiled carrots that get a quick toss into a saucepan with butter and maple syrup glaze and, instead of that old favorite green bean casserole, why not just roast Brussels sprouts with garlic and olive oil in the oven at the same time as the turkey? Rolls are, of course, permitted, as is a relish tray. When it comes to desserts, the more the merrier, but you definitely can get by with two basic ones, as long as one of them is pumpkin pie.

How far ahead can you start to prepare your Thanksgiving dinner? You can make stuffing the day before and refrigerate it, just don’t put it in the turkey. Cranberry sauce can be made and refrigerated, ditto any pie crusts. Potatoes can be peeled, put in their cooking pots and covered with cold water. When it comes time to cook them, just pour off a bit of the water. [Note: once cooked and mashed, if they have to wait a bit, keep the potatoes warm in your slow cooker, set on low heat.] If you’re serving dessert with whipped cream, it can be whipped, covered and refrigerated. I like to make a refrigerator roll dough, which can be brought out and baked the morning of Thanksgiving, but most would make the rolls and freeze them. I just like the smell of fresh Parker House rolls baking early on the holiday. Of course, you can set the table before going to bed, as long as everyone can eat breakfast at a kitchen island or at an alternate table. Easier yet, persuade them to fast in preparation for the upcoming banquet.