Turtle + the Wolf

Turtle + the Wolf

It started with a bomb cyclone, followed right behind by a polar vortex. In other words, it was winter in New Jersey, so suck it up buttercup. We committed to a monthly dining experience with my wife’s cousin and her husband, and this was the maiden voyage of this culinary adventure. With much fanfare and anticipation, we made our way to Upper Montclair for our first experience with a two year old gem, Turtle + the Wolf. The culmination of chef Lauren Hirschberg’s lifelong dream, the setting was perfect for the evening. The warm lighting and inviting staff left the chill of the arctic air outside far behind. Dark wood with an industrial feel, lit primarily by the open kitchen to our right. Audible under the hum of a lively crowd was music that would make Alt Nation on SiriusXM proud. Our table was at the mid point of the long narrow restaurant, perfectly situated for the meal to come.
Our server, Ben, met us with a smile, opened our wine, and gave us a minute to peruse the menu. This is not an extensive menu, but that is a thing of beauty. If you do it right, you don’t need endless options. Also, as a BYOB, the wine list started at home, and it was a selection we would not have otherwise found on a wine list anywhere. This is a strong nod and shameless plug for our friends at Vincent Arroyo Winery, and their 2014 Winemaker’s Reserve Petit Sarah. Make your way to Calistoga and get acquainted with them now.
Now, there are restaurants who have daily specials, or the catch of the day, but I can’t say I’ve seen the Berkshire Pork selection of the day. Pork equals happiness, so sure, I’m in! What, pray tell, is the pork of the day? Ben revealed that today it was pork belly, and all was right in the world. Additionally, there was a sea bass crudo, as an alternative to the yellow tail crudo on the regular menu. A few more minutes, plenty of laughs, and we were ready to order. One of the lessons we teach my children is that we try new things. Looking at the appetizers, that was necessary for all involved. Ordering for the table is a pleasure, and this was no exception. The sea bass crudo, chicken liver mousse, seared fois gras, and the steak tartar made the cut. Upon arrival, these appetizers clearly stole the show. The sea bass was a clean and refreshing departure from the other rich dishes, topped with sliced jalapeños and a citrus and oil drizzle. The chicken liver mousse was firm to slice, but spread on the accompanying crostini with ease, accented by a mustard seed relish. Topped with a perfectly placed egg yolk, the steak tartar was creamy and delicious. And, oh, the fois gras! Seared to perfection, with a concord grape reduction and roasted peanuts. Our wine cut the richness perfectly, with not a single morsel remaining on any of the plates. This was a glorious beginning!
For our entree selections, we cast another wide net. Clearly the pork belly had to happen, as did the duck pot pie (DUCK.POT.PIE), short ribs, and the roasted butternut squash. There was nothing low calorie about this meal (well, maybe the squash) but with a proper glass of wine, who’s going to complain? All were cooked perfectly. For me, the pork belly was a contrast within itself. Crispy on the outside (I mean like cracker crispy) and tender and juicy below the perfect crust. The duck pot pie, tucked inside a pillow of pastry, was creamy and rich (thank you duck heart gravy). The short ribs fell off the bone and the accompanying potato purée made each bite a symphony of flavor. The squash was also tender and flavorful. Now, these meals were delightful, however we had one consistent observation. Each could have been enhanced with some salt. The flavors were begging for a punch, to jump off the plate and explode. A heavier hand with the salt would have put them over the top. No one left disappointed however.
Ben was a perfect host, great personality and just enough attention paid to our table. He arrived with dessert menus in hand, and clearly this was not a crowd who knew how to say no. We went with the appetizer approach and selected an assortment of treats. We limited it to three selections; the Zeppole with fig preserves, Maple pot au creme, and the Chocolate – Peanut Butter Tart. Thank God for coffee, because these desserts were decadent! The zeppole were surprisingly light, the others not so much. This is not a complaint. After our plates were cleared, we lingered and talked, never feeling rushed. It was another excellent culinary experience with wonderful ambiance. On an otherwise cold and dark winter night, Turtle + the Wolf provided a memorably warm experience.

Yale Terrace Brewery

Ever since we started this adventure, we’ve wanted to pound the pavement from a local perspective.  A little visit to Facebook, and a post from the Cranford Patch, revealed a golden opportunity.  A mere two miles from us was a new venture in day two of their soft opening.  We wanted to grab a cocktail anyway that afternoon, so off we went to Cranford NJ.  Were this a summer day, we could have easily walked, but it’s December and it was cold, so the five-minute drive was our option.  As luck would have it, there was a spot directly in front of our destination.  Behold, Yale Terrace Brewery.

