Thanksgiving Best Practices

This week I've been polling people on what works and doesn't work for their Thanksgivings, and the answers were as varied as the ones who gave them. Therefore I have aggregated them for you, dear reader, so you may pick out the ones you consider gems and discard the rest.

Talking Turkey

"I was stressing about the turkey, and a co-worker told me she was just picking up a smoked turkey from Honeybaked Hams. On the way home from work I ran by and grabbed one. Boom. Done."

"The moistest turkey I ever had was baked in one of those Reynolds bags. No brining necessary."

Brine me if you dare

"I loosen the skin and put butter and herbs underneath it to keep it moist and flavorful. No brining necessary."

"I love brining the turkey. It's not a pain." (If you go the brining route, start immediately. Here's Eiko's recipe from Skagit River Ranch.)

"I cook the turkey breast side down. It's not as pretty, but it keeps it moist."

Cultivating Thankfulness

"We go around the table and have everyone say something they're thankful for."

"We go around the table and have everyone say something they appreciate about another generation present."

"Give someone the gift of attention. See that person and thank him or her for something specific."

"Send a gratitude letter or even a text!" (My husband read me a gratitude text he had received last night, and it brought tears to both our eyes, especially because we'd been discussing something discouraging.)

Grateful for candle pilgrims

If you're on Facebook, you probably have numerous friends listing what they're thankful for every day, and you may be seeing random items of desperation, such as I found on my girls' Thankfulness lists this year ("DS games," "carpet," "that I'm not a procrastinator"). (Just FYI, I do not require my children to draw up Thankfulness lists. It's one of the bizarre behaviors that develops spontaneously when you're pastor's kids.) If you face this same problem of trying to come up with genuine reasons for gratitude at the drop of a hat, one study recommends listing a few things from yesterday you were grateful for. It will make you review your day thoughtfully, see it objectively, and appreciate.

Adjust Expectations
This was a great one, I thought. A friend told me her mother-in-law always arrives with the vegetable tray--an enormous one--and plunks it down in the center of precious counterspace, along with bags of prepared refill vegetables, ready to be plundered the second the celery sticks show signs of dwindling. If anything gets moved off the counter to a more out-of-the-way spot, she freaks out. For years this habit drove my friend bananas, but now she realizes the veggie tray is her MIL's way of showing love--her heartfelt contribution. There the vegetables will be. And my friend will tell herself, "Deal with it. Plan ahead. Work around. It's not the end of the world."

People want their childhood foods. You may be on some kind of diet. You may have eliminated processed foods, carbs, meat, sugar, what-have-you. You may think it's a great idea to substitute mashed cauliflower for mashed potatoes or to serve a crustless pumpkin pie (both suggestions from the health club magazine where my kids swim). All I know is, next year I would not want to eat at your house. Or not for Thanksgiving, at any rate. Serve people what they're expecting. Save the diet and food proselytizing for another day.

Made with Bloom Creek Farms cranberries

Speaking of traditional food, there's the cranberry sauce controversy. My stepfather falls in the it-ain't-cranberry-sauce-if-there-aren't-ridges-from-the-can camp, whereas I like fresh. We serve both at the table. But weird, fresh cranberry-orange relishes are neither desired nor offered, thank you very much.

We have to draw the line somewhere.

If you have tips for the meal or for encouraging grateful hearts, feel free to share them here. Have a happy Thanksgiving!