Monday, November 12, 2018

6 Tips for Hosting a Cozy Thanksgiving at Home

My favorite time of year is upon us!

For years, Thanksgiving has been my #1 holiday. As a child I loved the Macy's Day Thanksgiving Parade and was obsessed with NYC (probably from watching one too many episodes of Friends)! Every year I couldn't wait to watch the parade and catch glimpses of Central Park, Columbus Circle, and the Rockettes in the background!

I've always enjoyed fall decorating, pumpkin patches, pumpkin spiced lattes, and generally ALL THINGS FALL. So of course, when my husband and I decided to get married, we chose Thanksgiving weekend! We were married at a small winery in Washington state the day after Thanksgiving. (Not ideal when you're having to be stuffed into a corset and wedding dress hours after consuming pounds of turkey and mashed potatoes, but nevermind).

Soon after we were married, we decided to relocate to Southern California. We had no family or friends in California, so within months of moving down, we found ourselves hosting Thanksgiving for the first time ever! Family flew down to spend the holiday with us, so here I was, in my 20's, figuring out how to make a turkey with all the sides.

It was probably the best thing that's ever happened to me, because I loved every moment leading up to the actual Thanksgiving day dinner. All of the prep-work, planning, decorating, etc. is something that gives me so much joy, every single year! This will be my 11th year to host Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd share some little tips that I've found help me to enjoy the day so much more!

1. Plan early! Usually by the last week of October/first week of November, I've figured out my Thanksgiving menu. Every year I do the same thing: I grab my trusty Thanksgiving planner (simply a lined notebook - I especially love this Rifle Paper Journal). Then I cover the dining room table with approximately 11 years worth of cookbooks and magazines! My favorite magazines that I reference when planning Thanksgiving are: Cooking Light , Country Living, Martha Stewart Living, Southern Living and Food & Wine. I traditionally have kept all of my November and December issues from these magazines to reference for Thanksgiving meal planning! They also have great inspiration on decorating for fall and creative tablescapes!

Another favorite resource I use to plan my Thanksgiving is Williams Sonoma! That store comes alive at Thanksgiving! You can smell it on the other end of the mall with their live cooking demonstrations and classes. I've taken several of their "technique" classes, which are FREE! You only have to sign up in advance. While you're there, someone will be demonstrating how to cook a turkey or make a pie, etc., all using things they sell in store. They usually provide you with their Thanksgiving recipe booklet, which has some wonderful recipes in it! In case you're unable to get to the store, here's this year's version!

2. Printables

Once I decide on the recipes I'll be making, I love printing out menus and place cards for everyone. Sadly, I lack the computer creative gene, but thanks to Google and Pinterest, I have excellent luck finding gorgeous (free) Thanksgiving printables online each year! I just feel like this gives the table a little something extra, and it's also fun for guests to see "what's on the menu" for the evening! Here's a glimpse at a few of my favorites:

(The designs in the last photo above were some of the easiest to customize, and so beautifully done! I found them on this blog via Pinterest)!

3. Preparing the Table

I usually have my Thanksgiving table set on the Tuesday night leading up to the actual day. I know that seems a bit crazy, but I love looking at it and refining it leading up to our family dinner. I love to do a candle or floral centerpiece, and find the best place to be inspired for making your own is Trader Joe's! They carry a gorgeous assortment of flowers (especially during Thanksgiving week), and they're so incredibly affordable. They also get garlands and boxwood wreaths in each year the week prior to Thanksgiving, and this fresh greenery does so much to make the table festive! My favorite table centerpiece so far was making a floral arrangement inside of a pumpkin. I simply cut a hole into a pumpkin, the size of a small bowl. I inserted the bowl along with some green floral foam and water. From there I simply added fresh eucalyptus, hydrangeas and roses to make a dramatic and festive centerpiece! (You can see it at the very top of this post). All in all I spent less than $15, and the arrangement lasted longer than a week!

4. Picking your Turkey

I know opinions on this are mixed, and cooking one turkey a year certainly doesn't make me a turkey expert! I've tried fresh turkeys, frozen turkeys, already brined turkeys, etc. And I have to admit, my favorite is to buy a frozen turkey that is NOT already brined. I do this for many reasons. First, I find the variety of frozen turkeys is just huge. Every grocery store carries them, I've even seen them at Target! Organic, non-organic, young, etc. etc. I typically purchase a turkey that is around 21 or 22 pounds (although there are normally only 6 - 8 of us at Thanksgiving each year!). I figure, the amount of work is the same, so I might as well have some solid leftovers once the big day is done! Ha!

