5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving

5 Things You Can Do Now for ThanksgivingI’m a little bit giddy about Thanksgiving this year, but not for reasons you might think. Yes, I’ll get to spend it in the company of friends, of people I love, and yes, there will be delicious things to nibble and drink, games to play, and fun to be had with some of my favorite faces. But this year, Thanksgiving, or Friendsgiving as it really is, is the first time in five years that I’m not responsible for the meal – and I’m pretty thrilled about it!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook for my friends, to feed them delicious treats, to decorate my home and make it super inviting, but it’s a lot of work that starts weeks in advance. This year, I only have to bring two vegetable side dishes, my best beau, some board games…and that’s it! That’s all that is required of me! I’m so excited to spend time enjoying my friends and being very present in the moment, as opposed to running back and forth to the kitchen like I normally do when hosting. I’ll be the girl on the couch with her feet up and a glass of rosé in her manicured hand – and I can’t wait!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
But all of my years of hosting in the past have taught me a lot about how to have a beautiful Thanksgiving and what you can do days, even weeks, ahead in order to make the day itself less busy and more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at the 5 things you can do now for Thanksgiving!

1. Prepare your Lists
I’m no one if not someone who loves a list. And while it can get borderline neurotic any other time, if you’re hosting any big event or holiday gathering, organization is key. So get yourself situated early on by preparing your four main lists: guest list, menu, shopping list, and your day-of agenda.

