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How To Survive The First Thanksgiving (And a Few Favorite Recipes)

How To Survive The First Thanksgiving (And a Few Favorite Recipes)

Don’t we all have the most wonderful memories of childhood Thanksgivings?  All the family coming together, the smell of all that wonderful food, football or the parade on tv, and the crisp fall air?  I know that for our family, Thanksgiving was one of two days a year that literally the entire family would be under the same roof; not just brothers and sisters but aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents…everyone.   It’s funny how our memories convince us that those days were flawless and perfect, when in reality, it was just as chaotic as every other family holiday in the history of…holidays.  Which is why, most of the time, there comes a day when Mom or Grandma is ready to pass the torch.  She’s ready to sit back and let the younger folks do the work and relax for once!  What does this mean for you and me?  Well, we’re next up to bat and that can be a bit scary or even full-blown anxiety-attack-inducing for some of us.  I’ve hosted my fair share of Thanksgiving dinners over the years, some way more successful than others, and I’ve learned a few things along the way:

It will NOT be perfect.

No matter how many times I host for the holidays, I will never get it perfect.  One year I put so much mustard in the potato salad (a sacred family dish, by the way) that it was completely inedible and my family still gives me hell over it to this day!  Another year, my in-laws were in town for Christmas and my mother-in-law said, “How long are you going to boil those eggs for?”  I brushed it off and kept talking and what do you know?  Completely overcooked and useless.  Yup, sent my husband to Walmart at midnight for more eggs so she wouldn’t know I screwed it up (I’ve never told her that, but I guess she’ll know now, HA!).  And I either burn or completely forget to bake the dinner rolls EVERY YEAR.  Your Thanksgiving will NOT be perfect and that’s okay.  Our mother’s and grandmother’s Thanksgivings weren’t perfect either; we just didn’t know any better or truly didn’t care.

 I think, as long as this isn't your kitchen, you're doing okay.

I think, as long as this isn't your kitchen, you're doing okay.

Invite the whole family.

Yup, all of them.  If your family is anything like mine, there are probably folks who just don’t get along.  It’s a bit scary to have them all in one place, because you don’t ever know what’s going to happen.  INVITE THEM ANYWAY.  Put the invite out there and when they show up, it’s on them to behave like adults.  Nobody can get mad for not receiving an invite, and if they choose not to come, well, that’s their decision to make!  There are some true exceptions to this, of course…you be the judge.

 Yes, even invite this person.  Actually,  especially  invite this person.

Yes, even invite this person.  Actually, especially invite this person.

Let others help.

When Aunt Shirley asks if she can load the dishwasher, let her do it.  When your sister wants to peel the potatoes, let her do it!  It may not all be done exactly the way you would do it, but who cares?  Being together in the kitchen preparing the meal is the best part of Thanksgiving and you’ll be grateful for the extra hands.

 My husband "helping" in the kitchen at Christmas dinner, many years ago...before kids.  We had a whole lot more energy back then.

My husband "helping" in the kitchen at Christmas dinner, many years ago...before kids.  We had a whole lot more energy back then.

Outsource the turkey.

Seriously.  If you’ve never in your whole life ever roasted a turkey, get help.  Have someone else bring it OR find a local joint that smokes them for you in advance (a lot of BBQ restaurants do this!).  Schedule/pay for your turkey, send someone out to pick it up, and put that baby on the table.  We won’t judge, I promise.

 Don't let this happen to you.  ( Image Source )

Don't let this happen to you.  (Image Source)

Buy pies from the grocery store or your local bakery.

This goes hand-in-hand with the whole turkey suggestion.  Pies are tricky and if you’ve never done it before, this is not the time!  Buy them frozen or pre-made or pick them up from your local bakery.  As long as they taste delicious (and they will) and you don’t forget the cool-whip, no one will care!

 These have to be bakery pies, right?  I mean, who else's are that pretty?!

These have to be bakery pies, right?  I mean, who else's are that pretty?!

Put someone on bread duty.

Did you read the part above where I mentioned that I ALWAYS either forget or totally burn the dinner rolls every year?  Yeah, I don’t put myself in charge of bread anymore.  They are usually the last thing that needs to go in the oven before you eat and there’s so much else going on at that time that I just.can’t.do.it.  My lovely husband though?  He’s got it totally under control. 

 These are actually not my burned dinner rolls, but they might as well be. ( Image Source )

These are actually not my burned dinner rolls, but they might as well be. (Image Source)

Shine with the sides!

So, you’ve outsourced your turkey and pies and you’ve relieved yourself of bread duty.  What does that leave?  The sides!  Thankfully, these are the easiest part of the whole dinner and honestly, some would argue, the tastiest.  Pick a few classics that your family is used to having every year and ASK GRANDMA FOR THE RECIPES.  Don’t try to get fancy; people are creatures of habit and if you try to give them sweet potatoes when that’s never, ever been on the family table before…it probably won’t go well.  Give yourself a couple of Thanksgivings to master those treasured family recipes and THEN consider throwing in something new!  If you need some ideas, here are a few of our family favorites, as well as some I’ve added over the years (you certainly don’t have to make all of them, but you can’t go wrong with any of them, I promise!):

 Sage Cornbread Stuffing: Okay, so there's no picture with the recipe that we use so I found one from  Spicy Southern Kitchen  that looks similar.   Here's the recipe that we use .  Either would be delicious, I'm sure!

Sage Cornbread Stuffing: Okay, so there's no picture with the recipe that we use so I found one from Spicy Southern Kitchen that looks similar.  Here's the recipe that we use.  Either would be delicious, I'm sure!

 Mustard Potato Salad from  Add a Pinch

Mustard Potato Salad from Add a Pinch

 Sweet Potato Casserole from  Add a Pinch

Sweet Potato Casserole from Add a Pinch

 Classic Green Bean Casserole from  Campbell's

Classic Green Bean Casserole from Campbell's

 Corn casserole from  Tastes of Lizzy T

Corn casserole from Tastes of Lizzy T

 Roasted veggies from  Feasting Not Fasting

Roasted veggies from Feasting Not Fasting

Have lots of wine.

Does this even need explanation?  Especially if you did, in fact, invite EVERYONE?  Nope.  Know your audience though…beer for beer drinkers and wine for wine drinkers (and I’d even go so far as to say, know if your crowd is a Bud-lovin’ or craft-beer-drinkin’ kind of crew).  Don’t try to get too fancy!  Creatures of habit, remember? 😉

 Or you know, just find one of these. ( Image Source )

Or you know, just find one of these. (Image Source)

Don’t forget about the entertainment.

No, not Bozo the Clown (unless you’re into that sort of thing?).  Just don’t forget to have some music going, maybe a deck of cards or a yard game to keep people entertained while dinner is cooking, and a movie for after dinner when everyone’s too full to move.

 Christmas Vacation: Our family's go-to after-dinner movie for Thanksgiving ( Image Source )

Christmas Vacation: Our family's go-to after-dinner movie for Thanksgiving (Image Source)

It will NOT be perfect.

Here’s your not-so-subtle reminder that it will not be perfect and that’s okay.  Do it anyway.  That’s what the delicious store-bought pies and wine are for; to make up for it and make you feel better.  It will get easier every year, but I can almost guarantee that even after you think you’ve got it down like a pro, you’ll still screw something up.  Go ask Mom or Grandma about their most epic Thanksgiving screw-ups, I dare you.  They’ll have stories to tell, for sure, and if they don’t…the crazy aunt will tell the stories for them!  Sit back with your glass of vino and enjoy the entertainment. That’s what a REAL family Thanksgiving is all about, after all! 😊

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