Turkey Day Prep

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This book is a great guide, especially if you read it before Thanksgiving.

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Some thoughts on Thanksgiving before I head to the grocery store with my massive shopping list two days before the U.S. Kitchen Olympics, along with all the other hordes of cooks who should’ve planned better. Do as I say, not as I do.

1. Shop for your Thanksgiving groceries on any day besides senior citizen discount day. I have nothing against senior citizens. Some of my best friends are senior citizens, and I am rapidly heading into that category, myself. (God willing). However, Tuesdays at my local grocery store are full of male senior citizens who park their shopping carts in the center of the aisles while their spouses browse, and I am the woman blocked in behind them. Every time. I ask you, men, do you drive like this on city streets?

2. This year, instead of using up valuable counter space with a stack of cookbooks while constructing the Thanksgiving meal, I am photocopying all my pertinent holiday recipes and putting them in a slim binder. The books go back on the shelf, and all my holiday must-have foods are in one condensed place, accessible every year. Bonus: no more re-inventing the wheel.

3. Thanksgiving dinner launches my family’s annual Christmas Project, which we’ve engaged in for nearly 10 years. The idea is to make a positive difference in someone’s life between Thanksgiving and Christmas, preferably anonymously, and with just $25 each. Once the good deeds are done, we tell the stories of how they transpired over Christmas dinner. It’s our own little holiday cheer project, and frankly, we get as much or more joy from it than do the recipients, because it’s so much fun to make people happy. Because of The Christmas Project, a young waitress at Hardee’s who befriended my dad received money in a card detailing how much her smiling care for him was the highlight of his daily visits there. A hairstylist at Walmart cutting my hair one afternoon did so while carrying on a loving conversation with her small son, who had just arrived from school. The single mother received the money in a card a few days later detailing how moving her devotion was, and praising the beautiful manners of her boy. A young man at a boarding school who had no money to his name found $25 in cash loose in his bed linens, put there by someone familiar with his dire straits. Our city’s animal shelter has received dog food. A divorce client facing a sad Christmas had $50 pressed into her hand, money she “must have dropped,” somehow. We hope the giving continues, in a pay-it-forward kind of way.

4. My Thanksgiving dinner playlist will be heavy on Americana sounds. I’m playing Court Yard Hounds, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Yo Yo Ma’s “Appalachian Journey,” some Brad Paisley, the Civil Wars, and Kellie Pickler, bluegrass compiled by Blackberry Farm, plus our own central-Arkansas-based Salty Dogs. Since my dishwasher’s broken again, I’ll be washing up to something different. Rage Against the Machine seems appropriate.

5. The menu this year is a greatest hits compilation. A cheese ball and spinach dip to tamp down appetites when dinner is 90 minutes late. Two giant turkey breasts, because most of us like white meat, and a pan of turkey legs for everyone else. Russet potatoes riced with herb-infused cream and butter. Green beans simmered long in chicken broth and thick-cut bacon. Sweet potato chunks roasted with red onion in a sauce of butter, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper. Golden corn. Make-ahead gravy. (Making gravy makes me nervous.) Cornbread dressing. Cranberry sauce made from fresh berries. Lunchroom rolls. Pecan pie and pumpkin pie. As we say before partaking of any meal, but especially this one: “Bless us, o Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

6. You might think that Thanksgiving dinner is the crowning glory of the day. According to my husband, it’s merely the sideshow to the main attraction. His Thanksgiving day is complete by mid-morning if he is able to sit down with a plate of warm sausage rolls in front of the TV and watch the Macy’s parade. Sausage rolls are narrow lengths of bulk sausage rolled up in pie dough, sliced into bite-sized nuggets, and baked until golden brown. They are a British treat, but my Southern-born and bred spouse cannot consider celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas without them. I feel the same way about mimosas. Cooking is thirsty work.

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