How to Hike a Mountain and Serve Thanksgiving Dinner on the Same Day

November  6, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: AntoniaJames gives us a step-by-step plan for hosting the least stressful Thanksgiving you've ever had.

Shopping list from Food52

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Every Thanksgiving, our family takes a challenging hike, typically up Mt. Tamalpais, about an hour away. When we get home, I prepare and serve our big holiday meal, usually before six. It requires planning and organization, but it’s not that hard. Here’s how to do it.

Three weekends before Thanksgiving, sketch out your menu and pull together recipes, knowing that things may change. Ask the Food52 Hotline questions about recipes and techniques -- like this, this, and this. Set up a good-sized calendar (photocopying planner pages work well), print your recipes, and keep them with the calendar. Use large sticky notes for task and shopping lists (the latter organized by store), so you can move them around on the calendar as necessary. Make sure to order all of the special tools you'll need for The Big Day now -- that way, you're not stressing about them arriving too late.

Shopping list from Food52

Then, plan your dinners for the 7 days before Thanksgiving. They should be really easy. Try to take 3 or 4 meals out of the freezer, eat out one weekend night, and order in on Wednesday. Figure out what you can use from your freezer (and how) and plan to make, within the next 2 weeks, whatever else you need.  Also, try to coordinate those dinners with your advance prep. For example, when you make pie crusts, make an extra one for quiche. Write down all these details, now.

Check and shop for staples, including baking soda, spices, vanilla, etc., and supplies such as parchment, foil, garbage bags, silver polish, etc. Order your turkey -- in plenty of time to defrost, if it’s frozen -- calendaring the pickup date; jot down on a sticky note other items to buy at the same time. Then make lists of what you’ll be doing the next weekend, so you’ll have everything you need.

Shopping list from Food52

On the second weekend in November, make and freeze stock, pie crusts, and dough for holiday weekend breakfast pastries and other baked goods. For each recipe on your menu, figure out every step you can finish in advance; group similar activities together, calendaring what you’ll do, when. Update your shopping lists for all the ingredients you’ll need during the last weekend before Thanksgiving. Complete your shopping for non-perishable foods, as well as wine, candles, etc.

 Vegan Pie Crust from FOod52

On the weekend before, set out serving dishes with utensils and notes identifying each dish, polish your silver, and get your house ready. Start the short cooking tasks that can be done in advance, such as grating cheese, washing and drying herbs, making salad dressing, mixing sugar and spices for pies, roasting nuts, etc. Prepare whatever you can for your weeknight dinners. Finally, update your list of what you’ll do each weekday evening and Thursday, and when you’ll do it -- grouping tasks to maximize efficiency and minimize cleanup.   


Spatchcocked Roast Turkey from Food52


On Thanksgiving Day, plan your hike so you have about 2 hours before leaving. Bake scones or sticky buns for breakfast, and your pies. When you get back, while you bring to room temperature your turkey -- Spatchcocked Roast Turkey is the obvious choice -- bake and roast dishes requiring temperatures lower than the high heat needed to cook the bird. Finish stovetop sides while the turkey roasts, and put on the sideboard everything you can. Once the turkey is out, tented and resting, warm your gratins and rolls in the oven, and get your gravy nice and hot. When the turkey is carved, take your place at the table, happy and grateful for how easy that was!

AntoniaJames will be sketching out a daily plan on her Twitter feed @HowMotherCooks -- follow along!

How do you prepare for Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments!

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  • AntoniaJames
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    Oui, Chef
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Written by: AntoniaJames

See problem, solve problem. Ask questions; question answers. Disrupt, with kindness, courtesy and respect. ;o)


AntoniaJames October 13, 2017
Last year I posted a "not-recipe" here called "Recipe for Peace of Mind Thanksgiving Week." I

n it, I go into more detail about planning all your dinner meals for the week before Thanksgiving, and making ahead, well in advance, as much you can. This way, you’ll have more time and less to worry about as you do your advance prep during that inevitably hectic week.

I've updated the "recipe" to include links to my actual planning materials for 2017 — not just my menu plans for October and November, but also my Thanksgiving week "flight plan", grocery lists and links to recipes. ;o)
AntoniaJames October 13, 2017
One cannot add a link to a recipe, so for your convenience, here are links to my current (through Thanksgiving) menu plan