The downtown brewery and tasting room is a welcome addition to Cranford.  Among the countless restaurants, bars, coffee shops, Yale Terrace Brewery is a special treat, and kudos to the town for helping to make this happen.  Other towns in the area should take note (Westfield, I’m looking at you).  From outside you could see the stark green wall by the bar, and the accent walls (which we learned were created entirely of pallets that one of the owners broke down and finished himself), and a bustling crowd enjoying what we were about to become part of.

We were greeted warmly upon entry by the crew, as well as by the patrons who were there before us.  We grabbed two seats at the hand crafted bar and were asked the standard question upon entering a brewery in the state of NJ, “would you like to take a tour?”  Obviously the answer is yes, because not only is it interesting to learn the brewing process, but to hear the story truly relays the passion of the brewers themselves.  Tom guided us to the back of the brewery, where a single still sat.  He explained the process and the still they used that actually submerged the grain in a large metal device, best described as “a really big tea bag.”  He also explained how most of the downstairs is taken up by the various beers in different stages of the brewing process.  You could see the excitement in Tom’s voice and demeanor, this was his pride and joy.

Back to our seats at the bar (which had plugs, USB ports and hooks under the bar in front of our seats), and the next big question, “what would you like?”  Being enthusiasts for all things food and drink, we made the obvious choice: everything!  As luck would have it, one can order a flight of four beers, so we ordered two flights and selected virtually everything available from the blackboard at the center of the bar on the green wall.  Our bartenders, Nick and Scott, were fantastic, great conversationalist and knowledgeable about the product.  They also had a great dynamic between the two of them and worked well with us to coordinate our selections.  We were presented with two boards and eight glasses, and the tasting began:

  • #19 Yale Quad – Delicious, with more bite than the IPA’s (Kim’s note: yummy, a touch sour)
  • #26 Yale Oatmeal Stout – Wonderful rich stout (Kim’s note:  Ok, didn’t feel “stouty” enough)
  • #24 Yale Imperial IPA – Great smooth beer, not overly hoppy (Kim’s note: Not my favorite)
  • #19 Yale Pale Ale – Very light and drinkable (Kim’s note: Eh.)
  • #9 Wellington Raspberry Sour – The only sour we’ve ever enjoyed
  • #8 Borden Bourbon Espresso Stout – We so wanted to love it, but espresso beers have that bite of coffee that makes it almost tart
  • #161 Main IPA – My wife’s favorite, again not too hoppy
  • #132 Euclid Saison – another clean crisp beer, a good representation of a saison. (Kim’s note:  Just OK.)

Nick and Scott took a genuine interest in our opinions of the beers we tried, and we were honest with them.  My wife enjoyed the 161 Main IPA whereas I favored the Oatmeal Stout.  We were both surprised by the Wellington Raspberry Sour, as neither of us are sour fans, but this was quite pleasing.  We then had a robust discussion about the Borden Bourbon Espresso Stout.  We shared our passion for such an idea (being fans of both bourbon and espresso) but were consistently disappointed by the execution, no matter where we’ve tried similar beers.  We talked about ways to cut the inherent bitterness that espresso has, especially in a beer, and figure the guys at Yale Terrace will figure it out.

As we sat enjoying our brews, we observed patrons from all walks of life.  Friends of the brewery, businessmen stopping in before heading home, a family of four with their dinner from Vinnie’s Pizza & Pasta which is conveniently located next door to the brewery, friends stopping in for a drink before a movie across the street, and the newlyweds reviewing the whole scene (that’s us).  A true cross-section of this suburban New Jersey town.

As we moved on in our selections (my bride had the Yale Quad, while I opted for the Oatmeal Stout) we began a conversation with Pete, who with Tom and Vinnie (the owner of the pizzeria next door) made up the ownership group of Yale Terrace.  Pete spent what felt like an hour with us, and the conversation was amazing as we learned about the home brewing and blind taste tests he and Tom would run with friends, the challenging regulatory landscape for breweries, and a tremendous history of brewing in New Jersey.  His vision was to create a local brewery, much like those that existed prior to prohibition and the power of large breweries and distributors.

