Cooking

Party in a Pinch

How to throw a stress-free last-minute Thanksgiving

Maybe it's weather-related. Or your friend's oven just imploded. Or your entire extended family has just announced their plan to go raw vegan, starting now. Whatever the case may be, your holiday plans are in sudden need of a do-over. Repeat after us: Do not panic. It is totally possible to host your own Thanksgiving this Thursday, even if you're starting to plan...today. Here's how to put together a stress-free last-minute celebration.

Turkey Talk: No one is going to want to transport a turkey across town, so consider that part of your hosting duties. Given that the holiday is just two days out and you're short of thawing time, you'll need to buy a fresh bird. It's most likely too late to order a farmers' market heritage variety, but you can still buy hormone-free, free-range turkeys at grocery stores like Whole Foods. To ensure happy guests (and leftovers), aim for a pound per person. Even better, spatchcock the bird so it only needs to cook for 90 minutes

A few other things to keep in mind: If you plan to brine (which you should), you'll need to start that process 12 to 24 hours in advance. And before buying a party-size bird, make sure it fits in your oven!

Potluck It: The first year I hosted Thanksgiving, I made everything: turkey, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, several vegetable sides and a pumpkin pie. That—plus cleaning the house, setting the table and buying the wine—just about killed me. In the years since, I've taken a much more communal approach to Thanksgiving: Everyone brings a bottle of wine and a dish that really represents Thanksgiving to them, and I handle the rest. Guests feel like they've contributed, and I get to actually enjoy hosting.

Prevent Traffic Jams: One kinda crazy thing about hosting a potluck-style Thanksgiving is that a lot of people end up needing to reheat their dish—or plate a salad or appetizer—when they show up at your house. The key to preventing chaos is to plan ahead: Get your own cooking done early, so your oven and countertops are free for reheating and assembly. And if you're really not in a position to accommodate last-minute kitchen fussing, it is by no means impolite to ask your guests to bring their dishes ready to serve.

Appetizers Are Key: This might seem crazy, given that Thanksgiving is such a copious meal, but having a few munchies out when people arrive buys you extra time to handle things like turkey that isn't perfectly burnished or mashed potatoes that keep separating. Tell guests to arrive around two hours before you plan to sit down to dinner, and have some snacks and bubbly ready to serve. I love the fact that Thanksgiving is an all-day affair—there are friends who come early to help cook, and those who stay late to help clean. Nobody's in a rush to go anywhere, and appetizers help set the pace.

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Cornucopias Are So Passé. Keep it pretty, but simple: Think handwritten name cards and unscented votive candles. Tablecloth? That's up to you. Last year, I made an understated white rose arrangement with seasonal green berries, but other beautiful fall-appropriate choices are gold and crimson mums or deep orange dahlias. And set your table the night before or the morning-of.

Take Time to Be Thankful. In the craziness of hosting, it's easy to forget why we're celebrating in the first place. It may sound cheesy, but my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal is going around the table and sharing what we're thankful for. Make time to get a little emotional.

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