With lots of people, food and moving parts to organize and keep track of on Thanksgiving, things are bound to go awry. Would it even be the holidays if everything went right?
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 keep things relaxed and on track on the big day, as well as ideas for mitigating the inevitable disaster (or two).
Keep things simple. Kalso advises against trying out a new recipe on the big day, for example. And if guests are bringing dishes, ask them to bring the food fully prepped and with serving utensils. Garella also notes that it’s even OK to eliminate a side or two if it’ll help the process go more smoothly.
Add help in the kitchen. Finding enough oven or burner space can be another stressor. Especially if you’ve got more than one cook in the kitchen, you may find that all of your stove burners have been gobbled up — just when you were about to make cranberry sauce. This is when having an Instant Pot Duo ($100 for the 6-quart size at surlatable.com) can be a lifesaver. Use it to prep the potatoes, cook mac and cheese or keep a batch of mulled cider warm through the appetizers.
Share the menu. Garella suggests notifying guests beforehand about the menu so that if they want to add anything, they can bring it. It also allows guests to notify you about food allergies. Gluten intolerance is not uncommon, for example, and can easily — and deliciously — be accommodated with a recipe or two from local food blogger Aran Goyoaga’s gorgeous new cookbook “Cannelle et Vanille” ($35 at booklarder.com), which is chock-full of delicious gluten-free recipes that will complement your holiday spread.
Cover for a late meal. The cooking process taking longer than expected is a common issue on Turkey Day, and one way to deal with any growing impatience is to involve everyone in a game. This type of situation led Garella’s family to invent “toss the onion.”
“I grabbed an onion from the kitchen and the 15 of us stood in the street tossing it back and forth,” hot-potato style, she says. “The pre-dinner game has become a staple for us and is a lovely way for everyone to get a breath of fresh air, laugh and come together before the eating begins.” What could be better than a new tradition that buys the cook more time?
Help the conversation along. Another Thanksgiving problem? Easy conversation. Guests may not agree on current events, or may not have seen each other in some time, so be prepared. Kalso provides table topics for her friends and family: “One year, I had people write what they were thankful for about the person to their left, then they had to share it around the table. That created a lot of space for laughter and other shared moments.”
Avoid conversation minefields. If conversations veer into uncomfortable territory, Kalso suggests breaking it up by having one of the conversationalists help you with a kitchen task, and by having some premeditated safe topics to veer the conversation toward. It’s also helpful to have an ally at the table to help you redirect if needed.
Have sweets and drinks at the ready. If it all ends up going to pot, just remember the two saving graces of any gathering: dessert and drinks.
“I always have some streusel (crumble) and ice cream in the freezer,” says Garella. “If something happens to the pies, in 15 minutes you can bake the streusel and sprinkle it over ice cream. It’s a perfect pie substitute that requires significantly less energy.”
And, depending on the crowd, alcohol can help keep the conversation and atmosphere lively and festive — and ease the pain if the turkey didn’t quite turn out as planned. Based in Port Townsend, Propolis Brewing’s Botanical Farmhouse Ales (starting at $14 at propolisbrewing.com and the Ballard Farmers Market) are a flavorful alternative to wine and are a conversation piece in and of themselves.
Keep the right attitude. And remember: Thanksgiving isn’t about perfection; it’s about family, friends and gratitude. “If things go wrong, remember to take a deep breath,” advises Garella. “Sometimes the biggest blunders are the things you remember and laugh about a few years down the line.”