A Thanksgiving get-together for girlfriends

Nov 19, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. ET

As much as you'd like to travel across country to be with your family for Thanksgiving, you and some of your friends must stay put due to work schedules or budget constraints. That doesn't mean you have to go turkey-less on the deliciously celebrated holiday.

Host a friendsgiving
Girlfriends cooking dinner

If you're stuck at home for the holidays, let it be a fun and tasty opportunity to host a gracious gathering with your girlfriends as a way to celebrate friendship and give thanks for the love and support these women bring to your life. Karen Bussen, one of America's most exciting entertaining experts and the author of the wildly successful Simple Stunning series of entertaining books, shares her tasty tips — and two terrific recipes — for a girls-only Thanksgiving get-together.

Gather your friends and give thanks

Simple Stunning Parties at Home book by Karen Bussen

Regardless of the holiday, being alone when your family is making merry without you can leave you feeling blue. Bussen, whose goal is to help everyone celebrate more often without sacrifice, encourages a girls-only gathering if you can't make it home for Thanksgiving.

"Sharing a meal with girlfriends on Thanksgiving is a great way to celebrate your friendship," the entertaining expert explains. "If your work schedule doesn't permit a trip home to the family, or if you just want to stick closer to home, a girls-only gathering is a wonderful opportunity to bond, exchange recipes and focus on gratitude."

Plan ahead and plan accordingly

You may not have much success in throwing a friendsgiving party together at the last minute; your friends may make other plans. Rally your girlfriends as soon as you know you won't be traveling for the holiday and get them involved to make the event a team effort. Bussen suggests, "Choose a theme for the meal. Will you want a traditional Thanksgiving dinner? If so, as the host, you can prepare the turkey and stuffing (or better yet, make my maple-glazed Cornish hens — recipe follows — so everyone gets two drumsticks!) and let your guests bring the sides, desserts and wines for dinner."

Opt for an alternative theme

A girls-only Thanksgiving also gives you the opportunity to do something different. "If you'd like to add a fresh twist, consider weaving in another culinary element, such as an Italian theme," says Bussen. "Think white mushroom lasagna (recipe follows), autumn fruits and cheeses, and crusty garlic bread with sausage. Or add a more global vibe with curries, naan bread and spicy rice dishes."

Keep it casual and relax

One of the advantages to staying close to home for Thanksgiving is avoiding the stress that comes with traveling, dealing with negative family dynamics or bustling in an already crowded kitchen to get the Thanksgiving feast on the table. "Keep the celebration low-key and start the party midafternoon," encourages Bussen. "Have a toast with sparkling wine or cider or offer mulled wine as the ladies arrive. It will not only taste great, but will also perfume your whole home!" Most important, make sure you take the time to sit back, sip and relax alongside your guests.

Warm your home in easy decor

Just because this is a casual holiday affair doesn't mean you can't get in the festive spirit with theme-appropriate decor. However, Bussen suggests that you don't rush out and spend a lot of money on fancy flowers or centerpieces. Keep it simple yet smart.

Try these budget-friendly Thanksgiving tablescape ideas:

  • Buy some white unscented pillar and votive candles at any discount store and nestle them between bowls of green apples, pears and walnuts.
  • Bring the outdoors in — take advantage of the natural elements in the yard and decorate your table with twigs, pinecones and leaves.
  • Look in your refrigerator for fun table accents. For example, turn a mushroom upside down and use it as a placecard holder.
  • Use your best china, but instead of fancy placemats or tablecloths, use colorful striped or patterned dishtowels for a "high-low" chic look.

As you are putting your Thanksgiving decor in place, keep the attitude of gratitude in mind and your appreciation of your guests will stylishly and genuinely show through.

Cook ahead

Bussen is an admitted comfort-food freak, preferring time-saving meals that you make in advance and that actually taste even better the next day. She says, "I like high-quality, seasonal ingredients prepared very simply, with lots of elemental flavor, and dishes that get better when you make them the day before." The entertaining expert suggests serving foods that evoke warm, filling, comfort-pleasing feelings and flavors.

Up next: Two of Bussen's favorite Thanksgiving recipes>>

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