The 1 thing you must do if you're cooking Thanksgiving dinner
There's no need to be a Thanksgiving Day hero — or martyr.
There are people who live for Thanksgiving. They are deeply invested in finding an ever more cutting-edge turkey recipe or discovering new ways to make cranberry sauce nearly palatable. Step into one of these people's kitchens on Thanksgiving, and you will likely be banished forever. This is their holiday.
Then there's the rest of us. Any self-respecting individual out there will just opt to not torture themselves with hours of cooking and cleaning for the sake of a 30-minute meal, but on occasion you might find yourself burdened with the responsibility for creating a turkey feast for a crowd.
Here's how to take the edge off.
1. Make a task jar for the kids
Yes. Be that person: the one with a jar of slips of paper in it or a wall full of stickies. You may have decided to cook, but that doesn't make you an automatic multi-handed kitchen automaton. Make a list of kid-appropriate helper tasks, like making a salad or shelling walnuts, and then put your children to work. That's why you had them, so start capitalizing on that. When the little ones are done with your side work, make them pick something else.
Make your partner help too, but they shouldn't need a task jar. A list will do for adults. Consider making the first and only item on that list "Make a task jar for the kids."
2. Deem someone "the organizer"
Chances are you have a cousin or an in-law or a perfect older sister who can't get enough of telling people what to do. It's their superpower, and you should harness it. Ask them if they'll be your "Thanksgiving coordinator" or "tablescape facilitator" or whatever you think would make it sound the most official, and then get them a clipboard, and act really grateful.
3. Hire a busser with bribes
It doesn't matter who, since clearing dishes, wiping counters and the concept of "clean as you go" are neither terribly difficult to grasp nor to execute. Similarly, no one is immune to bribes. You can promise your cranky uncle an ice-cold beer for each load of dishes washed and dried, or bogart the remote control and give your lazy family 15 minutes of TV time for every trash bag removed.
4. Let your mom just do the turkey, then
She's going to find fault with what you're doing. You'll be basting along, and then suddenly you'll hear the unmistakable hiss of a passive-aggressive sigh. Promise yourself that the first time she tries to wrestle the meat thermometer out of your hands "just to show you something" that you won't accept it back.
5. Make your partner bartend
Thanksgiving without booze is a sucker's holiday. Instead of letting a steady stream of people into your kitchen every half-hour for more beer or to top up spiked cider, have your spouse handle the entire thing. He probably fancies himself an expert bartender anyway, so let him have his day.
6. Get the sullen adolescents in on the cleanup
Kitchen cleanup is best accomplished with blood sport. The kids these days love a good dystopia setup anyway, so stage a Hunger Games version of tidying the mess. Pit tween against teen or boys against girls, and promise the winning team first dibs on dessert.