We also learned their history, from growing up in West Orange, to the origins of the names of their beers, each an address of relevance from their pasts.  Soon the walls will include the back stories of these addresses turned beers, and we can’t wait to return to learn more.  Each of the owners has a full-time job, but it’s clear this is their collective passion.  That passion is reflected in the quality of the product and the atmosphere throughout the brewery.  This is a fun, comfortable and approachable place, certainly worth the stop before we headed out for dinner.  There will be many return trips, and the rotating taps will make it a new adventure each time, but the welcoming atmosphere makes this a place you want to return to soon and often.

The Mission Inn

Beating the snow down the Garden State Parkway, we arrived at The Mission Inn for our 3rd Annual Cape May Christmas Trip, and were greeted by Wendy Collins, one of the Inn’s two owners.  She welcomed us with a big smile on her face, saying “uh oh, here comes trouble” and hugged us like we were family.  Shortly after we stepped inside and into the cozy living room, where there was a warm fire in the fireplace and a large Christmas tree next to it, Laura Shaddock, the Inn’s second owner came out to greet us.  Again, big, warm, welcoming hugs all around.   We all chatted for a little bit, catching up on the year’s events, before we went to our respective rooms to settle in and get ready for the “Afternoon Refreshments” (code: Happy Hour) that are served daily, from 4-5pm.

Nick and I headed up to the 2nd floor and to our room, the San Luis Rey de Francis.  Styled after the California Spanish Missions, The Mission Inn is altogether different from the Victorian B&B’s known to Cape May.  I actually had never stayed at a B&B prior to our 1st Cape May Christmas Trip in 2015.  I’ve never considered myself a B&B kind of girl — they always seemed sort of stuffy to me.  I pictured old Victorian homes, with a smell of must/nursing home in the air;  fragile little tchotchkes as far as the eye can see; and the worst part – sharing meals (and God forbid, bathrooms) with strangers.  Not my scene.  Like, at all.  The Mission Inn could not be further from this description.  For starters, walk into the Inn and Laura and Wendy make you feel immediately like you are at home.  There are three common rooms, including a veranda where you can enjoy breakfast or relax during the warmer months.  There is also a dining room, which is another seating option for the tasty breakfast that you will enjoy during your stay.  There is also the aforementioned living room with the fireplace, and then a large room that serves as both a living room/eat in kitchenette.  In this last common room, there is a large table which serves as an additional option for breakfast, as well as several couches, another fireplace, a tv/dvd and a coffee table with a large tray featuring a massive jigsaw puzzle that changes with the season.  This year’s puzzle was a 3D Santa Claus that had our little group working diligently during various free points during our stay.  (Spoiler alert:  We finished the puzzle!).  In the kitchenette, you’ll find a refrigerator stocked with some non-alcoholic beverages like lemonade, but also some wine, as well as a selection of beers some of which are local to Cape May.  Laura in particular is a beer aficionado, and has a particular fancy for sour beers.  It’s always worth it to try one that she has in the fridge.  You’ll also find an endless selection of teas, coffee, hot chocolate and the piece de resistance, a cookie jar that holds a never ending supply of Chef Leslie’s oatmeal and cranberry (or in some instances, chocolate chip) cookies.  They are addicting and the jar is ALWAYS full.  Consider yourself warned.  As you move to the bedrooms, there are 8 in total;  4 upstairs and 4 downstairs.  Each is modeled after a different mission and you only need to look above the entrance to your room to see the hand painted sign that displays the name of the mission after which your room has been designed.  The paintings on the walls transport you to the mission in California. The San Luis Rey, for instance, has a mural on the ceiling that represents the partially collapsed Mission Chapel’s domed ceiling.  The headboard in each room is handcrafted and designed to reflect the front elevation of the mission.  There is a fireplace in each room, a king size bed with probably the most comfortable mattress that I’ve ever slept on and radiant heat in the bathroom, which is so very welcomed when stepping out of the shower.  Seriously, it’s hard to not just hole up in your room for the entirety of your stay.  However, if you did that then you wouldn’t enjoy the delights that are the “Afternoon Refreshments” (again, code for Happy Hour!), or the breakfasts that are served from 8-9:30am each morning.  And oh, the breakfasts.  They are not to be missed, and given that there is a 2 night minimum stay, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy them! 

