Holiday Gatherings: A Time for Friends, Family and a Bit of Planning

by Laura on November 22, 2009

in Thanksgiving, Traditions

This year, we’ve been asked on a Thanksgiving morning hike with friends in the neighborhood. The email invite made me pause for a moment, because I definitely want to go, but typically, Greg and I spend most of the day in the kitchen preparing.

When you get right down to it, you just can’t avoid spending time in the kitchen if your preparing a holiday meal. And honestly, I don’t mind spending the time in the kitchen preparing the feast, but I do think I could use a bit more practice on making it efficient so that I can actually enjoy more time with the family throughout the day.

The four pillars of Family Eats: Planning, Purchasing, Preparing and Consuming, are important to follow on a daily basis, but during holiday time, it is even more important.

Without proper planning, you’ll be running out of patience as you’re racing against the clock to get things prepared.

Without proper purchasing, you may make several short runs to the grocery on the day of because you’ve forgotten items.

Without proper preparation, a recipe may not turn out just right, or the timing of completion may be a bit off.

Finally, consuming. When your harried, stressed and exhausted, how can you truly enjoy the day?

Here are a few thoughts on how to make things go smoothly, successfully, and to enjoy yourself in the process. I can assure you, I’ll be putting these into practice.


Whether you’re planning a meal for your immediate family or for 20 guests, it is essential to be organized. When planning a meal, know what you’re planning for, and gear it towards your style of entertaining – potluck, buffet, or a sit down meal.

To avoid any extra tension in the kitchen, it is a good idea to prepare recipes that you feel comfortable preparing – and those which you have definitely have tried out before. Why worry about a complicated sauce that you’ve never before prepared?

Choose recipes that will give you a good balance between enjoyment in making and enjoyment in eating. And make sure you serve a balanced meal, with all those elements from the Food Pyramid (whichever food pyramid you choose – The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, The Asian Diet Pyramid, The Latin American Diet Pyramid, or The Vegetarian Diet Pyramid)

Holidays are definitely the time to include family favorites, but what I like to do is include a menu that is a blend of old family favorites and new recipes. I’m sure Greg would choose the green bean casserole, with the crunchy things on top. For me, my favorite is potato dumplings. My family pumped out pound after pound of potato dumplings every Thanksgiving, just to ensure we’d have extra for the morning when we would slice them and fry them up for breakfast. Oh, and I can’t forget to make Grandma Gorman’s Mincemeat Pie, (heavy on the rum!).

One other point that I learned in the past few years, is to choose a collection of recipes that my kitchen can handle. In the past I’ve had a home with two ovens, but right now, we’ve only one – and that’s where the turkey will be. If I need another, though, Greg can always light up the grill and roast some vegetables.

Once the menu is decided upon, I gather all recipes together and make photocopies of each. It makes it so much easier in the kitchen when I don’t have cookbooks and magazines strewn all over the place. On each recipe sheet, I highlight the prep time and make notation to myself if it is a dish that can be prepared early. After all recipes are collected, I read them carefully several times so I know what to expect. Then, I plan out the order of events – how I will progress through preparing each item.

Then before I head off to the grocery store, I go through each recipe and write down what I’ll need. I always make sure I check the spice cabinet carefully so that I’m sure I have everything I need once I get down to cooking.

Finally, with all this talk about food, don’t forget to plan what you’ll be serving to drink along with the meal. Whether it is water, milk, juice, wine or beer, factor in your guest list, and plan accordingly!

Remember, the goal of planning is to achieve perfect balance and timing – things may not always turn out that way, but at least you have started on the right foot.


Not much to say here, except that it is essential that you stick to your list – If you’re a coupon saver, or circular fiend, be sure to peruse the newspaper before making a run to the store. I’d advise not to go overboard trying to buy everything at rock bottom prices – if you do, you’ll probably have to visit several stores to complete your purchasing.

