Monday, November 23, 2009


(Image courtesy of

Well, we had our Thanksgiving dinner.....early. It was this past Sunday. We had family in town for a major family event, and decided to celebrate the holiday at the same time. Because I live locally, my sister asked if I would host Thanksgiving dinner at my home. I said I didn't mind.

Initially, I was thinking maybe 20 people or so....nothing I hadn't done before. But by the time it was all said and done, there were 40 people here....and we needed to seat everyone. Here are some things I learned and other suggestions that may help your big holiday gathering go much better.

1. Cook Early! Cook your Turkey early, and debone it. This was done on Friday and Saturday. The gravy was also prepared on those days as well, and then put into a Crockpot in the morning to warm. During Church on Sunday, the Turkey was warming in my oven. Also, consider making your stuffing in the crockpot about 2-3 hours ahead of time. I even used the national brand of Cornbread stuffing (I had several Southerner's coming) and added my vegetables and sausage to it. I had previously made homemade Cranberry sauce (so easy and so good!) and cut up the fruits and vegetables ahead of time as well.

2. Delegate! If you have so many people coming, assign things for them to bring or things that need to be done. I don't bake well, so I assigned rolls, pies, and cakes. My sisters and my mother can put Betty Crocker to shame! They all did a great job and it was one less thing for me to worry about. Assign individuals to bring chairs, to help clean up, to keep little ones entertained. Let everyone contribute in some way.

3. Organize! I planned out a preliminary menu about 10 days ago and emailed it to everyone. They made suggestions and corrections. In less than 48 hours, we all knew what we were going to be doing. I also planned out the table linens, dishware/silverware, and the serving dishes. See the photos below to see how a lot of this was accomplished. (All the set-up was done the afternoon/evening before the meal)

I decided to use my Dining room as the Serving area. This is the Dining room table turned and placed up against a wall. All the serving dishes are arranged with hot dishes on the left and the cold dishes on the right. Remember that list I emailed? I cut up the printed list that indicated the dish and who was bringing it, and placed the piece of paper either in or on the dish so that I knew exactly where everything was going and made sure we had enough room.

Also, it may be difficult to see, but I am using levels so that the foods in the back are up higher and are easier to reach. This adds visual variety as well. I borrowed my sister's Cake plates which are on pedestals. I then placed the dish or the slip of paper on each so that we all knew where everything would be going.

Opposite the Dining room table is my Buffet. Again, I set out dishes and serving "stuff" to make sure I had a place for Desserts. You can see that I placed a few strands of Autumn leaves to make it festive. Notice that I again used the Cake Plates to elevate some foods for interest and ease in serving. I also used a 3-tier piece to serve the pies. They conveniently fit on each level.

In my Entry hall, I placed the drink dispensers. Look near the bottom of the tablecloth. The black "trays" that you see are Boot trays, which traditionally are used to put wet boots on when you come into the house. The purpose of Boot Trays are to protect your floors. Here they are doing the same thing, but catching liquid that may fall from the Dispensers....even though I have a rock floor in the Entry Hall. Believe it or not, we emptied them at least once!

Finally, decide how you are going to set the table. Here is what we chose to do:

We took all the furniture out of the living room and set up the tables. We also had a table in the Kitchen as well. I coordinated the linens (can you see how type A I really am) and each table had seasonal decorations and candles. Everything was set, except the silverware when I took these photos. The utensils were added later. I took butter out of the freezer and put the cubes on the serving dishes ahead of time so that they would be soft for dinner. Just before the meal, I placed small dishes of jam and jelly on each table as well as Salt and Pepper shakers.

Set up your chairs, and organize your Kitchen. When everyone comes, knowing where to put your food and where to sit made it very easy to get the crowd organized. Also, suggest a "traffic route" so that all are going through the line in the same direction. Have instrumental music playing in the background to set the mood.

Lesson's learned:

1. Be just as organized about clean-up as you are with the planning. I had so many people that wanted to help that clean and dirty got mixed up more than once. I should have had tubs for the silverware. I did have the dishwasher ready to go for the bigger dishware, but most got washed by hand by loving family members.

2. Have plenty of wash clothes and hand towels available.

3. Have Plastic wrap, bags, etc ready to take care of the left-overs. I sent a lot home with the college students in disposable containers that I didn't care about. Also, I used my Food Saver to package up Turkey in 1-2 Cup amounts to use with meals later on.

4. Laugh! No matter what, enjoy and laugh at the unexpected. We found out that the hand-sprayer on my kitchen sink decided to go leak right after dinner, so we had to pull everything out from under the sink and place a fan under there to dry it out after my wonderful husband repaired everything.

Everyone seemed to have a grand time and didn't mind being in close quarters. I hope your meal goes well and would love to hear what lessons and suggestions you have to share with everyone else!

So, you may be wondering what we are actually going to be doing on Thanksgiving day......well, I have already ordered Chinese go ! I'm sleeping in!


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