Nick and I like to really toe the line when it comes to our breakfast arrival.  In fact, Wendy or Laura will typically send us off to bed (or more commonly leave us to put themselves to bed) saying, “So, we’ll see you at 9:29 tomorrow?”.  Seriously though, did I mention the beds?  They are just so comfy, it’s hard to leave them.  Whenever you happen to make your way to breakfast, whether it’s 8:01 or 9:29, no sooner are you seated at the table, and in comes Laura and/or Wendy with a hot pot of coffee and a selection of juice for your choosing.  By juice, we’re not talking plain OJ here, people.  How about cranberry-pomegranate?  Or blueberry-apple?  The list goes on and on, and I have to be honest, sometimes I don’t want any but I have Laura or Wendy repeat the list for my own personal entertainment.  Fortunately, they haven’t caught on to me just yet.  Very shortly thereafter, in comes Chef Leslie with a plate of fruit so elegantly designed, you almost hate to eat it.  Almost.  During the first breakfast of our stay, we enjoyed a quarter of a pineapple, with the pieces carved out and resting in their rind.  Also, some strawberries and a magnificent vanilla-y yogurt concoction for dipping.  Our second breakfast included a poached pear, with dried cranberries sprinkled atop and again a yogurt-y goodness alongside.  Once you’ve quite finished your fruit, your plate is cleared and in comes the main feature.  We enjoyed an egg frittata over an asparagus purée with a roasted red pepper drizzle.  It was accompanied by a blueberry breakfast sausage and a chocolate chip muffin.  Delightfully savory, with a touch of sweet.  The muffin was like a dessert – and I ask you, who doesn’t want dessert with breakfast?  Dessert should be a requirement with every meal, no matter the time of day.  Breakfast, day two, was french toast stuffed with strawberries and cream, and topped with powdered sugar, pomegranate perils and an orange slice.  The accompaniment was bacon.  Talk about dessert for breakfast – this main event was deliciously sweet, with a touch of savory.  Two very different breakfasts, both with balanced flavors, an artistic touch and the perfect fuel before a day about town. 

You’ll find that after a breakfast like the ones Chef Leslie features, you plan your day around being back at the Inn for Afternoon Refreshments, which begins at 4pm, daily.  It is one of the many opportunities that you’ll have to spend time with Wendy and Laura, as well as socializing with other guests (if that’s your thing).  It’s also another opportunity to enjoy some tasty little bites from Chef Leslie.  Her deviled eggs are not to be missed, and they are sure to be featured at least once during your two night stay.  We also enjoyed Leslie’s Famous Chili, which was perfect after a cold day, a spicy hummus, spinach dip, a cheese medley, antipasto – all delights that you would expect to find featured on any happy hour menu.    Given our affinity for all things booze (we are Fat, Drunk and Fancy after all), we bring several bottles of wine to enjoy during Afternoon Refreshments, as well as a bottle of brown liquor for after dinner drinks.  If you’re so lucky, and typically we always are, Wendy and Laura may even join you for a drink after you return from your dinner to catch up on your day and whatever other topics come about.

The breakfasts, the happy hour spread, the jigsaw puzzle, the cozy beds are all perfectly wonderful reasons to visit The Mission Inn.  But it is Wendy, Laura and the feeling of home that will have you booking your next visit before your current visit is over, missing the Inn before you have even left Cape May, and have you finding yourself looking for reasons to sneak a weekend or a mini vacation in before too much time has gone by.  Sharing the experience with whomever you consider to be your family only enhances the experience, and before the end of your stay, you will undoubtedly be adding Wendy and Laura to those who you call family, and we at Fat, Drunk and Fancy call, “famiglia”.

*disclaimer:  If you happen to find yourself at the Inn during our yearly Christmas pilgrimage, all I can say is, #sorrynotsorry.

 

The King’s Kitchen – Dining with a cause

Charlotte, NC. I don’t often get here, but covering a meeting for a colleague brought me to town for a quick overnight. Such a trip begs the obvious question: where am I going to eat? There are plenty of options, but as I perused options, one restaurant caught my eye for more than just their food and a hopefully great experience – The King’s Kitchen.

Nestled right in the heart of downtown Charlotte, The King’s Kitchen looks like any other trendy spot. Hip lighting (around the bar the shades are colorful strainers) sleek white tables and walls, light marble bar, hardwood floors. Staff dressed in white, just a cool vibe all around. Unlike any other trendy spot, this is a restaurant with a mission, and that mission goes far beyond the cuisine. The King’s Kitchen is a non-profit organization. Noted on their website and on the menu is the fact that all proceeds from their service go to feed the less fortunate in the Charlotte area. Wow. Additionally, all of the ingredients are locally sourced. Southern comfort food in an upscale setting, all for a good cause.

