Thanksgiving with my family is a little chaotic, a little disorganized, and a lot loud. I like it that way, for the most part, but sometimes I wish we could achieve a celebratory vibe that's a little more chill.
If you're hosting the big day this year and want to find your Thanksgiving zen, set the tone beforehand. Keep it simple, keep it homegrown, and create an atmosphere that encourages your guests to relax and enjoy themselves.
Take control by letting people help you
An important thing to remember about having Thanksgiving in your home is that you aren't the only host – you're simply providing the venue. Everyone who shows up will be eager to help, so when they ask what they can bring or do, reply by asking: “What is your favorite thing to make or do?" Getting your guests involved with a task of their choosing is the best way to accept help.
As the main host, you direct the menu. Keep it small, but the best of the best. Incorporate a few family favorites as well as a new dish or two that you're excited to share.
Don't overdo it on the appetizers
Invest in some oversized cutting boards (you will certainly use them again) and create a bountiful cheese platter with an assortment of cut breads, crackers, fine olive oil for dipping, nuts, fruits and whatever else you fancy.
Skip the broccoli casserole (and maybe all casseroles)
No one likes a fork full of mush with cheese and crackers. Everyone thinks they're going to like it, but they don't.
Cut up that broccoli and steam it. Spread the broccoli on a baking sheet, throw in some shaved garlic and a handful of pine nuts or walnuts, and bake until crispy. Add a little lemon juice, lemon zest, and some fresh parm and call it a dish.
Pre-mix a couple of seasonal cocktails
Also – ditch the magnums of inexpensive wine. Instead, ask some of your guests to buy a few unique and special bottles. Guests want to feel proud of their offering – this is a nice offering.
What are you thankful for?
Purchase a pretty notebook or journal and start a new tradition of gratitude. Have your guests take a moment alone with the book to write down what they're thankful for. At dinner, each person takes a turn reading what others have shared.
Entries can be anonymous, which adds to the sweetness or humor. Ideally, this book will be kept for years to reflect upon and add to.
Take it outside
Whether it be a small bonfire to share a cocktail by or a walk around the neighborhood, do it. Do it together, even you, the host.
Create a playlist and keep it relevant to the mood and spirit or your super chill Thanksgiving. If you're using Spotify or Pandora, pay the little fee and spare yourself a sponsor interruption during dinner.
The table setting
Don't ruin a beautifully set table by putting all the food on it. Keep that clutter in the kitchen or some other area designated for serving. The table should be a place of beauty, not a bunch of serviceware and foil pans.
Line the table in a treasured linen and buy your OxyClean in advance – it's worth using a fabric that you cherish. Another option is to cover the table with kraft paper and place washable markers in cute cups or vases. Encourage your guests to get creative. (Bonus: The paper is a neutral color that complements any table setting and surrounding room décor.)
Ah yes, the décor. Don't overthink it. Create your own décor and feel proud of it.
Start by looking in your backyard. From twigs to logs to branches to leaves, you have the majority of the necessary materials right in your own backyard. If you're really feeling this, cut a 4-foot-long branch off a tree and place that in the center of the table.
Once the foundation is set, go to your local flower shop or bodega and buy some seasonal cut flowers to add to the design. Pick up some whole fruits and vibrantly-colored leafy greens, and set them within the foraged goods as whole pieces or broken or cut in half. The flowers can be placed in small vessels or nestled within the organic foliage.
If you have a chandelier, do the same up above. Adorn your fixture with foraged goodness.
Share the bounty
You'll have leftovers so buy some inexpensive containers and offer your guests food to take home. If your family and friends are anything like mine, they'll love a good ol' turkey sandwich with the Thanksgiving works between some fine pieces of rye bread. Give a loaf to each guest so they can enjoy this meal all over again in its sandwich form.
You could also send them home with the most crucial element of the day (for my family and me): the effervescent antacid.
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