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Upgrade Your Thanksgiving: Tips for Guests and Hosts

November 23, 2019, 12:00 PM UTC

At its best, Thanksgiving means feasting, family, friends, and celebration—nothing to complain about there.

In reality, though, the holiday ends up bringing quite a bit of drudgery too: endless piles of dishes, harried last-minute organization, and the friction that results from spending significant time with people you’ve known forever but don’t see often.

But this is 2019—shouldn’t technology have come up with a solution? Where is that startup promising to create an app that can save the holiday? It seemingly doesn’t exist, but there are a few tricks and tips that can help improve your holiday, whether you’re a guest or a host.

Let a professional do the cleaning (twice)

One of the hardest parts about hosting is getting the house spotless enough that Aunt Martha won’t find anything to criticize and your mom won’t give that sideways look to the dust on the mantel. Then, when they’ve all finally packed up to go home, you look around and realize you’ve got to do all that cleaning again.

Well, don’t. This is one of those moments where the answer is to throw money at the problem. Book a service to clean before everyone gets there—and if you can swing it, one for after they’re gone, too. That cash will buy you many more hours to lull yourself into a calm state before folks arrive.

Or gift a cleaning

On the flip side, if you’re going to be a guest for the holiday, consider taking your welcome gift up a notch and instead of a bottle of wine, gift the host a few hours of housecleaning from a local service. You’ll put his or her mind at ease and help everyone enjoy the event far more.

In fact, outsource anything

The cardinal rules of Thanksgiving cooking for hosts and guests are as follows: Never bring any food that you weren’t specifically asked to bring. The host gets to pick whatever they would like to make. Guests who will have access to cooking facilities should ask what they should make and take whatever is assigned to them.

Hosts do, however, have to pick up the slack for whatever people aren’t bringing. So there’s a chance people end up in charge of something they don’t want to make. That’s okay; like the cleaning, the best thing to do is outsource it. Find a local bakery selling top-notch pies and rolls, order the cranberry sauce from a gourmet grocer, preorder your turkey from the local barbecue stand. The priority at Thanksgiving is a good meal with the people you invited, and if that’s made easier by chucking cash at the issue, don’t feel guilty that you didn’t break your back for your family. (You don’t even have to volunteer the provenance of the dish if you don’t want).

Let the food serve as decor

Don’t fret over centerpieces or flowers for the table; one of the best parts about Thanksgiving is you can let the food be the decoration. Try splitting most of the sides into smaller dishes so that you can set them out as a colorful spread, dotting the table with red bowls of cranberry sauce and the lovely green of green beans. Then plate a small appetizer like a butter-lettuce salad at each setting.

In the empty place where the turkey will end up, put out a larger snack-style appetizer like a cheese plate or charcuterie spread. This will give the table a festive feel without adding anything to your to-do list.

Use the fancy butter

Forget the advertised “luxuries,” like truffles or caviar. The easiest way to take an average meal or dish to the next level is to use better butter. The simplest option is Kerrygold Irish butter, which is widely available (including at Costco), but there’s many tiers above that. Stir cultured butter into your potatoes for a little extra tang, or look for French brands like Bordier, d’Isigny, or Les Prés Salés, or the best American imitator, Vermont Creamery. On the table for spreading on rolls or in your cooking, better butter works magic.

Bring out the digestifs!

You know that feeling of overfullness that Thanksgiving always brings? Well, centuries of feasting humans have solved that problem with the post-dinner digestif: herbal, bitter spirits that are literally designed to help your body process all of that food—plus they taste good and are fun to drink. A safe bet is Fernet-Branca, an Italian amaro, but you can pick a digestif that fits the feast (or makes a nice gift, if you’re not the host). Mini bottles of Underberg make a fun after-dinner handout, while a bottle of Amaro Nonino is easy on both the eyes and the palate.

Don’t forget the reason for the season

Remember that, with the exception of Native Americans, we are all immigrants to this country. Take a moment to acknowledge the tribe on whose land your feast is taking place, and find a way that you and your guests can support the members of a local tribe through programs like Real Rent Duwamish or Partnership With Native Americans. As you feast in awareness of past misdeeds, it feels good to do even some small thing to help those who were (and still are) harmed by them.

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