I was greeted with a smile and shown to a seat at the bar (as a table for one, this is usually where I like to end up). The bartender greeted me as well and presented the menu. The wine and beer menu was diverse, but there was an option that caught my eye immediately: a flight of local drafts. There are six taps, so pick four and you’re off. Not being from the area, we had a conversation about it. I’m typically a Yuengling and Guinness guy with a touch of IPA. My barkeep took it from there. 3C’s IPA was first up, followed by a number of OMB drafts; and amber lager, Pecan Brown, and a porter, all four brewed within 10 minutes of where I was sitting, the definition of local. Now to be fair, I was fighting the tail end of a head cold, but what I tasted was delightful. The IPA was hoppy, but not too hoppy (not at hoppy as a Founder’s All Day IPA for example). The Amber Lager drank much like a Yuengling, which is my personal go to beer. The Pecan Brown and Porter also did not disappoint. All four helped accompany the onslaught of delightful dishes that followed.

After spending a few minutes looking at the menu, we were off to the races with starters. I had three in mind, but asked for some guidance on narrowing the field. Without hesitation, the staff favorites were the fried oysters and the pimento cheese. Ok, I’m game, make it so good sir. When I tell you the service was prompt, it would be a remarkable understatement. It seemed that I had no sooner put down the menu and returned to my beverage of choice when a bowl brimming with tender fried oysters appeared. I was able to get one in my mouth just prior the the board carrying the pimento cheese and crostini. I’m a sucker for a good oyster in any form. Raw, fried, broiled, grilled, Rocky Mountain, whatever. The key to a great fried oyster, in my not so humble opinion, is crisp batter that holds onto a juicy oyster inside. These nailed it. First envision if you will a bowl of no less than a dozen oysters, half a lemon, and a small container of remoulade. some micro greens gracing the top, and that’s it. Simple presentation. Now how does one test the first key standard for a fried oyster? Pick it up with your hands! To the touch they were plump, not greasy, and the batter held onto the oyster like a child holds onto their blanket. I always try the first one naked, no sauce, just a slight squeeze of lemon. Pure.Bliss. Masked by the perfectly crisp batter was a plump, juicy, briny oyster; fresh and salty from the sea. This was a true delight. Another with a quick dip in the remoulade and another wonderful treat. I could go all night on these, but then there was that lump of orange goodness over there on the board next to my beer…

Pimento cheese is an interesting dish. As I write I’m still not totally sure what’s in it, but I know from a certain Californian friend I met in New Jersey by way of Cincinnati (follow that?) its a southern classic. It was a treat for sure. Creamy and spreadable, on toasted bread, pairing well with the Amber Lager, and surprisingly with the oysters as well. There was not chance I would finish this and still have dinner, but it was a great sampling. The oysters, on the other hand, were all to die that night. Amazing. I can still taste them as I sit on a plane to go home, and I’m pretty sure I just drooled on myself. Hope the guy next to me doesn’t notice.

Continuing to ponder the menu I had a number of choices. Fried chicken was high on the list, as was the pot roast. Apparently the scallops were delicious and the pork chop looked like it was to die for. But I was in Charlotte, and I made it clear I was at the mercy of my faithful Bart ender, and he didn’t steer me wrong. If I wanted the true experience, he said, I had to try the shrimp and grits. Now I’ve had shrimp and grits in New Jersey and most of the time it’s been fine, even delicious. To have it here, however, was altogether different. Again faster than I could have my water refilled my meal was presented. A modest bowl was placed before me. Creamy grits sat atop a shallow pool of tomato pan sauce, topped with six shrimp (peeled and tails removed) with some smoked ham bits in and among the grits for obvious porky flavor. My first bite was the grits. These were different, nothing like what we pass off for grits at home. While creamy they had distinct texture and a firmness that held up in the sauce. They were rich and flavorful, and when paired with the sauce and a touch of the ham, were a savory morsel. The only thing missing at this point was the shrimp, so onto the fork one goes and we have the perfect bite. The shrimp were cooked perfectly as well. Good bite, lightly seasoned, a wonderful compliment to the hominy cloud on which they were presented.

