Preparing a Thanksgiving feast ranks high on the entertaining stress-o-meter. Expectations, traditions and a home full of guests can make even the most seasoned host lose sleep.
But don't let the anticipatory list-making, house-fluffing and food preparing become more tiring than it needs to be. Some expert advice and helpful products can make Thanksgiving entertaining more stylish, fun and fret-free.
Kevin Sharkey, executive creative director at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, begins with a why-didn't-I-think-of-that idea:
"If you have performance anxiety about the day, what if you (threw the party) the night before or after? Sometimes I think the only reason to have Thanksgiving is to have sandwiches the next day. So have a great lunch or cocktail party instead," he suggests.
Guests are just looking for a convivial atmosphere, so don't bother with fancy appetizers. As Sharkey points out, guests won't remember the homemade potato chips you slaved over; they'll remember the stressed-out you.
Serve simple things on interesting plates or in silver bowls, and it all looks special. For example, West Elm has Shanna Murray's gold-penned bisque stoneware salad plates. (www.westelm.com )
Instead of a complicated bar, come up with one fun drink to serve as a showpiece, then add a few bottles of wine and sparkling water. If you're doing a casual Thanksgiving meal or a lunch, consider setting out an interesting variety of craft beers, as well as vegetable juices and iced tea for the non-drinkers.
Better Homes and Gardens has suggestions for make-ahead nibblers such as mini gruyere puffs that can be made a month ahead and frozen, or mini meatballs in a tangy apricot sauce that can be re-warmed in a slow cooker during cocktail hour. (www.bhg.com )
At Realsimple.com, you'll find lots of make-ahead appetizers, salads, sides, breads and desserts for Thanksgiving.
If you do plan to host on Thanksgiving day, keep the menu simple.
"No one wants 14 different things. And don't be ashamed to get certain things from a store, or to ask people to bring something," Sharkey says.
Oma Ford, executive editor at Better Homes & Gardens magazine, says she's not usually a potluck fan "but it's actually a wonderful way to approach the Thanksgiving feast. We often spend the holiday with friends who usually make the turkey and desserts and then ask all their guests to bring a side dish they couldn't live without ... . The sides are really the fun, interesting part of the meal, and with this approach none of the guests feels like they missed out on a favourite or traditional element of the feast."
Does a friend make awesome mashed potatoes? Is a relative the pie person? Do you have a nearby market that makes yummy stuffing? Ask, order and lessen your workload.
For delectable treats you can pre-order, check out Williams-Sonoma's desserts from various specialists, including Platine Bakery and Taurit Or. (www.williams-sonoma.com )
Serving everything buffet style takes another fussy component off the table, so to speak. Make sure there are comfortable places for everyone to perch with their plates, but put all the food and drinks in central locations.
A multiple-pot slow cooker can hold stews, soups and savory vegetables. Serve-yourself beverage dispensers allow guests to refill at will. (www.kohls.com )
Pier 1 has ceramic, wipe-off-marker menu boards and dish labels that can be used again and again. (www.pier1.com )
Have lots of napkins placed around the party; guests appreciate not having to hunt for one. If you're using candlelight, consider flameless pillars that can be turned on and forgotten without worrying.
Pottery Barn's Rustic Luxe stonewashed linens have a casual yet quality vibe. Faux antler candelabras, wood and stone drink coasters, and limestone, hand-punched gourd luminaries all add tone and texture to décor, without the fussiness. (www.potterybarn.com )
Ford suggests drawing up a game plan for entertaining, and tackling as much as possible ahead of time. "Set the table the day before, or the week before if you don't use your dining room all the time. Collect serving dishes for all the food you're making, and mark each with a slip of paper so you know where to put the green beans without having to think about it."
Pottery Barn's Design Studio blog offers a play-by-play for a successful Thanksgiving dinner; there are menus, décor options and a loose timetable on the website, www.potterybarn.com .