Thanksgiving is almost here (and long past for our Canadian neighbors,) and while the traditional image of a Thanksgiving holiday involves a massive dinner table packed corner to corner with food and surrounded by a huge hungry family, for many of us that’s just not how the holiday will play out. Sure, many of us will travel long distances to reunite with family after leaving our respective offices, campuses, and homes, but many others will spend the holiday perhaps with one special person, a smaller family, or even alone at home watching football or a movie on television while munching Chinese food.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these cases, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: you don’t need a massive Thanksgiving affair to have a classy and fun-filled holiday, and even if you’re headed for a major event anyway, there are a few ways you can make sure that your Thanksgiving holiday is as classy as possible.
Behind the jump, let’s take a look at five simple tips to help you make the most of your Thanksgiving; whether you’re spending it alone, with a significant other, or with family, and even if you’d really like to look forward to the holiday, but instead you’re filled with dread.
- Cook Smart
Seriously, there’s no reason you should subject yourself to Chinese food or delivery pizza from the few places that will be open on Thanksgiving day. Even if you’re planning to spend the holiday alone or with a small group of one to two other people, you can still treat yourself to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, you just don’t need to spend all morning and afternoon slaving over a hot stove and oven to prepare it.
There’s this ridiculous misconception that in order to fully enjoy Thanksgiving you’ll need to spend hours prepping food, then hours more cooking it and standing watch over it as it comes to temperature, and hours more planning how you’ll serve out each meticulous course one after another. None of these things are true.
Think about what your menu is going to look like in advance, and think of things that are actually easy to cook. There’s no rule book here, so free yourself of the thought that you have to make a whole 12-pound Turkey for an intimate dinner for two, okay?
Think about other foods you can prep easily the night before your meal, or even just before you pop them in the oven: a pork tenderloin, for example, is easy marinating the night before, or you can rub it down with spices and pop it in the oven as little as a half-hour before serving time. Want something really special? Pick up a couple of Ribeye or New York Strip steaks and use my tried and true method of Cooking Steak for Apartment Dwellers. If you insist on having turkey, you can brine a couple of turkey breasts the night before in a simple salt-water mix in a plastic freezer bag, and pop them in the oven right before serving as well. Easy and simple.
Many common Thanksgiving sides keep just as well also: stuffing cooks well in advance, and the flavors have plenty of time to mingle in a fridge overnight. Then you just have to heat it up for service on Thanksgiving day. If you don’t feel like going through the trouble of making stuffing just for yourself, don’t worry – I’m not going to tell you to pick up some awful boxed mix, but why not make your starch something easily prepared like rice? Toss in some coin-sliced smoked sausage or crumbled breakfast sausage, and you have a great side dish. It won’t be your mother’s stuffing, but it’ll be delicious.
Need some green? Don’t discount how easy it is to make a salad in a few moments as opposed to stewing greens for hours at a time. Let’s be clear: it’s different, but different magliette calcio a poco prezzo isn’t bad. The point is that by cooking smart and picking foods that are easy to make, require little prep even for a large party, and may even be healthier than the rich, heavy foods traditionally associated with Thanksgiving, you can prepare a scrumptious meal that goes way above and beyond what you’d make any other night.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Prepared Foods
Here’s a dirty little secret that’s been pleasing people at the Thanksgiving table for me for years: the kitchen section at a nice grocery store like Whole Foods or Wegmans can mean the difference between you slaving over those sides along with the center of your meal, whether it’s a steak, tenderloin, chops, or turkey or sitting back and waiting for that part of your meal to finish up while you heat up your sides.
Most of those kitchen sections offer pre-made dish selections that you can pick up anytime from a cold case, or even pick up freshly made on the day you plan to serve. Snag a nice stuffing the day before Thanksgiving and toss it in the fridge – you can put it in a baking dish as soon as your main dish is complete without turning the oven off, and in a few minutes you’ll have a piping hot addition to your table that you didn’t have to lift a finger to make.
I know, I know, I’m not really a fan of letting someone else make your food either – frankly, you have little to no vision into what goes in it or what’s involved with making it that way – which is why I suggest turning to a grocery store or local boutique shop that you can trust; one where you’re willing to buy the prepared foods anytime, see them made fresh, or can put in an order to have something made just for you (something many of them do.) Even if you just want to pick up a pie from your grocery store bakery department, or even your favorite local bakery, it can mean the world when it comes to that feeling of dread you’ll get when you know its time to start cooking.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to get your Thanksgiving dinner catered, but spending a little money on a couple of side dishes and making the salad while your turkey breasts are in the oven will cut down on prep time and make your Thanksgiving meal easier to prep and easier to enjoy.
- Buy a Nice Wine
I can’t emphasize this one enough – a lovely, fancy meal is complimented perfectly by a lovely flavorful wine, and even a mediocre meal can get the official classy seal of approval when you pair an exquisite beverage with it. The best part about this is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get something delicious and that works well with your meal.
The first thing I’m going to tell you to do though is to shake some of the traditional notions of which types of wines go with which types of food. Just because you’re having turkey maglie calcio poco prezzo doesn’t mean you have to have a white wine, or because you’re having steaks doesn’t mean you have to have a red. Some of the characteristics of reds and whites tend to blend better with the flavor profiles of certain meats and fish, but when wine selection really boils down to is picking something that pleases your palate, and if you’re adventurous like me, even challenges it.