As the meal continued a conversation began among the other solo diners at the bar and I. Both were northeastern transplants to the south. One young man was two weeks into his Charlotte residency, while the other was a mother originally from Philadelphia, now in Tampa, in town for work. We discussed food, travel, out northern roots, and of course the meal we were all enjoying. As an added bonus, Kings Kitchen was mostly gluten free, which was necessary for one oh my accidental dining partners. We all lingered a bit and talked, engaging the staff at several points, while in the background other parties laughed and dined with classic Christmas music filling in the rest. A warm goodbye from our hosts wrapped up the night as we each departed. Accidental comradorie, a wonderful meal, and a worthy cause. When in Charlotte, make a point to visit The Kings Kitchen. It will impact your culinary senses, and the community which is serves daily.

Only 12 months left to plan

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday to host.  I mean let’s face it, I love hosting any event, but Thanksgiving in particular brings me all the warm and fuzzies.  As with many of my childhood memories, my love for all things turkey and family goes back to my Grandparents.  From the time I was born until I was 33 (with the exception of 1 year), I spent every Thanksgiving (and Christmas Eve) at my Grandparents house.  It wasn’t until Nick and I moved in together and we sold my Grandparents house that I began hosting Thanksgiving in my home.

On Thanksgiving morning, I would wake up at my Dad’s house and we would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  We would leave his house at around 11:15am, and walk into my Grandparents just before Santa Claus came down the parade route into Herald’s Square.  The house was warm with the smell of the turkey in the oven.  The dinner table was always set and waiting for all of the delicious food that would soon be atop it.  Walking into the kitchen, there were appetizers and wine on the table.  There was a calm in the house and everything was tidy.  You’d never know that my Grandparents had just spent 3 days preparing a meal for 10-12 people.  It was incredible and I loved it.

Many, many years later, when I was in my late 20’s, I started to help my Grandparents prepare/cook for Thanksgiving and finally learned the secret to their success.  It’s all about the prep.  My Grandmother would start on Monday by making the pie crusts for the Pumpkin and Apple pies and the cranberry sauce.  On Tuesday she would make the pies.  Wednesday was the busiest day – washing vegetables, preparing all of the other side dishes, cleaning out the turkey.  Once Thursday came, all of the hard work was done and it was a matter of getting things into the oven at the right moment so that they would all get on the table at the same time.  My Grandmother had been preparing a Thanksgiving dinner since she and my Grandfather were first married, and she had always run the show like this. Even when my Grandmother was still working, she would prep like this when she got home from her day job.  And this was how they ran any holiday or family event.  Anytime we were going to my Grandparents house, when we walked in that door, my Grandparents greeted us and were ready to host.  It was how I learned how to host, and why I start the prep for Thanksgiving, or any family event, days before company is set to arrive.  Once my company shows up, I want as much prepared as possible so that I too can enjoy the time together.  La famiglia; that’s what it’s all about.

So, I’m sharing my tips/tricks to host a successful Thanksgiving dinner, but they are transferable ideas that you can use when hosting any holiday or family gathering.  The steps are simple:

1 Create a menu

2 Create a shopping list

3 Prepare what you can in advance

4 Prepare your home

5 Sit back and enjoy your company

Without further ado, my Thanksgiving prep:

1 week before Thanksgiving:

Create your menu.  I mostly make the same dishes every year, but typically like to add a new item or slightly alter one of my staple dishes.  It all depends on who’s coming (i.e. are there any picky eaters?), and how many people I’m having.  Then there are the dishes that are staples and I will likely always serve them just the way that my Grandmother did.  In fact there was only one of those dishes on my table this Thanksgiving – my Gram’s Sweet Potato Bake.  It’s fresh yams, with oats/brown sugar/butter/cranberries folded in, and then mini marshmallows melted on top.  I had an Aunt who used to scrape all of the marshmallows off.  She is no longer invited to Thanksgiving dinner.

Create your shopping list.  I tend to write and re-write my list a few times so that all of the produce is together, all of the dairy is together, etc.  If you’re not a Type A personality, then simply create your list however it works best for you.

Buy your Tupperware.  Everybody likes leftovers!  Make sure you have Tupperware that you can fill with leftovers for people to take home.

Saturday before:

Take your turkey out of the freezer.  Depending on the size of your bird(s), you may need to take it out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator as early as Saturday.  It typically takes around 24 hours for each 4-5lbs of frozen turkey you are thawing in the fridge.

