Thanksgiving Survival Guide

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:13

    Thanksgiving is hideous. Some folks are trekking to whatever backwater burg they hail from to see their hillbilly parents and explain yet again why they’re broke, sickly and surly all the time. Others take the subway to see their families, thinking about getting home, getting high and digging into a pile of leftovers.

    For a large group of New Yorkers, though, it’s all about avoiding family. Whether that means hosting your own meal, going to a friend’s place, volunteering or getting invited to someone else’s family dinner, managing to do Turkey Day with as little fanfare as possible is perhaps more appetizing than the big-deal meal itself.

    So if you’re just now realizing that you’ve made no plans, don’t fret. Follow our guide to surviving Thanksgiving in the city and the holiday—not to mention your mashed potatoes—will be as smooth as possible.

    How To Host The Holiday In Your Shitty Apartment If you’re thinking your eyes may have been bigger than your kitchen in terms of hosting Thanksgiving dinner, follow the advice of a professional. “Cook like a restaurant and just ignore the fact that you don’t have three ovens and endless pots and pans” says Chef Michelle Hanna, of the soon-to-open Cornelius in Prospect Heights. “The secret to having every dish ready at the same time is to prepare your side dishes early in the day. The turkey will need the whole oven, so cook everything possible before that bird goes in. And never underestimate the power of casseroles. Almost every Thanksgiving staple can be either turned into a casserole or put in a casserole dish for reheating.” Former Style Network hostess Brini Maxwell says, “Don’t attempt to make something new for guests. It adds to your stress level, and the potential for disaster is much higher.”

    “There’s nothing more inhospitable than a harried cook in the kitchen while her guests sit in the living room twiddling their thumbs.” And how does one manage all that preparation in the average, miniscule NYC kitchen?  Hanna advises: “I have a set of Target TV tables from college, which are my secret weapon in a kitchen with no counter space. I open all four of them and stage them around my kitchen.”

    Decorating unforgiving spaces can be quite the conundrum, but John McCormick, designer of such restaurants as Moto and Five Leaves, suggests some creative and inexpensive ways to avoid festooning the abode with paper turkeys. “Since most of Thanksgiving is about conversation and being around the table, I think it should be the centerpiece of the holiday. I like the table to be slightly chaotic looking with a dash of Halloween to it. In the past, I’ve put some animal skulls or dried bones that I’ve found in the woods upstate on the table. Throw leaves around the floor as well.  I’ll put a bunch of bottles of good cheap wine on the table amid the clutter.” Speaking of wine, Hanna recommends it heartily for flavor and for stress. “Cook with wine, it makes things taste better. Also, drink some wine while cooking. It makes the arduous task of cooking a huge meal in a tiny space that much more fun.” If wine’s not your thing, trying imbibing a festive (and seasonal) bottle of Wild Turkey while preparing your feast. Get your guests in on the boozing, and it will be the most holiday fun any of you have ever had.

    How To Be The Perfect Plus One Tagging along to a Thanksgiving dinner? “Being a plus-one at a personal affair can be complicated,” says Maxwell. “I’m reminded of Rhoda’s faux pas in bringing Henry Winkler to Mary’s dinner for Congresswoman Geddes. I think the best advice I can give is don’t take more than your share of the Veal Prince Orloff.” If that doesn’t speak to your experience, New York Press’ own advice columnist Mark Blankenship might be less obtuse. “If you are the guest, it never hurts to call ahead, introduce yourself and see if there’s anything you can bring. If your host says he has it covered, then ask the friend who invited you for a little information. If your host likes wine, bring wine. If your host likes candles, bring a nice candle. A gift means more if you’ve done a little work to make it personal.”

    All of our experts seem to be amateur drunks, so we consulted professional wine pushers for the skinny on the best bottles to buy as gifts. The word of the day is Beaujolais, a young wine released yearly just before Thanksgiving. Jai Jai Greenfield of Harlem Vintage says they always try to include Beaujolais in their Thanksgiving Six Pack, a collection of wines designed to take you from the arrival of the first guests to dessert and beyond. Dan Weber of Williamsburg’s UVA Wines recommends Terres Doreés L’Ancien Beaujolais Villes Vignes ($18), explaining, “It’s a relatively light-bodied red, with strong accents of dark cherry fruit and a good acidity that, after all that food, cuts through. People will find it compelling.”

    How To Go It Alone Not everyone can celebrate with a group of loved—or even tolerated—ones, so let’s discuss what you can do to have a single-serving Turkey Day. “If you don’t want to stay in, a lot of eateries serve Thanksgiving dinner for a great price,” suggests Chef Hanna. “If I were to be alone on Thanksgiving, I would recommend finding a Peruvian or Argentinean restaurant that serves rotisserie chicken and ordering take out. Usually the chickens are perfectly cooked and have a great selection of sides.” If dining out alone, or leaving the house at all, isn’t your thing, the gang at Whole Foods has prepared options from ranging from bone-in turkey breast (at $7.99 per pound) to mashed potatoes ($5.49) and stuffing ($4.99), and an entire vegan Thanksgiving menu for under $20. If you want to skip the turkey all together, Trader Joe’s has a wide range of pre-made sides, like creamed spinach and maple roasted sweet potatoes, all under $4, that you can make without ever putting on pants.

    With the food covered, how do you fill your free day? “If you’re destined to spend the holiday alone, I suggest making it all about treating yourself” says Maxwell. “Rent your favorite movies, then cap the evening off with a sybaritic bath in a candlelit bathroom. Celebrate the positives: Time off from work, the ability to do exactly as you choose without having to answer to anyone else and the myriad choices we as New Yorkers have for treating ourselves.” The preternaturally upbeat Blankenship adds, “Make sure you call someone you’re thankful to know. Being alone on Thanksgiving isn’t the same as being alone in life.”

    How To Be A Do-Gooder It might seem like slinging stuffing at a shelter is an overly earnest endeavor favored by AmeriCorps types and folks who carry those “This is Not a Plastic Bag” bags, but volunteering for the holidays is a surprisingly hard gig. Most of the major organizations fill up with their regular volunteers, if they operate at all on the actual holiday. So where to find opportunities? “You may want to try the mayor’s website, many of the agencies we work with post their Thanksgiving Day projects there.” suggests James Williams, Manager of Volunteer Relations at New York Cares.

    Here’s a little tip:  If you do manage to snag a spot helping the less fortunate, make sure to get a contact number for someone who will be in-charge onsite. Or chance being forever taunted by friends about how one year, due to your personal emergency, hordes of underprivileged people didn’t get gravy on their mashed potatoes. Because if you think too much Wild Turkey and painkillers isn’t a personal emergency, you’re wrong.