  • Several weeks in advance, you should have a firm sense of who is attending the fête and what they’re bringing. Lock in folks on one item or another based on their strengths. Once you know that one person is responsible for wine and another for their famous pumpkin cheesecake, you’re well on your way to organizing your menu and filling in the gaps.
  • Having a menu in place early on should give you a sense of calm as the day gets closer because you know what’s ahead of you. Building in old reliables that you’re comfortable with executing and the rare new recipe or technique allows you the ability to foresee how to structure your time before and the day itself. You’ll know where you need to build in extra time for your first-time making a meringue-topped dessert for instance versus the mashed potatoes you whip up once a month, that feel like old hat.
  • Planning your menu in advance also allows you to buy responsibly. Thanksgiving – and all holidays – can be expensive for the person hosting. If you take time ahead of time to plan a potluck or to designate specific items or dishes to others, it can alleviate some of the financial strain. If you’re going it alone and intend on not asking your guests to bring anything, planning your menu in advance also gives you time to take stock of what you have already. You’ll know if you’re down to half a bag of confectioner’s sugar or have four pounds stacked up in the back of the pantry.
  • A little planning prevents overbuying as much as it helps you to not miss any key ingredients as you head to the store. Organize your shopping list based on the layout of the spot where you plan to do your shopping. You’ll move through your list faster this way and will be less likely to forget something integral. I always make sure to mark on my shopping list what I have a coupon for or what the sale/deal is so that I’m also certain I’m buying the specific item (the 10oz box versus the 12oz box) that is actually on sale.
  • A day-of agenda for executing the meal itself is where many folks would draw the line with list-making, but I promise you that it’s worth doing – especially if you’re new to planning or cooking a big meal for a crowd. Doing so will allow you to have a schedule to keep yourself to – one that has already considered that the stuffing can go in the oven at the same temperature as the sweet potatoes, but 20 minutes after. A day-of agenda also comes in handy once you’re ready to put all the food out to confirm you haven’t forgotten to warm something or put out the dinner rolls. Consider it a little blueprint to get you through the day.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
2. Ready your serveware, your place settings, and your tools
A week or two before the event is the time to make sure you have everything you need in terms of your tools prior to the event. Take down your platters from the tops of your cupboards, pull out your box of extra wine glasses, dig through your utensil drawer and find the baster and meat thermometer, sharpen your knives. The worst thing is a stressful day before the holiday when you’re scrambling around trying to finish cooking and prepping and you still have to gather together all of the serving pieces you’re going to need the next day. Be good to yourself and take the time to plan so that on the night before, you can order a pizza, maybe trim some veggies, and take it easy. I like to gather all of my plates together, wash anything that got a little dusty during the year in the back of the closet, and then wrap everything in a clean, spare table cloth and keep them on an empty closet shelf.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
3. Wash and press your linens
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a thing for cloth napkins. Do Bear and I use them every day? No, of course not. Laundry isn’t free, nor is it in our apartment, and we’re not jerks. That said, though, I love a cloth napkin when I’m entertaining people, so the week before, I figure out what my table is going to look like and what table cloth and napkins I’m going to use. You know what you don’t want to be doing the night before Thanksgiving? Laundry. Two hours of work weeks ahead of time will save you last-minute annoyance and anguish closer to the holiday. Of course, if you’re thinking of using paper napkins for your event, I say there’s no shame in that. Easy clean-up where you can get it is totally respectable in the face of cooking a huge meal. If linens aren’t where you think your precious time needs to be spent, I get it! No shame!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
4. Plan your table decoration and layout
A beautiful table doesn’t have to be difficult, elaborate, or expensive. A simple bouquet of flowers separated into smaller, shorter bouquets with a few small tea light candles won’t put you back much and will make you and your guests feel truly special. Pinterest, of course, is a great source of inspiration, so I recommend browsing around in your very early planning stages and getting some ideas. Two things I like to keep in mind as I plan what I’ll have on my table: 1) It’s important for your guests to be able to see each other, so I tend to put together items that aren’t very tall. For Thanksgiving, think pumpkins, gourds, candles shaped like maple leaves, pine cones, etc. An arrangement that includes lower-profile items will be beautiful and won’t risk interfering with conversation. 2) Remember that you’re going to have other things on your table aside from your centerpiece. Be sure you allow room for everyone’s place setting, rogue drinks that make it to the table, extra serving dishes of sides if you’re not buffeting your meal, and elbows! Don’t sacrifice you or your guests’ comfort and ability to stretch out a bit for a really elaborate table design. The whole point of getting together is to enjoy your time together and that’s not possible if you’re getting pushed out by too many wicker turkeys.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
5. Look to make-ahead dishes
After my first two years of cooking Thanksgiving, it took me about two to three days to fully recover from the amount of work and stress it was – and I was still in my 20s then! But all of that changed as I started to plan better and learned from experience that there were several key parts of the meal I could prepare ahead of time to save me such valuable time. The first? The gravy! Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had includes this incredible gravy from the one and only Ina Garten. For me, there’s no turkey without this gravy. But you know what? Making gravy in the final moments before your meal goes to the table is hella stressful. It is the worst! So what do I do? I make my gravy two weeks ahead of time and keep it in my freezer. On the morning of Thanksgiving, I thaw it and warm it on the stove (or gasp! In the microwave!) right before we dig in. Sometimes it needs a little whisk or a quick buzz with the immersion blender to bring it fully together, but that’s nothing. Making the gravy in advance is such a time-saver and the result is piping hot, which is never the case when you’re whisking gravy together at the last minute. I make the gravy with drippings from a chicken I roast for dinner a few weeks prior and you’d never know that it didn’t start with a turkey. Take this tip and run with it, seriously!
Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
I also make my cranberry and clementine conserve weeks ahead of time and freeze it as well. For Thanksgiving prep, these containers are your best friends, allowing you to make several different pieces of your meal in advance, and strong enough to withstand the chill of your freezer for a few weeks. Last year, I even made my mashed potatoes a day or two prior (don’t freeze these – the texture will never be the same), smoothed them into a 9×13 pan, covered it tightly with foil, and about 40 minutes out from the meal, I put them oven covered and let them get nice and hot. They fluffed up beautifully as I added them to the serving bowl and there was no last minute mashing and whipping of potatoes either. If you plan a menu in advance, with the possibility of doing some of it ahead of time, you can really take a lot off your plate for the day-of, allowing you to do what you’re meant to: enjoy your friends and family and reflect on how to improve, or contribute more to, our various communities.

