Creating The Perfect Thanksgiving
Food, Décor & Giving Back
A Thankful & Sustainable Thanksgiving with Jennifer Carroll
Pumpkin Layer Cake
My favorite November holiday, by far, is Thanksgiving. I love the familiarity of the traditional family recipes. I also love to mix in a few new ideas here and there. As I begin to plan for this holiday, I pause and rather than be overwhelmed by it all, remember to be thankful that I have family and friends to gather around my table. I also schedule some time to “give back” to my community.
This year, my husband and I plan to participate in a local charitable Turkey Trot in the morning. Our local trot supports the community children’s hospital. The 5k Race begins at 9:00 and even with the awards ceremony, we’ll be home by 11:00, allowing plenty of time for me to prepare dinner if I have a good plan. These family (and often pet-friendly) events are held all-over the country. Search “turkey trot” online to find one near you.
Since I’ll be gone all morning, I begin to think of timesaving strategies that I can apply to the meal. I research online for an organic turkey and find a wonderful local farm to buy from.
TURKEY TIP: Looking for something beyond just organic? Consider buying an heirloom or heritage turkey. These birds are descendants of the wild game that thrived on the land before factory farming intervened. Many of these birds are endangered so, ironically, by ordering this for your meal you are helping to save this species. Visit Heritage Foods USA to learn more. I recommend placing your order 3 - 4 weeks before Thanksgiving.
Once I order my turkey, I plan a trip to my local farmers market for the weekend before Thanksgiving. (If your local markets do not stay open this late in the season, consider purchasing from an online grocer such as Diamond Organics.) For décor, I also think local and ask at my local orchard if I can have a few branches from their seasonal pruning.
Because we’re running (well, I might do some walking!) in a Turkey Trot, I won’t have all morning to slave over a hot stove so I have to apply some time-saving tips to my meal preparation. Before I do that though, I need to decide what I’m serving. I decide that my menu will include an organic roast turkey breast (with gravy, of course!), my savory sausage stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, a tart cranberry-orange relish, Brussels sprouts and cheesy cheddar and garlic biscuits with herb butter. For dessert I opt for a simple but oh-so-delicious pumpkin layer cake – yum and to drink I’ll serve a refreshing cranberry-pineapple punch.
Now that I know what I’m serving I strategize about my time. First, I think about cooking the turkey since this is the most time-consuming element. To help simplify this process I decide to cook only a turkey breast rather than the entire bird and I will use a cooking bag (which I will recycle once I’m done with it). These bags are juicy little lifesavers. No more constant basting for me! Plus, it reduces the cooking time – yay.
An hour before I want the food to be ready I begin boiling my potatoes. Once they’re in the pot, I mix up the batter for my cheesy garlic biscuits and pop these in the oven. While they bake, I prepare my Brussels sprouts and mix up my super easy cranberry-orange relish. Finally, I mash the potatoes, whip up the stuffing and make my gravy. Since I prepared the dessert the night before, I just pull that out of the fridge. The final step is to open the wine and mix up the delicious cranberry-pineapple punch. Delicious and easy!
Links for Thanksgiving Recipes:
Now onto the décor.
One new idea I have this year is to decorate the dining table in a theme of sustainable-chic elements. I’m excited to share these easy decorating ideas with you so that you may find inspiration and a few new ways to refresh your celebration as well.
Thanksgiving is the ideal time to “go green.” This holiday is steeped in the tradition of celebrating the harvest and with that in mind I want to use elements of nature’s bounty as the inspiration for my décor.
- Shades of soft cream, peach, rose, green and chocolate are the backdrop for my fresh decorative accents of pineapples, pomegranates, seckel pears, lady apples, cranberries, nuts and more. Tip: Serve the fruits the next morning with yogurt for a fresh and light breakfast.
- I love adding texture to the tablescape and here I’ve combined quilted runners (which I think add a wonderful vintage feeling) with apple branches, pheasant feathers, quail eggs, candlelight and hint of gold for sparkle.
- Disposable is a definite no-no today. So, bring out the linen napkins, china, crystal & flatware. Remember that part of being eco-minded is to reuse what you already have. Tip: Don’t have linen napkins? Check your hall closet for any old sheets or pillowcases which no longer have mates. For napkins in a hurry, simply trim with pinking shears and slip into a napkin ring.
- Individual salt & pepper shakers are a tiny luxury normally found only in five-star restaurants. I want my guests to feel at home but still spoiled just a bit. So, I come up with a clever idea to use another organic element - walnut shells. Crack one nut per guest and fill one side of the shell with salt and the other with pepper. Place at each table setting and guests will feel special.
Study after study shows that the holidays are an incredibly difficult time for so many people. I give to charities throughout the year but especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas I try to do more. This year the Turkey Trot will be a fun new giving back opportunity. Another great volunteer activity for the whole family is serving meals at a local shelter. Contact local shelters directly or visit web sites like Volunteer Match to get connected. If you are looking to do something really different this year, consider volunteering abroad. Visit VolunteerABroad for more information about this amazing opportunity.
One of my favorite ways to give back from the comfort of my own home is to knit for Warm Up America. By knitting a simple 7” x 9” square, when combined with squares from other volunteers, I am helping to create afghans which provide warmth and comfort to people who have lost their homes, fled abusive relationships, or are being cared for in hospices, shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes. Visit Warm Up America to begin your square.
Don’t forget the simplest way of all to help a worthwhile charity - make a donation! If your time simply isn’t an option or you’re still wanting to do more - consider a donation. Even $5 dollars will really, really help them. Think if everyone in America donated just $5 that would equal one billion, five hundred million dollars....WOW!
At-home giving back tip
Organize family to help with the washing up after dinner as part of their “giving back” to both the environment and you! Remember to use a biodegradable soap when washing dishes and only run the dishwasher when it’s totally full.
Menu cards that act as place cards and also as gifts? How lovely! On the card, the dinner menu is creatively featured as a border but the real star of this project is the personal sentiment that you share with each guest. A single sentence telling that person one reason you are thankful for them in your life and then signed by you will be a token treasured long after the meal is over. Of course using recycled paper makes it a gift to the environment too!
We hope you enjoy these Thanksgiving ideas. For additional ideas go to JenniferCarrolEvents
Jennifer Carroll is a southern wedding, party and lifestyle expert. She has been planning events for more than 15 years and opened her own planning company Jennifer Carroll Events, LLC in the Fall of 2004, www.jennifercarrollevents.com. She is currently writing a book on entertaining at home and has launched a line of stylish note card sets for baby, Christmas and everyday under her brand, Jennifer Carroll Designs.