What I lack in cooking skills I make up for in organizational abilities. I put those abilities to the test in November; basically, I plan the heck out of Thanksgiving.
My kids retreat with us to the mountains for the holiday, the current deal being that I cook and they clean.
I admit that I would love to create the iconic Rockwellian turkey every time, but I only get one shot at it per year, and my learning curve is way slower than that. So I’ve given up on this goal. I’d also love to present a feast for my family complete with three buttery starches, two orange sides, something green, and a choice of homemade pies, but I’m too lazy to do all of that.
You see, I’m a Type A personality trapped in a Type B body.
I’ve therefore reduced my own expectations to their essence, and my holiday goals (not necessarily in this order) are twofold: 1) produce an edible meal, and 2) watch the entire Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in my pajamas. And for someone who can’t boil an egg without referring to a recipe, meeting said goals requires a bit of planning. So I approach the fourth Thursday of November armed with lists, charts, a stack of cookbooks, a file of YouTube videos, and a highlighter.
I start two months ahead of time by rummaging through my cabinets, looking for the menu that I’ve used for the Thanksgiving weekend for the past five years. Then I go to the grocery store and stock up on butter, wine, and cream of mushroom soup.
Four weeks ahead of time, I am thumbing through recipe books, searching for something I can make four days ahead of time.
Three weeks ahead of time, I am purchasing a new cooking tool — a potato ricer, for example — that is vital to the recipe that I can make four days ahead of time. Then, I am cleaning out my kitchen cabinets to make room for that new item (by discarding the older, smaller, and in all ways inferior potato ricer).
Two weeks ahead of time, I am spending hours surfing the internet and watching top chefs who show me exactly how to create perfectly mashed potatoes and fool-proof cornbread stuffing, then bookmarking those videos to my “Thanksgiving File,” which I will revisit four days ahead of time.
This is all much more satisfying than doing the actual cooking, by the way.
But at one week ahead of time, the business starts in earnest. That’s when I begin to label all the serving dishes and inventory my piles of ingredients.
And then, it’s four days ahead of time, and I must cook something.
So I do, and even if it’s a make-ahead carrot and cauliflower purée that no one will eat, it is incredibly gratifying to have completed one dish. I proceed thusly, one dish at a time, until the big day, when the main things left to do are shove the turkey in the oven and then turn something into gravy. In keeping with my personal Thanksgiving tradition, I must perform these tasks in my bathrobe.
Now that the Big Day is behind me and I’ve managed to lounge my way through the kitchen and The Parade, I can confirm for another year that what master cooks say is true: It’s all in the timing.
Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.