The important thing is to pick a wine that you like. I’m not going to be upset if you make a beeline for the Yellow Tail section when you get to your local wine seller, but I am going to suggest another winery, maybe someone with different vintages and different varietals that you may not have initially chosen. Interested in Bordeaux wines? Maybe you should try a straight Malbec, since you Bordeaux may have Malbec blended in. Want something with heavy tannins that packs some robust fruit flavor that can cut through heavy, deep foods? Try a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah in red, or a Chardonnay or Viognier in white. Not interested in something that heavy? Okay then, try a Sangiovese in red or a Sauvignon Blanc in white. Maybe you should go all out and have a sparkling wine like Champagne or Prosecco for Thanksgiving – too many people only drink them around New Year’s, and they’re delicious year round.
The venerable Gary Vaynerchuk, Director of Operations at Wine Library, host of Wine Library TV, and all around social media and business guru, has done a number of episodes of Wine Library TV dedicated to Thanksgiving, so you have plenty of fodder from which to pick a good wine.
If you’re looking for more suggestions, this post at SlashFood also has some great specific recommendations, but I say explore, try new things, and if you have a liquor store or wine seller that you go to frequently, see who in the store does the wine buying. They may have some very interesting recommendations for you, or at the very least can tell you what’s rushing out the door with some of the more flavor-oriented buyers as opposed to the folks buying brand names – and never fear, good wine doesn’t have to be expensive. You’ll be surprised how many great bottles cost just as much or less than the mass-produced stuff./
- Leave Time for Travel
This one is important, especially for people who’ll be Cheap Jerseys leaving home or school to visit family, or seeing a long-distance love for the holidays: leave plenty of time for you to get from point a to point b. It’s as simple as that.
If you’re flying and heading to the local airport, make sure you familiarize yourself with the latest TSA travel regulations, especially around what you can expect when you get to the airport and what you can and cannot carry onto a plane. Regardless of what you think about the TSA or about their screening policies (especally with the more recent furor over backscatter X-Ray scanners and intrusive pat-downs,) knowing what’s in store for you will keep you informed, calm, and keep you from getting annoyed and frustrated when you get to the airport or terminal.
If you’re planning to travel by train (which I wholeheartedly recommend you do if you can, it’s a much more civilized way of traveling) make sure you check out Amtrak’s Safety and Security page, and read up on what to expect when you get to the train station. You’ll find that traveling by train is much easier than traveling by air, and more comfortable and relaxing too (bigger seats, power outlets, even Wi-Fi,) if you can spare the time.
However, even if you’re traveling by car and plan to hit the road, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to where you’re going – whether you’re driving there or you’re just heading to an airport or train station. If you’re headed to a mass transit station, make sure you give yourself enough time to get checked in, screened, and off to wait for your flight or train to depart. If you’re traveling by car, check your route to see if there are any construction obstacles or travel advisories. Services like AAA are invaluable for planning long car trips, and make sure you’ve got your cell phone batteries charged, your GPS charged up, the tank full of gas, and of course, your mp3 player charged or supply of car CDs all stocked up.
With just a little forethought – and I mean a few minutes to think about how you might be able to make the trip easier – you can change your travel experience from a frustrating, last-minute one to something distinctly enjoyable. If you’re not traveling at all for the holiday, relax! Enjoy yourself, and if someone’s traveling to you, try to pass along these tips, okay?
- Leave Time for Yourself
Last, but certainly not least, you absolutely have to take care of yourself. So much about the holiday season is giving: giving to family, giving to friends, giving to coworkers, giving to those who are needier than you – and those are all excellent things and definitely part of what makes the holiday season special (and something we should remember year-round!) but you’re no good to any of those people if you’re burnt out, depressed, and feeling awful in general.
With the cold weather comes lowered spirits, seasonal affective disorder (SAD,) and a general malaise that comes with dreary gray skies and chilly temperatures. Make sure you carve out some time during the holidays for yourself – some time when you’re not obligated to anyone but your own interests, some time when you’re not cooking for anyone but your own palate. Make a point now, good an early in the season, to carve out a little time this holiday season that’s just for you.
Personally, I like to travel. Last year I went to New York City for the holidays to visit friends, stay in a lovely hotel, and see the holiday sights around town, like the Macy’s holiday window displays and the massive Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. I’m not saying you have to plan a vacation for yourself in the middle of the holiday season, but I am saying you should make sure you get out and do something that brings joy to your heart, regardless of whether it includes your loved ones or specifically excludes them so you have a little time to yourself.
Eat well, get as much light as you can, and remember to take yourself into account while you’re busy taking care of everyone else this Thanksgiving and all the way through the holidays. Buy yourself a little something, wrap it up, and when you put the tag on it, write that it’s from The Classy Geek, okay?
Do you have a specific wine suggestion you want to share for a Thanksgiving meal? Let’s hear it in the comments – I haven’t bought my holiday wines just yet! Any more tips you think people should take into account in order to survive Thanksgiving – or the holiday season in general? Leave a comment and make your voice heard!
images in this post courtesy of Flickr user CarbonNYC, (Thanksgiving Spread) Flickr user Firepile, (Thanksgiving Dinner) and Flickr user D Sharon Pruitt, (Casual Family Dinner Carving Thanksgiving Turkey).