how to host thanksgiving (and not die)

Rockwell Freedom from Want

In just over a week, I will host Thanksgiving for the third time ever.

The first year, we had a couple of friends over who, like us, weren’t able to head home for the holiday.  I made many of the dishes, but our friends generously brought lots of food, as well.  I was a bit intimidated by my inaugural hostess gig, but the evening ended up being fantastic.  It was a team effort all around, and in the end we enjoyed the fruits of our labor paired with warm company and too many bottles of wine.  In fact, by far the most nerve-wracking part of the day was deep-frying a turkey on our tiny front steps.  (I’m happy to report that no human body parts were harmed that day, and that I have never fried a turkey since.)

Last November, we hosted my husband’s immediate family.  We’ll be doing the same this year.  And while I love my friends and want them to love me (and my stuffing) back, I admit the pressure of having my in-laws for Thanksgiving raised the stakes a bit.  However, with a bit of elbow grease, a whole lot of planning, and frequent wine breaks, it went off without a hitch.

Whether you’re cooking for two or for twelve, planning ahead is key.  So without further ado, here’s a planning guide to help you pull off a festive, tasty, fabulous Thanksgiving!

One month out:

Plan your menu. As soon as you know about how many people you’ll be hosting — as well as their delightful dietary restrictions — start to plan out your menu.  For a first-time host, I suggest sticking to simple recipes of the Thanksgiving classics.  (Now is perhaps not the time to make your first soufflé, even if it is pumpkin flavored.)  Ask your guests if they have any particular favorites so you know where to focus your efforts.  And if it’s appropriate, don’t hesitate to ask them to help you out by bringing a side or dessert.

This year, I plan to make a cranberry walnut salad, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing, sweet potatoes, and my mother’s famous apple pie.  I’ll also serve cranberry sauce out of the can — I mix cans of jellied and whole cranberry Ocean Spray sauces for a more balanced sauce — and a small ham from the Honeybaked Ham store.  (Don’t judge me.  And don’t ask me how to make ham.)

Gather the essentials.  Take inventory of your cabinets and make sure you have enough flatware, water glasses, wine glasses, silverware, and napkins for the number of people you’ll be hosting.  Remember to take every course into account; you won’t want to spend the time between dinner and dessert washing plates or forks because you’ve run out.  (Like me. Have I mentioned we have a tiny apartment?)

table setting

And now that you’ve planned your menu, you can determine exactly what cooking essentials you’ll need.  Make sure you have pots, pie dishes, and baking pans to cook and serve all your dishes.  We love our turkey roaster, but anything sturdy, preferably nonstick, and big enough for your bird will do.  And don’t forget the accessories, like a meat thermometer, baster, measuring cups, serving spoons, etc.  Think through the steps of every single dish, write down what tools you’ll need, and stock up on whatever you’re missing.

Order your turkey.  Rather than dealing with thawing out 20 lbs of frozen bird, I much prefer pre-ordering a fresh turkey to be picked up a day or two before Thanksgiving.  We’ve used Whole Foods kosher or pre-brined turkeys for three years running, and they are consistently delicious.  We just schedule a pick-up so we can get it on our way home from work on Tuesday.  Easy as pumpkin pie.

You’ll want to buy around 1.5 lbs worth of turkey per person, if you want some leftovers.  I always round up to about 2 lbs each, because there is literally nothing better than leftover cranberry turkey sandwiches.  (OK, now I’m excited for Thanksgiving.)

p.s. — Butterball has some great calculators for turkey buying, thawing, and cooking!

One-two weeks out:

Make a game plan.  Confession: I have multiple Excel spreadsheets dedicated to this dang holiday.  One includes a list of all the foods I plan to serve, and all the ingredients that go into those foods.  That gets turned into a master shopping list.  I also make a calendar of the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and write out what activities I’ll accomplish on each day (which is pretty much the list you’re reading now).  You definitely cannot cook Thanksgiving in one day, so mapping it all out will help you from pulling out all your pretty hair.

Go shopping.  I start to stock up on non-perishables, like canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, flour, sugar, oil, wine, etc. in the couple of weeks leading up to the big day, just to save myself from having to do one enormous trip at the end.  I’ll usually do my last big shop, including all perishables, the Monday before Thanksgiving.  Grocery stores are still fully stocked, and there won’t be as big of a rush on Monday as there will on Sunday or Wednesday.  (And don’t forget to pick up your turkey!)

Thanksgiving Sunday

Deep clean your house.  Pick up your dang Honeybaked Ham.

Thanksgiving Monday

Go on your last big grocery trip.