and to my Thanksgiving week advance prep plan, along with shopping lists and links to the recipes I’ll be using: ;o)
Kukla November 12, 2013
How lucky we are AJ to have you, such a uniquely talented and inspiring person among us!!
AntoniaJames November 13, 2013
Thank you so much, Kukla. The feeling is mutual! ;o)
Oui, C. November 10, 2013
You are brilliant, Antonia...enjoy your hike, and your Thanksgiving feast!
AntoniaJames November 12, 2013
Oui, Chef, you're much too kind. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving (including a good hike!), too.
Patty K. November 10, 2013
Great article! I always hike a mountain (in Tahoe) and cook T-day dinner on the same day (in my sister's alien kitchen) but I never do it stresslessly. Thanks for the tips!!
AntoniaJames November 12, 2013
Thanks, Patty. I actually find that this is so stressless that I sort of miss the crazy adrenaline and insane fatigue that follows, doing it with less advance prep. But I don't miss it that much . . . . Never hiked near Tahoe in the fall. Must be so beautiful! ;o)
luvcookbooks November 7, 2013
Like the timeline and the lists. You're an inspiration!
AntoniaJames November 12, 2013
Thank you, LCB. Hope it helps, even if you're not taking a hike that day. (But maybe you'll have time for a nice long walk! What could be better?) ;o)
boulangere November 7, 2013
A list a day keeps chaos at bay. Well, it helps, at least.
AntoniaJames November 12, 2013
So true. Will have to remember that, boulangere. Will be thinking of you next weekend when I make focaccia using your recipe, to freeze for use T-Day week for stuffing (the chorizo, sweet potato, mushroom recipe here). ;o)
mcs3000 November 7, 2013
Saving this. AJ, you're the best!
AntoniaJames November 7, 2013
Thanks so much! This is nothing more than the most rudimentary project management, as I'm sure you know. Hope you have a fun Thanksgiving! ;o)
dymnyno November 6, 2013
We usually have a group of about 16 family and friends at our table. Friends are assigned to make their own family favorite sides for the feast. I make the dressing and gravy and cook the bird (last year spatchcocked in my wood burning oven). Friends also bring the pie.(and I encourage any kind of pie). Freddy and I usually get up early on Thanksgiving and go out to Limantour Beach with the dogs for a walk/run and return home by 3:00. Our Thanksgiving feast is always served at dinner starting at 7:00, usually with fresh oysters and cheeses from Marin. And, this being the Napa Valley, we enjoy plenty of great red wine. We have much to be thankful for, including our current harvest, and Thanksgiving is one of the many occasions that we gather with friends, family and associates to celebrate .
AntoniaJames November 6, 2013
What a great plan, dymnyno. Sounds like a perfectly wonderful feast, especially with all those side dishes be contributed by your guests. That must be so fun, and interesting, making every year different and delightful in its own way. ;o)
dymnyno November 6, 2013
Thanks AJ! I am also a great list maker. All summer and fall I make lunches and dinners (sometimes 3 times a week) for groups of 25 to 30 at the winery. For Thanksgiving I have forced/relaxed myself into giving up some control and letting others help me out.
AntoniaJames November 6, 2013
Wow, 25 - 30, three times a week! You are such a pro. I find that detailed lists (a) affirm that I've actually thought through what needs to be done, thus reducing stress; and (b) prevents the paralysis one feels when there are so many things, even when most of them are so small, that need to be done (thus also reducing stress). You start working through the list and suddenly it all starts to seem not so difficult. ;o)
dymnyno November 6, 2013
Thankfully not EVERY week. You are so right about having detailed lists. It makes everything so manageable. Like you, I have learned that reducing stress makes life so much more fun...and gives us time to hike up Mt. Tam or enjoy the National Seashore in our backyard.
aargersi November 6, 2013
Wow - and I thought I was organized! You are way ahead of me! Our scenario is a little different - we feed a crowd of 25-30 - so no hiking, but my planning is somewhat similar. I have an excel spreadsheet where I keep my calendar, menu, and lists. As I get things done I flip to green. I assign some sides and desserts out. Then I do 90% of my shopping Tuesday, and make pie crusts. Wednesday I have a 12 hour cook-a-thon - make dressings, gravy, cranberry sauce, prep everything ... then The Big Day all I really have to do is wrap the bird in bacon and roast him, get dressings and gratins in the oven, and help peel potatoes. And fit a shower in somewhere :-) Oh - and I take that whole week off of work, too
Brette W. November 6, 2013
I like your style. Sometimes 12-hour cook-a-thons are the best!
AntoniaJames November 6, 2013
I like marathons, too, but cannot control my law practice schedule (i.e., client requirements) reliably enough to count on being able to do that. Most of the dinner parties I host are on Sunday so I can work non-stop on Saturday if I need to, though since I started doing Thanksgiving this way (I've been perfecting the method over the past few years), I've been implementing more of the make-ahead strategies outlined here. My mother always did this when hosting dinner parties of any size -- and most were of the 20 - 40 person kind -- especially during the decades that she was working 40 hours a week and oommuting an hour each way. ;o)
Bevi October 14, 2017
Inspirational, AJ
For the first time since 1974 I will be hosting our annual feast. You can bet I will be using your brilliant plan as a guideline.