Do You Suffer From Norman Rockwell Syndrome?

 Do you suffer from "Norman Rockwell Syndrome?"
You know, the image in your head of the perfect holiday that you try to create, only to fall short because you either lack culinary skills, a proper dining table, your dishes and silverware are mis-matched and you have no idea how to pull it all together!

Although I'm culinary challenged, Thanksgiving dinner is the one meal that I always say I can cook with my eyes closed!  However I have lots of help these days from my husband who loves to cook and two children who are chefs, so I can concentrate on the important stuff like how it all looks, and facilitating the presentation.
Here are a few tips to help pull your holiday together without the stress of "Norman Rockwell Syndrome."

The Table:

Don't let mis-matched dishes or silverware deter you.
I think mixing up patterns actually makes for a more interesting table.
And gone are the days of white tablecloths that our grandmothers used.
Simple and casual is better and easier too.  (No ironing involved!)

A fun, seasonal decoration, mini pumpkins not only say Thanksgiving, but can be used as name tags.
Just get out your magic marker!

For the centerpiece, think low and long like this succulent arrangement I made a few years ago.
Just add candles!

Carving out a pumpkin and filling it with a grocery store bouquet is a wow factor.
Believe me, it looks hard, but it's so easy to do.
See how to here.

Or a simple centerpiece can be made using little potted culinary herbs.
The good news is you can use them to brine your bird!

The Food:

Brining the turkey overnight in a salt water bath draws water into the cells so that it stays moist when cooked.
I know this looks complicated, and it is totally optional, but I've found that it does add to the juiciness and flavor of the turkey.  Recipe here.

If brining is too much, then cook your bird the way our grandmothers did.
Just salt and pepper it, toss on some herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme (from your centerpiece!) and throw it in the oven.
Use a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh and when the temperature reads 165 degrees, pull it out.
Do not rely on that little pop-up button because by the time it pops up, your turkey is too done.
Just saying, Butterball people!

Don't feel like you have to prepare the entire meal by yourself!
Give your guests a dish that matches their skill set that they can bring, like sautéed brussel sprouts, an easy pumpkin pie--or you can make them the day before.

The less skilled can bring drinks or hors d'oeuvres.

Be sure to designate the turkey carver ahead of time too.
This is where the Norman Rockwell picture just doesn't work.
It makes for a beautiful picture carrying the turkey to the table, but it should be carved ahead of time.
In fact, I don't like serving the food on the table, but prefer setting up a buffet instead.

The Buffet:

I no longer have a buffet in my dining room, so I use the center island in the kitchen as a buffet.
Here's how it works:

I have my guests sit for grace followed by salad.
After the salad is finished, I have someone help clear their salad plates while I announce that dinner is served.  They pick up their dinner plate which sits on a charger and carry it to the buffet to serve themselves.

After dinner, dessert is brought to the table and served to the guests who wish to partake, along with coffee or tea.

This is a system that works for me.  
I find that offering grace or a toast to begin the meal followed by soup or salad, then serving the main course buffet style keeps the mess and confusion away from the table.  It helps if a guest offers to help with the clearing of dishes too!  

Just remember that the whole point of Thanksgiving dinner is to be with friends and family in a state of gratitude.  
And that's why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, even if I can never achieve that Norman Rockwell picture of perfection!  

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