It's hard not to have high expectations for a holiday meal when you come from a family that for decades turned it into a mammoth production.
So, when things don't go according to plan, there can be a meltdown.
I say this now because when I was younger, creating Thanksgiving (and Christmas and New Year's) meals came with certain procedures and rules that were handed down to me and had to be followed.
But, I am older and wiser now. Less frantic. I am more relaxed because I have learned to scale back. The Superwoman cape has been stuffed in a drawer along with the sterling silver platters I used to polish until my fingers turned black.
I snagged these paragraphs from an Associated Press story because they are my exact sentiments:
When it comes to cutting down on stress, the experts say cutting back on the work -- and your expectations -- may be the most important element.
"The key is streamlining," says Kelsey Banfield, author of "The Naptime Chef" (Running Press, 2011). "A successful and enticing Thanksgiving meal does not have to include 20 dishes. I've never heard anyone say there wasn't enough on the table."
I suggest you make this your mantra:
I am not my grandmother. I have learned to embrace imperfection.
Every dish does not have to be a culinary wonder and does not have to arrive piping hot.
I will turn a deaf ear to criticism about why a meal is not exactly as it was 20 years ago.
I will say, talk to the hand -- the one that's not whipping, stirring or slicing.
The best way I know of to be in sync with a universe that includes a huge afternoon meal on a weekday is to plan ahead.
You may be way ahead of me. You may be the person who started last week.
But I bet most of you are just gearing up. So, making a list and checking it twice applies to getting the Thanksgiving meal on the table, too, you know.
Here are some of my suggestions -- little and big things I've done over the years beforehand that helped me feel better prepared for feeding a crowd. It applies to dinner parties anytime of year, too.
I'm sure you've been in the situation where it took 20 minutes to find the gravy boat. It's amazing how the day of the meal a small thing like that can be forgotten and take up valuable time.
Get a head count. Do your best. It's early enough that you likely will find that some family members are still trying to figure out where they will be Thanskgiving Day. Be patient and ask them to pick one: Yes, strong possibility, maybe, no.
Write down your menu now, even if it never changes from year to year. Mark the items you will be making.
Start a grocery list, then check your pantry and cupboard for supplies you already have.
Do you need special equipment, such as a big roasting pan, kitchen twine, baster? Borrow or buy.
Check your knives, especially the one for carving the bird. Schnucks will sharpen three at a time free, but you will need to do it a couple of days ahead of the meal.
Guests bringing a dish? Hand out assignments now to only the people who are definitely coming.
Some cooks will bring only what they have always brought. Deal with it.
Somebody wants to make something new? That's OK. Just make sure it's in addition to what you requested and not a last-minute switcheroo.
Designate a portion of your kitchen counter (if you have room) or the sideboard in your dining room for getting ready. This where you will put all the non-food items you'll need to set the table and serve. It should be a place where no one will bother them or be in your way during the next week.
Clean out fridge to make room for Turkey Day items.
Find the card table, chairs and matching tablecloth (and iron) if you will have extra guests or need a table for the youngsters.
Buy the turkey no later than Monday if it's frozen. It can take a couple days to thaw it, but always do that in the fridge. Once it's thawed, it can safely sit in the fridge for an additional two to three days before cooking.
Deal with the little things
Put butter in its appropriate dish. Cover and refrigerate or freeze.
Find the gravy boat and ladle. Check for dust.
Fill salt and pepper shakers; look for an extra set if you have a big table.
Sort out and count good silverware, plates and glasses.
Set aside big serving spoons, forks and other utensils.
Match up serving bowls, platters and dishes with food you'll be preparing. Set them aside. You can even attach a sticky note to remind you what goes with what.
Iron the tablecloth.
Find extra extension cords if guests are bringing slow cookers or heating trays.
What to make ahead of time
The salad -- Fresh greens, dried cranberries and sliced oranges or even canned mandarin oranges will add color and brightness to a meal that can look a bit, well, beige and brown. Tear up the greens two nights before into a big plastic bag; prep the other sliced or diced ingredients into another. Combine it all the night before Thanksgiving.
The rolls -- Make a week ahead and freeze. Thaw the morning you'll serve them and warm.
