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Here's How To Stay Sane During Thanksgiving Dinner

By Chicagoist_Guest in Food on Nov 25, 2015 4:51PM

Thanksgiving doesn't really look like this for anyone, does it? Photo via Shutterstock.

By Heather Lalley

Take a heaping cup full of crazy relatives, mix in plenty of pressure to produce a perfect, multi-course meal and don’t forget to add a dash (ok, probably several dashes) of alcohol and you’ve got the recipe for a super-crazy Thanksgiving. But the fourth Thursday in November needn’t be a stress festival. Here’s some expert advice to make the day—gasp!—actually enjoyable.

Manage your expectations

“If you have Crazy Uncle Joe, don’t expect Crazy Uncle Joe to suddenly be different this holiday season,” says Daphne Scott, a Chicago-based leadership-life consultant who runs DS Leadership Life, LLC. “He won’t be.” Same goes for the food. So, you burn the turkey or the rolls land in the dog’s water bowl? “There is nothing better than perspective in these situations and having a sense of humor, even when it seems serious,” Scott says.

Do your prep work

Start brining your turkey overnight, or even two days before the big meal if you can, says Chef Sean Sanders, formerly of Browntrout and now hosting Trout Kitchen pop-ups. Sanders likes a brine that’s packed with fresh herbs, onions, brown sugar and salt. Once he gets the bird in the oven, Sanders cooks it at 400 degrees for the first 30 minutes. Then, he turns the oven down to 325 until the turkey reaches an internal temperature of 153 degrees. “You can’t use that little turkey popper that pops out of the breast because your turkey is well overcooked at that point,” he says. Similarly, if there’s any chopping, assembling or other work that can be done in advance, do it. It’ll take away some of the Thanksgiving Day stress. “Do some projects the day before and have a glass of wine,” Sanders says. “Enjoy life!”

Know what to make from scratch - and what to buy

Head to your favorite bakery for dinner rolls or pies, for example. Don't feel ashamed to buy the applesauce or the cranberry sauce, rather than spending 10 hours making it from scratch. And if you’re feeling stressed about lack of oven or refrigerator space (or time), there’s no shame in asking guests to bring a side dish or two.

Overcome your gravy anxiety

Says Sanders: “Don’t be scared to use the neck and make a stock and chop up all your giblets and your innards and put those in your nice roux. I would use turkey fat for that. Make it lustrous. It’s Thanksgiving. That bird should shine.” Plus, your family will be so busy ooh-ing and aah-ing over the gravy, they won’t have time to fight over presidential candidates.

Cut yourself some slack

“If you have challenges during the holidays, know that you’re not alone,” Scott says. “We all confront our own expectations and desires during this time of year and, mostly, the unrealistic expectations that have been set for the season.”

Worn out from cooking? Let Sanders cook for you this Friday and Saturday when his Trout Kitchen presents Noodle Night. He’ll be serving handmade ramen, pho, soba and other pastas from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at 4111 N. Lincoln Ave.

Heather Lalley is a Chicago-based journalist and author of "The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook." She never met a fried potato she didn't adore. Find her on Twitter @flourgrrrl.