Are You Ready?

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Well, it’s two days before the big feast and I have just one question for you: are you ready? It should come as no surprise that I host a gathering every year for at least 15 people. It’s a tradition that started my first year in LA when, while in the middle of my program at USC, I realized there would be no real time for any of us to travel anywhere for the big feast. So, around the second week of November, I stopped in the doorway of my roommate’s and said, “Brooks. We’re hosting Thanksgiving,” and then kept walking. Such a good sport that Brooks. About half my class ended up at my apartment for the big day. It was perfect. This will be my fifth year and it’s still my favorite.

Now I know many practice the potluck style Thanksgiving: the one who hosts makes the turkey and stuffing and everyone else fills in the sides. Mine is slightly different. Instead of asking everyone to contribute to the meal, I ask everyone to bring $10 and alcohol to share (if they so desire). I do 90% of the cooking and ask a few friends who want and are able to contribute to fill in some of the extras. I do this for two reasons. One, being in the spirit of a true “orphan” thanksgiving, I want to be able to welcome anyone whether or not they are able to cook. Many friends are relieved that they can just show up and eat and those that desperately want to contribute can. The other reason? Quality control…. don’t give me that look, you know exactly what I’m talking about. As I already said, not everyone can cook. When it comes to thanksgiving, you can’t risk those favorites you only get on this one day… not on my watch anyway. Besides, I’m a starving artist – I can’t really afford to drop all the money I do on this meal. Having the donation in place ensures I won’t be evicted next week… well, mostly…..

Here are some random anecdotes and wisdom I’ve gathered over the years:

1. There is never too much turkey. I always cook a breast the day before, slice it, and stash it in the fridge. That way, if something goes wrong with the big bird on the big day or more people show up or everyone wants more turkey, you have a backup at the ready.

2. To hell with brining. Everyone everywhere talks about brining. Really? Do you really think I’m going to brine a turkey? My secret: butter. I make a compound butter with poultry seasoning, salt, and pepper and slather every inch of the bird. And even more importantly I get a lot of it under the breast skin. Helps keep the white meat moist and flavorful and I don’t have to deal with soaking my bird in a salt solution in my bathtub (I don’t have one).

3. Chicken stock and butter are your best friends. I get them both at Costco: a four pound pack of butter and a 6 carton pack of chicken stock. I use all of it.

4. Start early. I do as much as possible in advance, partially because my starving artist kitchen is tiny and can only handle so much at once and partially because I like to leave myself plenty of time to screw something up. Tuesday I do all my dessert baking, Wednesday I do all my sides and casseroles (while the stores are still open!). I save Thursday for the absolutely necessary. The big turkey, of course, mashed potatoes (they do not reheat well), and crescent rolls. Everything else can be warmed in the oven while the turkey is resting.

5. Chinet. This is where I get really starving artist. I know we all have this Norman Rockwell vision of thanksgiving at a long table with all the coordinated china and glassware… I simply don’t have enough dishes for 20, nor do I have the inclination to CLEAN that many dishes. So, I go for the high quality Chinet paper plates and high quality plastic forks (they are the only ones that can stand up to t-day cuisine). No muss, no fuss, no one cares, we all just want to eat.

6. If you’re in need of last minute serving platter or a roasting pan, try Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I know, it seems so counterintuitive. But see that huge white platter in the photo? $9.99. See that new roasting pan? $15. Even if it’s terrible, it’s only $15, I can buy another next year. And oh yeah, the set of two gravy boats? $9.99. BBB. Who knew.

7. Good friends will join you for dinner, best friends will stay late and help you clean. I rarely need help cooking – there isn’t enough room in my kitchen anyway – but the aftermath of feeding 20 people thanksgiving dinner? It’s… pretty astounding, even with paper plates. Don’t be shy. Ask for help. Guilt trip if necessary.

8. Keep it simple. You know I of all people am about trying new things and coming up with creative flavors. For me, thanksgiving is about remembered flavors, not brand new ones. This is the one time a year I have turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, etc. I don’t really need or want modern/exotic/abstract interpretations, I want my effin turkey. So does everyone else.

9. Go with the flow. This might sound cheesy, and it kind of is, but there’s no other way to sum it. Every year I host, inevitably there are a bunch of people who forgot to RSVP or wait til the last minute to make plans or hear what’s going on and want to join. So what I thought was 12 is now 20. And then there are people who dont show, and people who come late. And you know what? I love it. It’s all wonderful. You plan the best you can and then you just let it go. And I think that’s why I love this holiday so much.

Need a quick, easy, and show stopping recipe to bring to your potluck? Tune in tomorrow!

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