Thanksgiving Tuesday

Pick up your fresh turkey, and some fresh flowers while you’re at it.  Make your pie dough and refrigerate overnight.  If you’re making cornbread stuffing, bake your cornbread, cut it into 1 inch cubes, and let them sit on your counter overnight underneath a dry dish towel.apple pie

Thanksgiving Wednesday

Bake your pies — they will stay perfectly fresh in your fridge overnight, and you will be so glad you made them in advance.  Make your gravy base, if you’re doing gravy from scratch.  Feel free to prepare anything else that will keep overnight, like your cranberry sauce or stuffing.  Clean any last small items, like dusty wine glasses or candle sticks, and set your Thanksgiving table.

Thanksgiving Day

Today’s the big day!  Basically, wake up early and never stop cooking until your guests arrive (and even then, probably keep cooking for a while). Don’t forget to take regular breaks to stretch, breathe deeply, and gulp wine.  At some point, also shower.  You’ve got this!!

Thanksgiving Turkey
hair clip optional, but encouraged.

Do you have any Thanksgiving must-do’s I’m forgetting?  Let me know in the comments below!  Wishing you and yours a beautiful Turkey Day full of gratitude, joy, and love.  (And wine.  So much wine.)

Happy Thanksgiving!

diy: fuzzy baby burp cloths

baby burp cloths

My cousin is having a baby and I couldn’t be more excited!  Especially because it gives me an excuse to raid the craft store for cute and cuddly baby fabrics.  (Which I’d do anyway, let’s be honest.)

I found this super easy DIY for baby burp cloths on Pinterest and decided they’d be the perfect, made-with-love shower gift.  I had so much fun making these and can’t wait to make more again soon.  (Hint, hint, friends and family!)

burp cloths link

I made twice as many cloths as Chelsea from Life with My Littles, so I have slightly different measurements.  Here’s what you do:

  • Go to your favorite fabric store, and beeline to the baby aisle.  Stop yourself from buying everything.  (After about an hour, I finally decided on two gender-neutral fabrics. Animals are always safe!):
    fabric storeHere’s what you’ll need to make 8 cloths:

    • 1/2 yd printed fabric (I bought 1/4 yd each of two different flannel prints. Soft, plain cotton would also work great.)
    • 1/2 yd fuzzy fabric (JoAnn Fabrics calls this “Soft N Comfy“)
    • Thread to match
  • Pre-wash and iron your fabrics.  The washing might result in some fraying but you’ll still have plenty of fabric to work with.
  • Cut fabric into 10″x18″ rectangles.  (You will likely have fuzzy fabric left over, because it comes in a larger bolt size.)
    burp cloth fabric
  • Take one patterned piece and one fuzzy piece and sew right sides together with a 1/2″ seam, leaving 2″ or so open on one of the sides so you can turn it right side out. (See here for more detailed photos, which I always forget to take.)
  • Turn right side out and iron seams flat.  Topstitch all along the outside edge, including your opening, with a  1/4″ seam.
    burp cloths
  • That’s it.  Seriously!  These little blankies are done.

baby burp clothsI can’t wait to give these cute and cozy burp cloths to my cousin…and can’t wait to hold that burpy little baby!

Happy sewing!

st. patrick’s day treats: green jello shots and guinness brownies

clovers

We went over to our friends’ house last night to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, so I decided to get the party going with a couple of lazy, boozy treats: lime green jello shots and semi-homemade Guinness brownies.

Want to make your own?  Here’s how.

 

Lime Green Jello Shots

Yields 24 small jello shots.

jello shots

Ingredients:

  • 2 boxes Lime Jell-O (with sugar)
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 2/3 cups citrus vodka (I used Smirnoff Citron)

Tools:

  • Pot for boiling water
  • Pitcher
  • Dixie cups

Directions:

  1. Bring the water to a full boil.
    • While the water is heating up, set out 24 Dixie cups.
  2. Take boiling water off the heat, and immediately pour in the jello packets.  Stir until the jello has completely dissolved.
  3. Add citrus vodka to the pot, and stir.
  4. Transfer jello mixture to a pitcher, and pour into Dixie cups.  You should have enough liquid to fill 24 cups about 3/4 inch.
  5. Refrigerate at least four hours, or overnight.

 

If you want to make more boxes, or different flavors, jello shots have a magic ratio that you really can’t mess up:

  • Take the number of boxes you’re using (say, 3 boxes)
  • Boil a bit more than that many cups of water (about 3 1/3 cups)
  • And measure out a bit less than that many cups of vodka or rum (about 2 1/2 cups)

 

Semi-Homemade Guinness Brownies

I normally make baked goods from scratch, but after a full day of work, a happy hour, and trips to the mall and the grocery store, I needed some help from the boxed dessert gods.  So I adapted this excellent Guinness Brownies recipe from Lessie at Modern Christian Homemaker.  Hey, if she can feel okay about making boozy brownies from a box, then surely so can I.

