Countdown to Thanksgiving

IT'S COMING. And by "it" we mean the biggest food holiday of the year—but also the houseguests, the grocery lists, the baking projects, the stress…But with these tips you'll be all set. Ready?


10 SONGS FOR YOUR DINNER PLAYLIST

Marc Myers, the author of the new book Anatomy of a Song, classes up your background music with this cool jazz mix.

  • Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, "Desafinado"
  • Red Garland, "East of the Sun"
  • Bill Evans, "Elsa"
  • Frank Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim, "Change Partners"
  • Wes Montgomery, "Canadian Sunset"
  • René Thomas, "Meeting"
  • Stanley Turrentine, "She's a Carioca"
  • Sonny Rollins, "On Impulse"
  • Paul Desmond, "When Joanna Loved Me"
  • Oscar Peterson, "Sally's Tomato"

9 CLASSIC REAL SIMPLE TIPS (THAT WE LOVE REPEATING)

CLEAR THE REFRIGERATOR.
Put vinegar, soy sauce, and unopened condiments and jellies in the pantry. (They will be fine.) Apples and potatoes can sit in a cool, dry place, like the basement or the car trunk.
TAPE UP RECIPES.
Stick them at eye level on cabinets. They will be easy to see as you cook, and it keeps counters clear.
USE THE MICROWAVE.
It's like an insulated cooler. Keep dishes warm for up to 30 minutes inside. (Don't turn it on.)
HIRE A TEENAGER.
Don't coerce your nephew to eat at the little kids' table; pay him $20. Everyone is happy.
SIT AT THE HEAD OF THE TABLE.
You can slip away to the kitchen more easily.
BUY EIGHT BOTTLES OF WINE.
For 12 adults, plan on four bottles each of red and white wine.
AND DON'T OPEN ANY YOURSELF.
It's a great task for a guest milling around in the kitchen. Ask her to pour you a glass.
RESIST THE URGE TO CLEAN UP MIDEVENT.
Clearing plates is OK; turning on a faucet is not. When the host walks away from the mess, everyone else relaxes, too.
RELOCATE FOR DESSERT.
Move to the living room! Guests can stretch their legs and switch up conversation partners.

8 ways to prep your house when you have zero time

  • If guests are going to throw their coats on a bed, spread a sheet over it first to protect the duvet.
  • Stash random clutter in a collapsible bin that you can put in a closet. But stick a note on the side with a deadline (Saturday, 11/26!) for when you'll clear it out.
  • Wipe down counters and console tables closest to the door with a natural, all-purpose cleaner so that the smell of clean greets people when they walk in.
  • Replace your sponge. The grayish lump you've been using for a month may gross out potential dish helpers.
  • Hide the mail pile in a covered lacquer box.
  • Clean, empty, or move smelly pet bowls and litter boxes.
  • Turn down the thermostat four to six degrees; ovens and extra bodies heat up a home.
  • Pluck one bloom from the centerpiece and put it in a bud vase in the guest bathroom.

7 WAYS TO CRIMP A PIECRUST

  • SIMPLE FORK CRIMP: Dip the tines of a fork in flour and press into the edge of the dough.
  • ZIGZAG FORK CRIMP: Same as above, but alternate angles.
  • DIMPLES: Dip a ½-teaspoon measuring spoon in flour; press into the edge of the dough.
  • BASIC SCALLOP: Pinch sections of dough with the thumb and index finger of one hand while pushing against it with the index finger of the opposite hand.
  • FORK-CRIMPED SCALLOP: Space scallops farther apart than for the Basic Scallop. Press fork tines between the scallops.
  • CUTOUT CIRCLES: Roll out scraps of dough. Use a straw dipped in flour to cut out tiny circles. Lightly brush one side with water so they stick to the crust.
  • FOR NO. 7: See New Uses for Old Things (page 30 of Real Simple, November 2016).

6 pointers on being a good guest

  • Received a turkey-themed Evite? RSVP ASAP. If you need to mull it over for one or two days (max), set an alert on your phone to remind you.
  • If you bring something, make sure that it's fully cooked, in a presentable dish, with the necessary serving tools.
  • Be a herder. When the host says, "Dinner's ready," and no one moves, say, "I think it's time to go to the table," and help scoot things along.
  • Put away your phone. Maybe others will follow your lead.
  • Talk to the stranger. If a cousin or a friend is sitting alone, do your host a solid and take over.
  • If you think that you've over-stayed your welcome (read: the host is dozing off on the couch), don't apologize about hanging around. Your host will feel obligated to reply, "No, stay!" Just say "thank you" and leave.

5 EXTRAS WORTH ADDING TO YOUR GROCERY CART

  • LEMONS: "Put some wedges on the table. I love a squeeze over green beans, Brussels sprouts, or even turkey. It brightens a heavy meal, they look pretty, and you can always use them for water, too," says Genevieve Ko, the author of Better Baking.
  • A FANCY SALT: "Some-times traditional Thanksgiving food can be bland. Provide a dish of sea salt, like Maldon, or even a mild chile flake. A little goes a long way," says Ko.
  • MASCARPONE: Ko sets out a dish for dolloping onto roasted vegetables: "It makes them creamy and tastes luxurious but requires no work on the part of the host."
  • ICE: "There's never enough room in the refrigerator for drinks. Put them in a bucket with ice. You can even keep it outside," says Diana Henry, the author of Simple.
  • CHUTNEY: "It's a good addition to your sandwich the following day," says Henry.

4 DAYS—OTHER THAN THANKSGIVING—TO VOLUNTEER AT THE SOUP KITCHEN

An influx of volunteers at this time of year can add stress to staff, and people often feel that they're in the way, says Wes Moe, the senior director of programs at New York Cares, New York City's largest volunteer network. "Pantries need help year-round, so we recommend volunteering on other food- and family-centric holidays," he says. Consider these:

  • Your birthday.
  • Your anniversary.
  • A day near the beginning of school, when you are setting a tone with your kids for the year.
  • Super Bowl Sunday. Some pantries participate in the Souper Bowl of Caring, an initiative to raise money and recruit volunteers around the Super Bowl.

3 TRICKS FOR HOSTING IN A SMALL SPACE

MAKE ALL-IN-ONE DISHES.
"I do a roasted-vegetable medley. It's easy to combine vegetables, and this limits the number of platters on the table," says Tamron Hall, a cohost of the Today Show.
SERVE BUFFET-STYLE.
Eating on a tiny table? Set the food on a counter or the top of a chest of drawers and let guests serve themselves there.
STASH STUFF IN THE BATHTUB.
"It can be a temporary storage space for small furniture or things that will be underfoot when the house is full. Pull the shower curtain closed and nobody—except the truly nosy—will know," says organizing pro Chip Cordelli. "I had friends who lived in a studio, and they would load the mattress into the shower to make room for a catering table to be brought in for a big dinner party."

2 alternatives to buying a huge turkey

  • Small crowd? Buy a bone-in breast instead of a whole turkey. A six- to seven-pound breast will feed five with leftovers.
  • Eating early in the day (i.e., short on cooking time)? Consider buying two 10- to 12-pound birds and roasting them side by side. Small turkeys defrost and cook more quickly.

1 OUTRAGEOUS DESSERT

  • Take it from us (we've eaten it): The Baskin-Robbins ice cream Turkey Cake—shaped and caramel-glazed to look like a turkey on a platter—is a hoot. Go to baskinrobbins.com.