Whether you’re hosting your first big meal, bringing a pie, or staying home with take-out and Netflix, I wish you a wonderful, stress-free day of entertainment and one hell of a big piece of pumpkin pie. Enjoy, everyone!

Thrift Like a Boss

Thrifting Guide
Hooray! The weekend is upon us – as well as spring! – making this the official start (by my calculations) of thrifting season. As I type this, picnic tables are being set up and dusted off for displaying treasures of all varieties, while signs of neon pink and orange are being pinned to telephone poles and hammered into thawing front lawns, respectively. The time has arrived, my friends!

What better way to get started this season than on the right foot? I’ve been combing garage sales, attending estate auctions, and antiquing for years and have picked up so many wonderful tips on the way that I thought I’d share them here so that you, too, can thrift like a boss. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned vet like myself, the above tips offer a fool-proof formula for having a successful thrift, or at least a really fun, well-planned day. In order to make a thrift worthwhile and finding the diamonds in the rough – and oh, can the roughs be rough! – follow along with the tips that best apply to you, what you’re looking for, and where you’re headed. You can even print the guide by clicking here for easy access.

Before we begin, I’ll clarify for the specific among us (forgive me, as I’m technically an academic and we love a disclaimer or elucidation of terms), that for the sake of this post and infographic, I’m going to use “thrifting” as a catch-all for picking of any variety, including yard & garage sales, flea markets, thrift stores, estate sales, and the occasional stockpile uncovered in the homes of old relatives. Sound good? Great. Let’s get started!

1. Pick the right day: There’s no harm in calling ahead to thrift stores to find out when they put out their new merchandise each week and planning to visit on those days. Also, consider keeping an eye on their calendar for sales around holidays, which frequently offer upwards of 50% off specific categories. On the yard sale circuit, consider how the first day of the sale will make you privy to first dibs, but the last day means it’s far more likely sellers will be eager to negotiate and get stuff out the door. For estate sales, be sure to arrive early. Often, numbers are given out in order of those arriving a half hour prior to the start of the sale. When go-time comes, managers of the sale will often only let in a certain number of folks at a time. The closer you are to the front of the line, the more likely it is you’ll spot gold first!

2. Make a plan: If you’re trying to hit multiple sales in one day, plan accordingly. Whose sale has the most potential or has a photo online of an item you just have to have? Where do you want to go toward the end of the day when you can haggle with more ease? Where will you have lunch (clearly, the most important question)? Map your route, or have the addresses ready for you GPS, so that you’re not scrambling for information as you go from one place to the next.

3. Keep a list: I keep a tiny notebook in my purse at all times where I make notes to myself about things I need to remember or have to attend to, but I also have a few pages designated to key items I’m always on the look out for when thrifting. A vintage cart, for example, that I can turn into a small living room bar; a make-up vanity; additions for my growing teapot collection, etc. It serves as a refresher for triggering my memory if I glance at it quickly before heading off for a thrift and also acts as a journal of what I’ve actually managed to find, i.e. I keep a running tally of teapots I’ve scored so that I know where the line is between collector and hoarder. Pro-tips!

4. Dress for the pick: This might sound silly, but I was a Girl Scout for more years than I’d like to admit, so I’m big on always being prepared. There’s a disappointment in planning for a day of thrifting only to get overheated by a boiling, packed estate sale in summer or frozen out in a cold barn or basement when looking for finds in winter. It can disrupt the whole day or at least make you crabby, wanting to abandon shopping and head to lunch early. Dressing in layers helps solve this problem and also aids those in search for clothing items to strip down to an undershirt and try something on, as opposed to standing in long lines at the dressing rooms.