The green bean casserole -- Yes, this can be made a day or two ahead, minus the french-fried onion rings; they'll get soggy so don't add until ready to bake. Or, check out the slow-cooker alternative that uses fresh green beans, below.
The potatoes -- Make a potato casserole up as many as three days ahead of time, then bake. It will be one less thing to pull together on Thanksgiving morning. See a yummy recipe here.
Mashed Potato Casserole
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons, plus one teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon black pepper
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
2/3 cup bread crumbs
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Lightly grease a 9-by-13 pan with butter.
In a large pot, bring the potatoes, roughly 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoon salt to a boil. Boil 15-20 minutes, until tender. Drain potatoes.
Mash the potatoes with 10 tablespoons of butter, sour cream, 1 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir in the diced chives. Taste for seasoning.
Spread potatoes into greased pan. Cover and refrigerate for up to three days or use immediately.
In a small bowl, mix together the remaining 4 tablespoons butter, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese until coarse crumbs form. Crumbs can also be refrigerated for up to three days or used immediately.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle crumbs on potatoes and bake 30-40 minutes until crumbs are crispy and brown. If baking the casserole right away (instead of out of the fridge), you can bake it for 20 minutes instead.
-- The New York Times
Cheesy Garlic Rolls
2/3 cup peeled garlic cloves
1 1/3 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 (12-ounce) package Hawaiian sweet rolls or dinner rolls (12 rolls)
1 cup shredded Fontina cheese (4 ounces)
1. In a heavy small saucepan, combine garlic, broth and wine. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, over medium heat about 25 minutes, or until garlic is tender and 2/3 cup of the liquid remains. Set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place rolls (do not separate rolls) in a greased baking pan.
Cut an X about 1/2-inch deep into the top of each roll; spread each roll open slightly.
Spoon garlic cloves and shredded cheese into the openings in rolls, pressing each down lightly.
Drizzle broth mixture over rolls. Brush outsides of rolls with olive oil.
3. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until heated through and cheese is melted. Serve warm. Makes 12 rolls.
Slow Cooker Green Bean Casserole
3 cups canned fried onions
2 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 pounds green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch length
Pulse 1 cup fried onions in food processor until finely ground, about 10 pulses; set aside.
Pulse bread in food processor to coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 12-inch skillet over medium heat.
Add bread crumbs and remaining 2 cups fried onion and toast, stirring often, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes; set aside for serving.
Wipe skillet clean with paper towels. Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium-high heat.
Add mushrooms, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and cook until mushrooms are softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in processed fried onions and flour and cook for 1 minute.
Slowly whisk in broth and cream, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps. Bring to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until very thick and creamy, about 10 minutes.
Add beans to slow cooker and coat evenly with sauce. Cover and cook until beans are tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.
Sprinkle with reserved bread-crumb mixture before serving.
This dish does not hold well on warm setting.
-- "America's Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution"
Make ahead: The cooled rice can be frozen in a freezer-safe resealable plastic food storage bag for up to 1 month. To reheat, transfer to a microwave-safe bowl; sprinkle with water and cover with plastic wrap. Reheat on low for 20-second intervals until the rice is partially steaming. Uncover and fluff with a fork.
8 ounces fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
A few fronds dill
3 cups cooked long-grain brown rice
Grate the orange peel to yield 1 teaspoon, then cut several very thin strips of peel (no pith) and reserve for finishing the dish. Squeeze 3 tablespoons of juice from the orange directly into a large saucepan.
Add the grated zest, cranberries, honey, sugar and a pinch each of salt and pepper to the saucepan and heat over medium heat. Cook 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often, until all the cranberries have burst and the mixture has thickened. Taste, and add sugar as needed; it should be a little tart.
Finely chop the dill to yield 2 teaspoons.
Gently stir in the cooked rice and dill, cooking until just heated through. Garnish with strips of orange peel. Serve hot, or remove from the heat and cool to room temperature, then store according to the make-ahead directions, above.
Makes about 3 1/2 cup, or 4 servings, each with 250 calories, 4 grams protein, 57 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fat, 70 mg sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 19 grams sugar.
-- Adapted from "Whole Grains for a New Generation: Light Dishes, Hearty Meals, Sweet Treats, and Sundry Snacks for the Everyday Cook" by Liana Krissoff (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012)