’T will ever sing the song they sung
That first Thanksgiving Day:
“Praise ye the Lord with fervent lips,
Praise ye the Lord to-day;”
So rose the song from all the ships,
Safe moored in Boston Bay.”—“The Thanksgiving in Boston Harbor” by Hezekiah Butterworth
Less than a week till Thanksgiving . . . a week until family and food come together in a festive celebration of gratitude.
Right now, you’re probably in the midst of plans and preparations. You’re caught in a grip of chaos.
Relax. Here’s some tips that will give you more time to sit back and count your blessings.
1. Make Breakfast Sweet and Simple
I come from a family of nine (I’m the oldest of five brothers and one sister), so Thanksgiving dinner is a huge affair. Preparing several eatables days ahead still leaves a bunch of stuff to do in the morning. But for as long as . . . well . . . forever, my mom has made breakfast special without it being a hassle.
Cream of Wheat. Hot chocolate. Simple as that.
Put a big pot of your steaming cereal of choice—oatmeal is a perfect option, too—in the middle of the table, lay out a few toppings (such as raisins, brown sugar, cinnamon, milk, etc.), fill mugs with homemade chocolaty creaminess, and top with the only marshmallows that matter (the big, squishy ones . . . none of those “minis” for me!) or fresh whipped cream (lets face it: that stuff in the store doesn’t taste anything like the real deal).
People can get as little or as much as they desire—depending on how hungry they want to be for the main event. And you’re not stuck in the kitchen flipping batch after batch of pancakes, stirring three dozen scrambled eggs while struggling to keep the door of your small oven closed because of the protruding muffin tins squished between over twelve pounds of turkey!
Win-win for all. Yay!
2. Butter Up
My mom: “Ugh!”
Me: “What is it?”
My mom: “I forgot to take the butter out. Hey, can you do that thing you do?”
Me: “Of course!”
My mom: “Thanks, sweetie. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Don’t worry over rock hard butter when that cake recipe calls for softened. That “thing I do” anyone can do. Here’s how to have your mom wondering what she’d do without her “sweetie”:
Place a stick of butter in the microwave; don’t open it or take it out of the wrapper.
Microwave on high for four seconds. Turn over. Heat for another four seconds. Turn over. Repeat. With each “turn over,” poke it to see where it’s at on the soft scale. Keep a close eye on it, and narrow down the heating time to three or two seconds with each turn. (Wouldn’t want to add to your crowded to-do list “Clean up yellow, greasy puddle in the microwave,” correct?)
There you go. Softened butter in no time flat. Easy as pie . . . although, I don’t think that saying fits in this case, pie crusts requiring ice-cold butter most of the time. Ah, you get the point!
3. Freshly Frozen
Do you freeze herbs? I do. Stalks of rosemary and thyme . . . leaves of sage and mint . . . go into plastic bags and into the freezer, waiting to be brought out for future flavorings. Do not leave herbs out to thaw before using. They turn an unbecoming brown (if chopping and using an herb—such as mint—in a cold salad, be sure to eat right away if you don’t want to gross out anyone). Throw the desired amount into your soups and stir-fries straight from the freezer. Reseal and refreeze remaining herbs, and you’re good to go for another round.
Wish you had zested those lemons before wringing every drop of juice from them? All hope isn’t lost. Seal them up and pop them in the freezer, along with any unzested limes, oranges, and other citrus fruits you’ve squeezed dry. Once hardened, they grate beautifully, producing piles of pungent yellows, greens, and oranges. Now you’re ready to whisk up a dressing, or whip up a cheesecake for your holiday board without rushing to the store.
Grate fresh ginger with ease by keeping it frozen, too. (My freezer is stashed with knobs of assorted shapes and sizes.)
4. Use Your Noodle
Dump pasta in boiling water, and its done in ten minutes. But ten minutes feels like ten hours when your family’s famous macaroni and cheese casserole takes twenty minutes to bake.
Every second counts. So between six and eight minutes . . .
Drain the pasta.
Yes, the macaroni will be kind of chewy—a good thing, believe me. It’ll finish cooking in the oven underneath that gorgeous, cheesy sauce, becoming tender without becoming mushy.
5. The Crust of the Matter
Our cheesecakes, sweet potato pies, and pumpkin pies are done a day in advance.
Not so the beloved apple pie.
To not suffer scorched tongues in our impatience to eat a slice before the pie has a chance to cool is utter sacrilege.
Don’t commit the crime of “next day apple pie.” Fitting a fresh, fruity pastry into your busy Thanksgiving Day schedule is a cinch:
A day or two in advance, peel and slice the apples. Dump them in a bowl; toss with cinnamon, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover. Make your dough, and mold it into your pie tin. Leave the top crust as a disc of dough wrapped in plastic wrap, ready to roll out the next day. If baking a crumb topped apple pie—as ours will be this year—mash those ingredients together in a separate bowl. Place these components in the fridge.
The next day, before you sit down to say grace and give thanks, take out the dough-covered tin. Plop in the apple slices. Roll out the dough, drape over top, and crimp—unless your pie is a crumby pie, in which case sprinkle with moist, buttery crumbles of brown sugar, spices and flour. Arrange in preheated oven. Revel in the warm, cinnamon sweetness that wafts through the house as you and those most dear talk over each other, laugh at (and with) one another, and eat—one after the other—the results of hard work and much love.
What shortcuts and do-aheads do you implement? Share some of the ways you keep your holiday running stress-free and on time.