Whether moving into a newly constructed home or a charming older place, it’s all brand new to you. Under ordinary circumstances, you’d have plenty of time to get acquainted. However, the holidays are careening around the corner, and friends and family are expecting you to host your first Thanksgiving feast before you’ve even finished unpacking the china.
And if you’re expecting overnight guests, you’ve got the added chore of preparing the spare room and bath to accommodate them. So, better find the box with the soft sheets and the fluffy guest towels.
No one is going to kid you. Having holiday guests is a lot of work, but if you have a plan, it’s also a marvelous way to make memories that will last a lifetime.
Here are some tips to help you put together a stellar Thanksgiving holiday you can enjoy as much as your guests.
Planning the most important meal of the year
Cooking in a new kitchen is not unlike driving a new car loaded with bells and whistles you’re unfamiliar with. It resembles your old car, but you no longer need a key to start it, and there’s a computer screen in the dashboard that shows you where you’re going. There’s a learning curve. The same goes for your new kitchen.
Sure, a fridge is a fridge, meaning it’s pretty independent and doesn’t require any handholding. And the dishwasher performs a singular duty; once you’ve figured out where the controls are, you can forget it as it cleans your dishes. But your stove is the appliance you’ll lean on the most for your Thanksgiving meal. Whether you have a drop-in combination or a separate stovetop and oven, you should get acquainted with them before you roast your first turkey and prepare the gravy. For example, if you’ve always cooked with electric burners and now have a gas stove – or vice versa – you’ll have to make some adjustments.
It’s a new house, and the oven works, but you want the temperature to be dead-on accurate for your first Thanksgiving dinner. From the bird to the pies, a few degrees off one way or the other can be disastrous. The easiest way to ensure your oven temperature is accurate is to buy an oven thermometer and test your oven’s temperature long before the big event. They cost under $10. You’ll also want an instant-read thermometer to check the turkey and other dishes. These are quick and easy to use.
Keep it simple
Keep your part of the Thanksgiving meal simple. Unless you have experience and love cooking for a crowd, there’s no need to make every dish yourself.
For example, prepare the turkey and another dish or two you like, and then delegate the rest to your guests. That’s right, host a Thanksgiving potluck. However, let people know what you’d like them to bring and keep track of each dish. If you don’t coordinate the dishes and you allow the guests to bring whatever they want, you could end up with three bowls of mashed potatoes and five pumpkin pies to accompany your turkey. Actually, that doesn’t sound completely terrible. But this is your first Thanksgiving in your new home, so you should probably let tradition stand front and center.
What if your guests don’t cook?
In that case, stick to the basics and don’t be afraid to outsource side dishes. For instance, some folks swear by premade mashed potatoes – not instant. Just take a close look at the ingredient list and select a brand that uses what you would to make homemade mashed potatoes. Better yet, buy a couple of different brands and have a taste test beforehand. Likewise, good dinner rolls and desserts are easy to find at any grocery store or local bakery. Don’t forget to check your supermarket’s deli section. You’ll often find a wide selection of sides and salads. As for pre-dinner nibbles, you don’t want your guests filling up on snacks before the main event, nor do you want to have to prepare appetizers. For example, consider a few bowls of nuts and flavored chips, veggie sticks, and hummus.
Before you even think about cooking, take inventory
Of course, you’re concentrating on the guest list and the menu, but if this is the first big event you’re hosting since you moved in, you need to make certain that you have everything you need.
For instance, unpack and wash the dishes, cookware, and utensils you’ll use. Don’t forget the wine glasses. Next, check your pantry and see if you need to replace necessary spices and seasonings like sage, ginger, and cinnamon. If you can, shop for all of your ingredients about four days ahead. That should give you plenty of time to do any necessary prep.
If you have a small guest list and know everyone will fit around the dining table, you have one less item to worry about. But if you have a larger crowd, don’t wait until the last minute to arrange for an extra table and chairs. Need a card table and folding chairs for the kids? Arrange for those to be in place a few days before Thanksgiving.
This task is easily done a day or so in advance and lets you be creative. First, select a tablecloth that compliments your china. If your dishes are white, then go for a tablecloth with some fall colors. If you have colorful patterned dinnerware, then opt for a solid tablecloth. Follow the same rule with your napkins. And there’s no crime in using nice paper napkins if the thought of ironing and folding napkins is too daunting.
You don’t need to load your table with decorations as if you were hosting a royal banquet. Some mini pumpkins, fall foliage, or a low flower arrangement work nicely. You don’t want a tall flower arrangement blocking your guests’ views of one another. And let’s talk candles on your table. Candles are a lovely addition to your dining table, whether slender tapers or tiny votives. However, use unscented candles at or near the dining table. That wild island gardenia candle will not work with the aroma of roasted turkey.
Hopefully, you know your guests well. So, if Uncle George still has a beef with Cousin Don, consider using place cards and seating them away from one another. And adding place cards eliminates that awkward dance guests do when they have to decide where to sit at the dining table while uttering, “Where do you want me?”
Whew! You did it. You’ve filled your family and friends with good food and fond memories. However, the dining room table now looks like a pair of flamenco dancers stomped their way from the gravy boat to the last slab of pumpkin pie, and the kitchen resembles a demo site.
No worries because with a little advanced planning, the cleaning detail should run smoothly. If people offer to help, let them, but give them specific tasks, so you’re not tripping over one another. Have your trash and recycle bins clearly marked and placed where everyone can see them. Designate someone to scrape the dishes into the appropriate bin. Keep extra trash bags at the ready.
It’s Thanksgiving; chances are good that you’ll have plenty of leftovers to share. If you planned, you’ve got take-out dishes for people to use for leftovers. Don’t forget a couple of markers, so Aunt Donna doesn’t walk off with Pop’s slice of his favorite sweet potato pie.
Smooth running teamwork will get the dishes done and the food put away in short order. But this is Thanksgiving, and spending time with the people you love is key. So, you might have to forget about a pristine kitchen and let the dishes soak until your guests leave. Just make sure to refrigerate leftovers.
You can see that with some prioritizing and planning, hosting Thanksgiving in your new home doesn’t have to be stressful. Try to make this festive event a relaxed and casual affair. The people you invite know you won’t be quite settled in yet, and they’re not expecting your house to look like a model home. After all, the joy of being together is why we gather at Thanksgiving.