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You decide how classic you want your Thanksgiving to be

This Oct. 21 2013 phoshows 'back basics' turkey Concord N.H. The recipe is so basic it calls for just four

This Oct. 21, 2013 photo shows a "back to basics" turkey in Concord, N.H. The recipe is so basic, it calls for just four ingredients. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead) ORG XMIT: NHMM401

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I don’t know about your family, but my relatives almost want the dishes themselves to be in the same position at our holiday table each year, that’s how wedded they are to our traditional Thanksgiving meal.

But boy, that can be a drag for the cook. That’s why I like the accompanying story that gives hints on how you can stay true to a classic Thanksgiving but mix it up in a way your guests will enjoy (and maybe not even notice).

To recap, here’s our list of what you should be doing to host and cook a stress-free Thanksgiving meal:

Sara Moulton, who some of you may remember from her very informative show on The Food Network, has what sounds like the perfect solution to Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. You make the potatoes the day before, but with none of the dairy included. The next day you zap the potatoes, add your dairy and seasonings and your mashed potatoes are ready in no time. And here’s another nifty tip from Moulton: baking rather than boiling the potatoes gives them a more potato-y flavor. Who knew?! Here’s her story and recipe.

A fresh bird has a lot of advantages. You don’t have to go through that lengthy defrosting process that a frozen one requires. You don’t have to make space in the freezer until it’s time (turkeys, even small ones, take up a lot of space). Many of us prefer the taste of a fresh bird. Butchers are taking orders now for fresh turkeys. If you want an organic or heritage variety, the number of those available is smaller. Take time now to order your bird.

Don’t miss the story on our website where pastry experts tell the rest of us to get over our fear of creating a perfect crust. (Here’s the link.) Turns out that one of the reasons our crust is less than grand might be because we’ve rushed it. Hoosier Mama’s Paula Haney told writer Lisa Shames that it’s important to give that pie crust some time. And here’s a dandy tidbit to remember: crust will work better if you make it the night before. Gives it time to settle. (And you time to get something done before Thanksgiving itself!)

Also with this story is a list of places that are taking orders for pies if you’d rather not make your own. Some of them will stop taking orders as soon as they run out. So, you know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Decide now if you will be ordering one and do it ASAP.

In the movie “Pieces of April,” it’s funny when she discovers the oven’s not working and the Thanksgiving turkey is inside it. Trust me, you will not be laughing on Thanksgiving Day if your oven peters out and you’ve got a dining room full of relatives waiting to eat. The time for inspecting it is now. If it’s been acting up, get someone in to repair it ASAP. And if it’s grimy, clean it. No one wants to see their holiday meal coming out of a crusty oven. Same for the appliance you’ll be using that day: hand mixer, blender, electric knife — whatever you know you will use, make sure it is working properly and clean.

While you are looking at that oven, figure out if everything will fit in it. If not, come up with Plan B. One year I decided beforehand that I would do a vegetable stir-fry instead of an assortment of roasted veggies because there wasn’t enough room in that tiny oven of ours. Another holiday we grilled the turkey outside to free up oven space. Both were alternative plans that worked out just fine, and one reason they did was because we’d figured out beforehand what we’d be doing. We weren’t regrouping at the last minute.

Make your guest list today and invite them. As soon as possible, determine how many will be in attendance. Once you have that number you can figure out what you need in chairs, supplies, food and liquor. Without it you’re guess-timating, which usually results in spending more than is needed.

Give the dining room — or whatever room the meal will be in — an inspection. I don’t know about you, but my dining room table becomes the catch-all. Start clearing the table and room now so you and your guests can enjoy a meal in a clutter-free room.



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