If you're thinking of getting a frozen turkey, so many of the big chain grocery stores offer an enormous discount on your turkey, IF you purchase at least $25 worth of groceries at the same time. So, a turkey that is marked $1.89/pound may actually end up being only $0.79/pound if you also spend $25 on other groceries. So keep this in mind, and don't simply run to the store to pick out only a turkey and nothing else! You may pay dearly for it!

With fresh turkey, they are often much more expensive, and the selection is quite limited. For some stores it requires ordering and purchasing in advance. My only issue is that I've experienced torn breast skin on fresh turkeys, which certainly doesn't affect the taste but does kind of impact that perfect image you have of the Thanksgiving dinner being served.

My go-to recipe every year is again one I found from good 'ole Williams Sonoma. I have made this turkey recipe at least 8 times, and it never fails!

Now, I do also brine my turkey at home, so typically I choose my frozen turkey on a Friday or Saturday and place it in the garage fridge to thaw through Wednesday evening. On Wednesday before Thanksgiving I prepare my brine. My favorite brine is this one from World Market. It's a fragrant, rich mixture and the perfect blend of spices. Around 5pm on Wednesday I prepare the brine on my stovetop. The directions are quite simple - it basically needs to be dissolved and simmered in a gallon of water, and then cooled completely. Around 9pm, I wash my turkey and removed all of the innards. I place it in a trusty brining bag and let it sit in the garage fridge until morning.

I typically remove it from the fridge an hour prior to when I need to place it in the oven on Thanksgiving morning. This is to make sure I have time to rinse it off well, and then follow the Williams Sonoma recipe above. I find that brining covers a multitude of errors. One year I got a new oven, and couldn't believe how quickly my turkey cooked! An hour ahead of schedule! I was so worried it would be extremely dry, but the brining builds in some extra moisture, which almost guarantees you won't fail!

5. Have a timeline so you can enjoy your day with family

I usually try and begin my cooking on Monday if possible, preparing little things that can keep in the fridge. Sometimes I'll even just prepare and cut up herbs, onions, etc., etc so on Wednesday and Thursday morning, I'm not scrambling with these little tasks.

I usually write down what time each item on my menu needs to go into the oven or be taken out of the fridge. Sometimes I'll even set a timer or ask Alexa to give me a reminder. (That's the joy of hosting in 2018)!

Although we don't have huge formal Thanksgiving celebrations, it's just immediate family, I still want to be as present as possible to enjoy the day with everyone. Perhaps this means you have a couple of boxes of stuffing in the pantry, or instant mashed potatoes? I've definitely reached for those things and served them in a pinch, and I don't think anyone knew any different. Throw some butter and herbs on there, and no one will complain!

6. Make Traditions to Remember

I'm huge on tradition. My husband calls me Clark Griswold! Our Thanksgiving day is full of traditions, and it looks something like this:

*Wake up early and eat cinnamon rolls while watching the Macy's Day Parade (these are in a tube from the store, and I simply pop them in the oven, because of course, I'm juggling tons of food already on this day)

*Cook and listen to Christmas music until family arrives

*Take lots of photos together. Everyone in my family groans about this one, but I love looking back on our Thanksgivings around the table, and those memories are definitely more valuable than any material object I own

*Eat, eat eat

*Watch/listen to Home Alone and Home Alone 2. These will be playing on a loop all day! Once the kids go down, we switch to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (for obvious reasons).

*Play Monopoly! Every year we've played Monopoly after Thanksgiving. We usually eat our dessert while playing, and it's pretty intense! The adults each put $50 in the pot, and the winner leaves with a nice stash of cash!

Wherever Thanksgiving finds you next week, I hope it will be a joyful time and perhaps there are a few tidbits of information above that will make your holiday easier. I read that children who have happy memories and traditions during the holidays are more apt to replicate them as adults. It also said that those that perhaps didn't have the happiest holidays in their homes as children, usually hope to bypass or simply survive the holidays. I can imagine it is also a very difficult time for many people, and if that happens to be you, my heart is with you. Perhaps you can begin one new tradition this year for yourself or your family, and build new memories from there.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


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