It’s Nov. 1—aka 21 days 'til Thanksgiving. And if you’re like me, you can’t wait.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, the one day of the year when I get to spend the whole day cooking, drinking, and experimenting with new recipes (but never switching out the old ones, for fear of my family’s wrath). It’s also the one day of the year when I get to feed the people I love most, all together, gathered around a big table.
So where to get started? If you're like me, today's the day that your turkey brain kicks into gear—and we've got a few ideas for things you can get cracking on now. Introducing A Pan & A Plan, our handy guide to Thanksgiving prep. We're here for you! Well, we've always been here for you, but over the next few weeks, we'll be extra-here.
To keep your Thanksgiving train on the tracks:
One thing you can do right here, right now: Start planning that guest list. After all, the people who sit at your Thanksgiving table are just as important (if not more) than what's served on it. So, whether you’re heading up the whole shebang or joining someone else's feast as a guest, here are a few questions to ask yourself now for smooth sailing later:
If you're hosting, start thinking about who you want to invite. Is this a family reunion? A meeting of the in-laws? A college-roommates Friendsgiving? Make a list (being sure to account for children and partners). Oh, and leave a little wiggle room for surprise visitors, too—they make any celebration more interesting.
There's a big difference between a cozy, intimate Thanksgiving and a whole-neighborhood potluck. (For the record, we love both!) The size of your guest list will determine all those logistical things, such as how big a turkey to get, how many sides to plan, and the number of seats, place settings, and chairs to account for. Even if you're just attending, the total guest list is helpful to know in case you're bringing a side or are in charge of wine, beer, or ice.
As you think about the guests, consider who's vegetarian, vegan, allergic to nuts, and so on. My general rule of thumb is to cook for the whole and not the part—meaning, create a feast that everyone can enjoy together. There are plenty of delicious gluten-free desserts, and a gorgeous meatless main can definitely hold its weight alongside a big ol' turkey. "Special diet" options shouldn't feel like add-ons, but rather thoughtful parts of the meal.
Though the mood of a party is not 100% set by its guests, they certainly can inspire it. Is this a buffet-loving bunch or a proper multi-course crowd? You may not want to throw a fancy shindig if you're hosting ultra-casual family (and don't skip the green bean casserole or Uncle Young will freak out). But maybe there's an in-law you do want to impress: Is there a new dish you're excited to try for the first time? Now's the moment to break it out.
My rule of thumb—about cooking in general, really—is that no matter the vibe you're going for, make sure the food reflects your style. That is, the way you cook and eat, not some playacted version of yourself. This honesty will come through in the cooking, and you'll be rewarded for being yourself. Plus, the food will just taste better.
Thinking about your guests now will help set you up for the kind of Thanksgiving that everyone wants to attend. After all, at the end of the day, it's really just dinner, right?
Who's at your Thanksgiving table this year? Let us know in the comments below, and check back tomorrow for a full plan of attack to see you through the weekend.