5. Consider supplies: Having the tools you might need on hand makes all the difference between guessing or passing something up because you’re unsure. Being able to measure a piece of furniture, or weighing your bedroom wall color against an antique quilt are invaluable pieces of information in helping you make smart decisions about what to buy and what to avoid. Part of thrifting like a boss is not wasting time and money on items that aren’t quite right or that won’t fit – either your body or your living situation! – so bring along some help in the way of measuring tapes, paint swatches, or even just dimensions, scribbled on a piece of paper.

6. Cover your ba$e$: Oy! To finally get to the front of the line with the treasure that ends all treasures, only to find out you don’t have the right kind of payment on you to seal the deal. Crushing! Having to drive all over town in a panicked search for an ATM is hardly anyone’s idea of a fun, thrifting day. Hit the bank or the ATM beforehand, and bring your checks and/or cards for good measure.

7. Bring good company: Unless you prefer to fly solo, of which there’s absolutely no shame, thrift with a pal. Bringing a beloved companion will help spot things you may have missed, encourage you to be confident in asking for a lower price, and will throw elbows if necessary.

8. Case the joint: This is true especially of thrift stores where there isn’t as much immediate competition. Taking a quick survey of what’s available in your desired departments allows you to know what’s up for grabs and ensures that you won’t miss that amazing pair of vintage shoes while you’re ushering in the hour mark hunting for pyrex in the home goods aisles.

9. Grab & go: As you make your way through a sale, pick up whatever appeals to you. You can make final decisions when you’re ready to tally up and head out, but you can’t always get back what you put down. If your hands get full, ask a clerk or the seller if you can stash unwieldy or delicate items up by them until you’re ready to check out. No one will ever say “no.”

10. Use your hands: Touch is such an underrated sense and one to really utilize to your advantage when picking. Especially when it comes to fabric, touch all the things! You never know what will feel really dreamy or inspire a piece of clothing’s use for another purpose, for example, just based on its feel. Also, be sure to move things around, dig through boxes. Get dirty and get up in there! I can’t tell you how many awesome things – linens, especially – I have found in boxes under tables, or an adorable plate stuck in a stack of horror shows. Plus, the hunt is half the fun! …And you can always pack anti-bacterial gel and wet wipes in your tool kit.

11. Be realistic: One time, I bought a huge box of vintage advertisements and a stockpile of old aprons convinced I was going to make my own side job selling these items on Etsy. It’s a great idea in theory, but I still have 200 immaculate vintage ads in my closet and a box of aprons laden with moth balls up in my mom’s attic. Being realistic about what you can accomplish and have the time and energy for will prevent you from making rookie mistakes like mine that waste your money and take up space for better things. If you’re unsure you have the time to strip and refinish that old coffee table, pass on it. That being said, don’t let basic skills like sanding and painting, stand in the way of purchasing something that needs some TLC. That’s what YouTube is for. Just try to be the best judge of what you’re able to take on and invest in.

12. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: I’m all for haggling, or asking for a lower price on an item, but when doing so, be respectful. I say this after witnessing far too many episodes at estate sales where sellers are moved to tears or anger at someone haggling too hard or suggesting their loved one’s things are, literally, worthless. Administer some caution and care here, especially. There’s never harm in asking if a seller can go lower on a price, so long as it’s within reason. Also, I’ve found being a bit verbose about a particular item – how you’ve been looking for it forever, how it’s the perfect shade of green, how your grandmother had one just like it – does more good than harm. If a buyer feels a connection to you because of your connection to the item, they may just let you have it for that number you suggested! Remember, at the end of the day, at least half of the reason they’re having a sale in the first place is to get rid of stuff, so if your backbone feels a little soft, remember you’re providing them a service as much as they’re providing one for you.

I’m sure there are plenty more fantastic tips out there that I haven’t touched on or even thought of. What are your strategies when you go thrifting? What are your best finds and your biggest flops? Do tell!