Monday before:

Go food shopping.  I can’t stress this point enough – go food shopping as  early in the morning as you can.  I tend to be there when they are opening the doors.  Get in and get out. That’s how you survive the holiday supermarket crazies.

Make your cranberry sauce.  I’ll never understand why people buy canned or jarred cranberry sauce when it’s so easy to make on your own.  Take a bag of fresh cranberries (they’ll be all over the produce section of your supermarket the week of Thanksgiving), a cup of sugar, some orange zest, and a tablespoon or 2 of water and cook over low-medium heat until the cranberries burst.  That’s it.  No need to get fancy here because nobody eats it anyway!  Also, leftovers are great on some Brie and phyllo dough.  Or wrapped in a crescent roll.  I digress.

Make your pie crusts.  Another thing that’s so easy to make, but people buy them.  It’s flour, shortening and ice cold water.  That’s it!  Once they’re made, wrap the dough in plastic wrap an leave in the fridge overnight.

Tuesday before:

Make your pies.  Pumpkin, apple, whatever.  Make it, bake it, let it cool and put it in the fridge until Thursday.

Wash and prep your vegetables.  You can prep all of your vegetables (except potatoes) and put them in a ziplock with a few damp papertowels and they’ll be fine by the time you’re ready to make them on Thursday.

Dry out your bread for stuffing.  Tear/cut your bread into cubes and put it in a 300 degree oven for 35-45 minutes until it’s completely dried out.  Store it in a ziplock bag until Wednesday.

Wednesday before:

Clean your turkeys.  Take the turkeys out of the fridge and get them cleaned up and pre-seasoned.  Stuff them with paper towels, cover them with plastic wrap and put ‘em into the fridge until tomorrow.

Make your stuffing.  No explanation needed here.  You’ll be happy you already pre-washed and pre-chopped all of that celery and onion though.

Make any other sides.  For 2017, I made my sweet potato bake, green been casserole (no cream of mushroom soup here!) and goat cheese mashed potatoes the day before Thanksgiving.  Take a look at your recipes – you’ll be surprised how much you can do the day before.  If you’re making brussel sprouts with bacon, cut up the bacon today.  If you’re using breadcrumbs in/on top of any dishes, make those.  If you’re making a signature cocktail, make that.  There’s a lot you can do in advance and come Thursday morning, you’ll be happy you did.

Set your table.  No explanation needed, but don’t forget the wine glasses and water glasses.

Gather your serving dishes, bowls, utensils.  Most of what you’ve already prepared will likely be in the dish that you’re going to serve it in on Thanksgiving.  That being said, you’ll need something for your turkey to go on, dishes or bowls for the vegetable sides you’re making, or for the appetizers you might be serving.  And ofcourse, you need something to serve all of this food with!  So grab the serving forks, spoons, etc that you’ll need for the day as well and put them on the table.

Review your recipes, create a schedule for the oven.  Take a few quick minutes to do a once over on your recipes for the sides you need to make on Thanksgiving.  Also, take a few more moments to make a quick note (mental or on paper) about what has to go in the oven at what time so that all of the food gets on the table at the same time.  I am supremely lucky in that I have two ovens, and this year Nick smoked one turkey and fried one, so I had both ovens to utilize all day.  If you only have one oven and have to roast your turkey, then you are definitely going to want to take the time to go through this step.

Put coffee into the coffee pot.  No really, do it.  When you’re in the middle of cleaning up the epic amount of dishes from dinner, you’ll be glad you did.

Put all of your dessert dishes, coffee cups into a convenient place.  Again, so that you don’t have to go running around for this stuff after dinner.

Set up your bar.  If you’re family is a bunch of boozehounds like mine, get your bar set up with mixers, bar ware, cups/glasses, etc.  Pull the wine that you plan on drinking throughout the day, or for dinner, and put it out on the table.

THURSDAY!

And here we are on Thursday.  All of the hard work is over!  Take the morning to enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade with a cup of coffee and relax a bit. About 30 minutes before your guests arrive, start the music, light your candles (if using), open the wine, and put your appetizers out, if serving, 15 minutes or so before you expect guests.  Things will get a little crazy as you start putting things into the oven and pulling them out, but at this point you’ll have people around to help you.  While you’re pre-made side dishes are in the oven, cook your vegetables and make your gravy.  Another moment when you’ll be glad you prepped them in advance!

More than anything else, enjoy the day with your family!  That’s why you did all of the work ahead of time, so sit back, have a glass of wine and enjoy.  Cheers.