As the Accidental Locavore, I’m a good person to talk about not overdoing it at this time of year, however as Anne Maxfield, overdoing it at Thanksgiving has become my new tradition. Because my husband works on Thanksgiving and I find two holidays back-to-back with my family a bit much, a few years ago, I decided to be a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade*. When you get up at 5:00 AM and greet thousands of kids wearing a red nose, cooking tons of food after walking four miles is not an option.
So, how to downsize the big day without anyone noticing?
- Buy an instant read thermometer. You’ll never worry about cooking a big piece of meat, again. It’s a must-have. They’re inexpensive, under $10 and worth every penny. You don’t want to ruin the main course do you?
- Delegate. Everyone brings something. If you don’t trust their cooking skills, rolls, wine, soda, ice cream or salad are options that are hard to mess up. And there are very few people (although I’m probably related to all of them) who will turn up their noses at canned cranberry sauce. This is a great strategy if you’ve got vegetarians, or fussy eaters, ask them to bring their favorite dish. Just make a list of what you’ve assigned so you know where you have to fill in. I’ve actually given dinner parties where I haven’t cooked anything, but please don’t tell anyone!
- Forget the appetizers and serve soup as a first course. No one needs to fill up on finger food before the main event. I bet they won’t even notice it’s not there (and if they do, they’d better be too polite to mention it). The reason everyone tells you to drink a lot of water when you’re on a diet, is because it fills you up. Soup does the same thing. Here’s a recipe for winter squash soup that’s not too sweet. It’s easy, you can do it ahead of time and it’s inexpensive. While there’s a little cream in it, it’s only ¼ cup added in at the end to give it richness. If you want to make it vegan, use vegetable stock and olive oil and forget the croutons.
- Combinations. My mother insists on creamed onions or it’s not Thanksgiving. However, she’s the only one who likes them. I have a great recipe for Brussels sprouts and pearl onions with a horseradish sauce that everyone loves and the veggies can be cooked ahead, then tossed in the sauce until warmed through. Think about other vegetables you can combine so you’re not cooking 400 side dishes.
- Stick to one, max two, desserts. No one has room for multiple pies. Add ice cream if you want but keep it simple. And without a lot of leftover desserts, you won’t be tempted to nibble every time you walk by them.
- Give everyone some leftovers to take home. If it’s not around, you won’t eat it. Use the turkey carcass to make soup. When you’re tired of sandwiches, how about a shepherd’s pie using the leftover turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes?
What are your best holiday tips?
*If you want to spot me, this year I’m a Birthday Clown, we’ll be towards the end of the parade, with Ronald McDonald.
This article is from a seminar The Accidental Locavore gave to MetLife employees and a version of it appeared in my column for EcoPlum.
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As my kids are growing into more adult like adults, they still want their Mom’s turkey dinner with the same veggies and the same stuffing. But now, I delegate the appetizers to my son and his partner since they are yuppyish and always have a new treat for us to try. My youngest loves to bake so she is in charge of desserts and always tries to impress us with a new creation. My eldest has to travel to spend the time with us so she is delegated to decorating the table and place settings creatively and of course they all bring food home. It has evolved into wonderful new traditions.
I use my good china for dinner, but not for dessert or any pre-dinner snacks. Use paper/plastic for the pre- and post-dinner eats. Also, anyone who wants to take leftovers home is welcome, as long as they clean up and package the leftovers themselves.