The best way to get ahead on Thanksgiving is to plan ahead. With so many dishes to keep track of — not to mention guests to welcome and keep entertained — the day can feel like it’s more about stress than gratitude.
We spoke to two local experts — Arianna Garella, a culinary instructor at The Pantry in Ballard who is teaching a series of classes on Thanksgiving side dishes this month, and Sheena Kalso, owner of The Invisible Hostess, a wedding and party planning service — to get their advice on how to plan and work ahead as much as possible to avoid getting gobbled up by the Thanksgiving madness.
Check your basics. “The last thing I want to do on the big day is try to figure out where to fit the mashed potatoes or discover half of my napkins were never washed,” says Kalso, who pulls out all of her flatware and serving pieces two days prior to ensure all the settings are satisfactory, and executes a dress rehearsal of the table layout so everything fits.
Garella, too, recommends making sure you have necessities such as parchment paper, foil and wraps ready to go.
Create a clear workspace. Garella recommends creating a clean, clutter-free workspace. “If you have a small kitchen it’s particularly important to remove any unnecessary clutter,” she says. “Move the plants, stacks of cookbooks and coffee pot to the bedroom for the day; they can make an appearance later on.”
Corral your recipes. Get your recipes organized and in one place by transferring ingredients and instructions onto recipe cards, such as the locally made Seattle Seed Company Modern Recipe Cards ($6 for 10 at seattleseed.com ). It’s a sweet and classic system — and beats endless cookbook page hunting or trying to remember where online you saw that cornbread stuffing recipe.
Get a jump on the work. The day before the meal, make to-do lists and take care of busy work, such as washing veggies, chopping ingredients and brining the bird, so when it comes to the actual event you can — in the best-case scenario — “have time for a glass of wine before people come over,” says Garella.
Stay on top of timing. Timing is one of the great organizational challenges of creating a large Thanksgiving meal. Get some help with a multiple alarm timer such as the Four-Event Kitchen Timer with Whiteboard ($11 at amazon.com) from Seattle-based company Taylor Precision Products. Four separate alarms let you keep track of when to check the turkey, pie, potatoes and green bean casserole, and the white board allows you to note which time corresponds with each dish.
Organize your guests. The food isn’t the only thing that requires organization — your guests do, too! In a world and kitchen full of chaos, give yourself some power by predetermining the seating arrangement. Perhaps you want to space out politically opposed relatives, or mix up families so people get a chance to converse with someone new. No matter your plan, let people know where you want them with place cards, such as Pottery Barn’s Gold Turkey Place Card Holders ($19.50 for four), which are a cute and festive way to keep the Thanksgiving table sane.