If you’ve ordered a turkey, don’t forget to pick it up. If you purchased a frozen turkey, Make sure you’ve enough room in the freezer to keep it frozen until time to defrost. Then, clear the way in the fridge for the defrosting. According to theUSDA, It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator, allow about 1 day for every 5 pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.

If possible, and you’re way ahead of the game in planning, make an early trip to the grocery to gather non-perishable items – such as any canned pumpkin or cranberry you may need. The days before a holiday are always crazy at the stores, so come with a plan and be directed as you move through aisles.


In the days leading up to the event, I create my own Schedule of Events. I look at what can be prepared a few days ahead or the day before. I also take a look at what needs to be prepped. Vegetables need to be chopped, so why not prep them the night before.

In addition to preparing things early when I can, I take a look at the string of events. We want everything to hit the table all at once.

I try to follow a systematic approach to preparing things – knowing my schedule and having the right ingredients and tools on hand.

I find I like order in the kitchen as well, which is why it is a must to start with a clean kitchen. Then, I like to clean up as I go. This is also helpful if I need to use a certain bowl of measuring tool for the next recipe. Washing dishes as you go also helps with the end of the meal onslaught of dishes.

Hopefully, if I’ve prepared my menu correctly, I won’t have an onslaught of foods that require lots of last-minute preparation, and I can make the transition to the table with ease.



By this time, I’ve already been asked numerous times if dinner is ready. The anticipation of the day – coupled with the smells coming from the kitchen can no longer be denied. I just hope that when that pre-selected time for dinner arrives, everything will be ready to be placed on the table.

This is what Thanksgiving is all about. We join hands and are thankful that we have food on the table; thankful for our health; thankful for our wonderful family and friends.

Living in California, we don’t always have our extended family close at hand during the holidays. But, we find this an opportune time to tell stories of Thanksgiving past – and build upon those traditions. One of my most savored is that our Thanksgiving celebration when aunts, uncles and cousins gathered together at my Grandparent’s. My grandfather would mark the beginning of the Christmas season by  plopping in an 8-track tape of Christmas tunes during dinner.

For Greg, it was simply the gathering of extended family at Grandma’s, watching football and stuffing themselves until they couldn’t move. (Now that’s a tradition I think we can all relate to!).

A few years back, we started a Thanksgiving book. Each year we recite what it is we are thankful for – and whoever is with us that day, they contribute as well. I look forward to years down the road when we take a look at the book and remember everything we have been thankful for through the years.

Have a wonderful – and stress free Thanksgiving!


Mincemeat Pie

  • 2 x 9oz boxes Borden’s None Such Classic Original Mincemeat
  • 6 cups of water
  • 3 tbsp of sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp of rum


1.  Prepare a double pie crust.

2.  Empty contents of two boxes of NoneSuch Mincemeat into saucepan, add water and bring to a boil. Although the box does not call for sugar, add 3 tablespoons of sugar to mix to cut the bitterness. Cook and stir for one minute and then let cool.

3.  Pour in the mixture of mincemeat after it has cooled completely. Pour two tablespoons of white rum on top of the mincemeat mixture while it is in the pie pan prior to baking. (Grandma Gorman used 2 tbsp as a starting point!) Do not mix the rum in. The rum cuts some of the sweetness of the mincemeat.

4.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place top of crust over pie pan tear off excess pastry. Use a fork to push down the edges to seal the crust together and makes a nice decorative edge. Make fork punctures all over the top of the crust so the crust does not break while cooking and allows heat to escape.

5.  Bake in the oven approximately 30 minutes or until golden.


Potato Dumplings

  • 3 large potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt
  • Flour (begin with 2 cups)


1.  Grate potatoes.  Place in colander, run under cold water, and drain.  Place in large bowl with remainder of ingredients.  Mix with wooden spoon.

2.  Drop by wooden spoonfuls into large pan of boiling water.  Boil until done—about 20 to 25 minutes.

Source: Grandma Marie

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