There is a part of me that desperately wants to be someone who “shoots from the hip”, enjoys throwing together events, and laughs whimsically while my guests enjoy my impromptu soirees. In truth, I’m a list making, hyper-organized nut job. I’ve accepted this about myself, and I’m ok with it. Embrace who you are. Write “embrace who you are” on your to do list, right under “make to do list”, check them both off, feel immensely satisfied, and get on with the rest of the planning.
I hosted my first ever Thanksgiving last year for 26 people. I was seven(ish) months pregnant, our house wasn’t finished yet from a remodeling project that had been going on for over a year (none of our bathrooms had doors until the day before Thanksgiving), slaving away on an insane project for work that had me at the office late almost every day, and Jack had what we thought was the stomach flu, but turned out to be the start of our two month journey to figure out some other health issues. As you can imagine, it was not remotely stressful for this Type A planner. Yeesh.
This year, life is a bit less insane (still stressful in a different way), and I almost feel like I can be one of those cool last-minute planners. Almost. I sent out a group text to my Thanksgiving guests early this week to get a head count and list of what everyone was bringing. My list making is ramping up drastically, and I’m starting to get an “organizational high” that I usually get during event planning. And org boner if you will. Last year, and this year as well, I have my to do list organized in two different modes, and cross referenced. The master list has all the tasks that need to be completed before the big day. The daily list has those tasks broken down by what needs to be done each day leading up to the event. Anal retentive? Yes. Effective? Absolutely. My sister even suggested saving to do lists in a plastic sheet protector. You can use it for future years, and with a dry erase marker you can cross off items as you go. Wipe it off after the event is over, and it is ready to go again for next year.
A few days before, I start doing the crap work. You know, the deep cleaning that everyone hates, but still needs to be done. Tidying up common areas, cleaning around window frames, dusting the ceiling, etc. Time to clean the baseboards with with actual rags, instead of well, how I normally do them…
Before last year, this involved vacuuming our hideous popcorn ceilings with a vacuum wand. Charming. Outside work to clean up the yard typically takes place as early in the week as possible, but also depends on our weather.
I also take a look at the menu and try to see what, if any, foods can be made ahead of time. For instance, last year, I made an apple pie, frozen it unbaked, and then baked it the morning of. It worked extremely well, with the only drawback being the pie seemed a tiny bit juicy. <——–Typing that word made me shudder just a little bit. Something else that is crazy simple to made ahead of time is cranberry sauce. In fact, I think it is better if made a few days early. Around 90% of parties I hold involve a veggie tray, because I believe in balancing all the super heavy apps (that I absolutely will stuff in my face) with some healthy crunch. I make a batch of my homemade hummus, and freeze it a week or a few days ahead of time. And just like that, one more thing is checked off of the to do list, and makes the day of a wee bit easier.
Another thing to take stock of early are your party supplies. Will you be using paper plates/silverware, or the fancy china that you registered for when you got married, have moved six times, and use twice a year? I mean, for instance. 🙂 We use a mix of our everyday dishes, and our wedding china for Thanksgiving . We do not have enough of our everyday silverware to last for the whole day, so I have a mixture of our wedding flatware, and a giant bag of random forks and spoons that I bought at a neighborhood garage sale. I traded a dozen eggs for it! Last year, I purchased a 15 pack of cloth napkins from Home Goods for about $15, and those combined with nicer cloth napkins we have and our everyday napkins, we avoid using paper ones. Troy hates the extra dishes, but it is worth it to me.
Gather your recipes together and make one master list of every single ingredient you will need. Double-check that you have everything in place, and make arrangements for picking up any missing items. Quick grocery run after work, grocery delivery service, or Amazon pantry order can all help you avoid running to a convenience store at 11 am on Thanksgiving day. Take the time now to ensure that you’re not stuck trying to use Funjuns in place of the crunchy onion topping on green bean casserole. Also a big thing to note is when to start defrosting your turkey. Safely. Cause salmonella isn’t super festive.
One thing I am firm about when I host things, is making sure none of my storage containers leave the house. Years ago, I invested in glass leak-proof Snapware (Costco has an instant rebate on their big sets about twice a year) and we all know that people don’t bring those kinds of things back. So, I stop by a restaurant supply store, and for under $5, I can pick up aluminum pans with lids. On Thanksgiving, I am pleased to see leftovers walk out of my house, and not my beloved glass containers.
If you look at every magazine page I have ever torn out for my “dream kitchen” file, they all have the exact same thing in common – white cabinets. For some people, that is a nightmare scenario, but after living with horrible faux oak cabinets for years, the idea of being able to easily see spills and grease is so appealing. I wipe down our kitchen cupboards often, but I’ll catch sight of them in a beam of sunlight and puke in my mouth a little bit at a giant smear of olive oil I had apparently missed. The week leading up to Thanksgiving is when I bust out the elbow grease and the Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and go to town on the doors in my kitchen.
The game of fridge Tetris before a large party is always interesting. Are there items in your fridge that can be at room temp for a few days? Ketchup, mustard, and other non-perishable condiments can all be temporarily relocated to a cupboard or pantry to clear up room for turkey day dishes.
Do you need to move furniture to make room for extra tables and chairs? Can you do it ahead of time? We always relocate the rug in our living room for large gatherings. I’m not sure why, but people are obsessed with putting their feet under the edges of my beloved area rug while sitting on our couch. For older people, this is a tripping hazard, and besides, it is just annoying. Choosing that rug was crazy stressful, because Troy and I have totally opposing tastes. It was months and we were seconds away from marriage counseling before we finally found the one. So keep your damn feet out from under it, ok? We roll it up the night before and store it in our bedroom. Folding tables and chairs are brought up ahead of time and stored either in our bedroom or on the deck to make for easier set up right before dinner.
Create a timeline of Thanksgiving and start at dessert. What time do you think people will be shoving the final piece of pie in their mouths? What time will people need to finish eating to make that happen? If you assume x number of minutes/hours for dinner, what time does everything need to be ready? Work the day backwards until you know when everything needs to be prepped, in the oven, and ready to go. Take the guesswork out of your timeline and reduce the stress on the day of.
The day of a large event is exhausting. Cooking, being on your feet, and all those dishes is a lot. But even with all that work, I have a rule that I will not go to bed with my house a mess. I would rather clean it up and get it over with, than go to bed and know it is sitting there waiting for me in the morning. That means I sweep or vacuum the floors, wipe down the bathroom, take out the garbage, and empty the recycling. Waking up to a clean house makes sitting around in my jammies the next morning much more appealing. If you have a chance to arrange a “party bitch” appointee, they will come in immensely handy for this part of the day.
Above all else, there are absolutely two things you should do the night before Thanksgiving. One: order pizza or get take out. No exceptions. You should not be cooking. Two: get ping pong balls to put in your medicine cabinet to catch any nosy snoopers. 🙂
What are your favorite party prep tips?