Last year the turkey for 20 was still frozen when the guests arrived, your mother-in-law checked into Baylor University Medical Center for food poisoning and you and your spouse shared and Excedrin headache. Not to worry this year. With a little planning and delegation, the upcoming Thanksgiving feast can be the best meal of the year, without being the most stressful. Consider these tips for a good Thanksgiving day celebration.

1. Set your table the day before Thanksgiving. You’ll avoid the last minute scramble for wrinkled linens and dusty China. It will also give you the time to prepare a table as fine as the meal you’ll serve on it.
2. Involve your children in decorating for the holiday. Go to the Farmers’ Market and let the kids select gourds and pumpkins or other vegetables to create a centerpiece. Hollow out a large pumpkin and have the kids plant a flowering kale and a ring of pansies inside it (transplant them outdoors after Thanksgiving). Hollow out tiny pumpkins to serve as containers for flavored butters which the kids can prepare. (Just bring the butter to room temperature and stir in a dollop of preserves, honey with grated orange zest, or minced herbs).
3. Begin thawing your turkey in the refrigerator several days in advance (count on one day for every 5 pounds of bird). If you want to talk turkey with an expert, call Butterball’s Turkey hotline at 1 (800) 323-4848, or the USDA meat and poultry hotline at 1 (800) 535-4555. Representatives are on call to field questions about turkey preparation and storage.
4. Clean out your refrigerator a day or two before the feast. This saves you the embarrassment of emptying your refrigerator’s molding contents in front of your guests as you make room to store leftovers. To avoid food poisoning, refrigerate the turkey immediately after the meal. No food should sit out on the table for more than two hours.
5. Ease your cooking burden by asking guests to bring their favorite side dish or dessert. There’s no shame in enlisting help; after all, the first Thanksgiving was a pot-luck meal. If you are the lone cook, prepare side dishes one day in advance. Most November cooking magazines feature do-ahead Thanksgiving recipes. More than likely, your family favorites can also be reheated after overnight refrigeration without sacrificing icing flavor or texture.
6. Assemble a self-serve beverage bar and ask guests to fix their own drinks before seating themselves at the table. This keeps you from playing bartender when you should be enjoying yourself. If your guest list is long, consider buffet service for your feast. That way, storytelling and conversation won’t be interrupted repeatedly with requests to “pass the potatoes, please.” A buffet also clears the way for a centerpiece that doesn’t hide in the shadows of a half-eaten turkey.
7. If your meal begins with the ceremonial carving of the turkey at table, determine who will have the honors before the holiday. If your nominee has never performed this duty, or never succeeded at it, assign them some instructional reading so he/she can carve with competence, or at the very least, confidence. Many basic cookbooks, such as The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook, offer carving instructions.
8. Move a T.V. Into the kitchen and tell the football fans they have clean-up duty.
9. Invite guests to play touch football in the yard, or go for a walk. After hours of feasting and watching TV, the fresh air and exercise should perk up everyone.
10. Have lots of sandwich bread on hand so that the die-hard guests can make evening sandwiches.


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