Guinness brownies

These were a huge hit.  You can’t really taste the Guinness, but it does lend the brownies an extra warm, earthy flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box Ghirardelli Chocolate Supreme brownie mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/3 cup Guinness Draft beer

guinness brownies ingredients

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a bowl or mixer, mix the egg and oil.
  3. Stir in the Guinness.
  4. Add the brownie mix and chocolate syrup pouch. Mix well.
  5. Grease and flour an 8×8″ baking pan.
  6. Pour and spread the batter in the pan.
  7. Sprinkle the top with semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  8. Bake 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Do not overcook; underdone is better than overdone.
  9. Allow to cool, cut into squares, and enjoy!

Wishing you a very happy and slightly boozy St. Patrick’s Day!

Dublin rainbow
rainbow over Dublin, Ireland

Sláinte!

paprika chicken in white wine butter thyme sauce

Is there anything better than the smell of white wine, butter, and garlic in a hot pan?

Nah.

butter thyme chicken

Last night we cooked up some delicious Paprika Chicken & Spinach with White Wine Butter Thyme Sauce, created by Mary over at The Kitchen Paper.

Here’s how we did it:

PREP TIME: 5 mins
COOK TIME: 30 mins
TOTAL TIME: 35 mins
INGREDIENTS
  • 2 large chicken breasts (we used 3 breasts for leftovers)
  • 1 tsp paprika (I’m sure we used more — just shake liberally)
  • salt & pepper
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup fresh thyme leaves (we used a more, since we used more chicken)
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced (we used five small cloves)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 handfuls spinach (we used more, and cheated using frozen spinach!)
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Season the chicken breasts with the paprika, rubbing it evenly over both sides. Also season with salt and pepper — about ¼ tsp each.
  2. Melt 1 Tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the chicken breasts. Cook on the first side for three minutes (or until crisping and golden), flip, and turn the heat down to medium, or slightly less. Let cook for another three minutes before adding the remaining butter, thyme and garlic.
  3. Cook, stirring the thyme and garlic around, for about 2 minutes before adding the wine.
  4. Bring the wine to a gentle simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. It will reduce, so add more if necessary.
  5. Add the spinach, and let wilt fully. Season with salt and pepper, make sure the chicken is done, and serve with a grain of your choice.  (We served over rice, which soaked up the sauce really nicely.)

This dish reminded us of our time living in France: the flavors were subtle — you may want to add more salt and pepper in the end — but so delicious.  How can you go wrong with that much wine, butter, and garlic?  (Answer: You can’t.)

Bon appétit!

7 tips for a better résumé

Writing a resume can be a scary thing.  I’ve written (and rewritten) a fair few myself, more than once under the anxious weight of of unemployment.

But in this competitive, transient job market — where we don’t expect to hold a job for more than a couple years, let alone stick around long enough to earn that gold watch — we young folks are going to have to write (and rewrite) resumes an awful lot.

To make it all a bit less scary, here are some tips to help you started.  With just a little blood, sweat, and a thesaurus, that resume may just land you your next great job.

  1. write real good
    (Har har.)
    You already know your resume should be free of grammatical or spelling errors.  That stuff just looks sloppy, and is a  legitimate reason for an employer to immediately dismiss your entire application.
  2. keep it clean
    Don’t go over one page unless you have been published multiple times or working for 25 years — and do not use size 5 font to squeeze it all in.  Don’t use a hard-to-read font just to be different.  And definitely don’t use one of those tired, overwrought “objective statements.”  Hiring managers have to look at thousands of these things, so be clean and concise.
  3. be consistent
    Keep verbs in the same tense: I like to use past tense for past jobs, and present tense for my current role.  Use periods at the end of bullet points, or don’t — just keep it the same throughout.  Make sure every section is formatted the same way.  Inconsistencies, like grammatical errors, will stick out like a sore thumb.
  4. use active verbs
    When you describe what you did in a certain role, begin every sentence with an active verb.  Think strong buzzwords like “launched,” “managed,” or “transformed.”  These words will help frame you in a more dynamic light.
  5. demonstrate impact
    Hiring managers want to know how you made a positive impact in your past roles.  Instead of just regurgitating your duties, use “impact statements” to illustrate what you did in that role, how you did it, and the positive end result.
  6. play to your audience
    Where are you applying?  Is it a creative job?  Perhaps you can use a more modern, sans serif font or a slightly different format to set yourself apart.  A government or corporate job?  Stick to Times New Roman or similar, and keep it extra clean.  Craft the resume your hiring manager wants to see.
  7. don’t recycle
    The same resume will not work for every job.  Just like a cover letter, you should tweak your resume (save multiple versions!) to best suit the description of the job you are going for.  If I am applying to a communications job, I will highlight all of my comms experience.  For a policy job, I’ll leave out most of the comms stuff and play up my policy experience and fancy education.  One size does not fit all.

When you’ve finished your first draft, check out these “completely insane” resumes for a little laugh.

You got this.  Write on!