One week to go, and you may have already started your Thanksgiving countdown. Any minute now Christmas decorations will go up, holiday music will ring through every available sound system, and we’ll all switch into some level of panic and anxiety as the trifecta of holidays approaches. And even if you’re Jewish, and don’t celebrate Christmas (officially) your friends and co-workers probably do, and you’re going to have to bake something sometime soon. Have you started your shopping yet? If not, I’ve got some advice for you!
Do as much shopping as possible the weekend before Thanksgiving.
The easiest thing you’re going to cook is probably the turkey, especially if you cook the stuffing on the side. Leave enough time to defrost your bird. Even if you’ve bought a fresh turkey, they’re kept so cold that they’re often a bit frozen though not frozen solid. Many people wait to buy their turkeys until the last minute thinking the bird they get will be fresher. I promise you that if you are getting your turkey in any grocery store or supermarket, the turkey you buy Wednesday is no fresher than the one someone else bought on Sunday. If giblets are critical to your preparation check and make sure they’re there. Most stores have some extra on hand if yours are missing.
The day before Thanksgiving is the busiest day your grocery store will have all year! If you want to avoid the madness shop early. It’s easier, faster, shelves are full and nothing be out of stock (yet) if you shop Sunday, Monday or even Tuesday. You will also get better service. Employees get more stressed and tired as the week wears on. By shopping early you will have their attention and their gratitude.
If it’s cold enough (consistently below 40° during the day), you can keep food outside, in a box, or covered, out of the sun. This is not for the turkey, but your vegetables, eggs, and other non-meat items. Clean out your fridge to make room for all that stuff, remove shelves if you need to. Your leafy vegetables will stay fresh if you wrap them in damp paper towels and keep them damp. Make sure you don’t refrigerate potatoes. A good check-in for what needs to be refrigerated is the store. If they’re leaving things out, you can too.
If you haven’t used your cinnamon, or other spices since last year, check them to see if you need new ones. To check spices put a little in your palm and rub with your fingers. If the fragrance is weak toss it and get a new one. Because spices last about a year I prefer buying small jars of the ones I don’t use much. Those giant containers seem like a bargain until you toss more than half. This is for spices, not herbs. This time of year you should be able to get a wide variety of fresh herbs at most stores. If you’re using dried herbs check those too.
When making your grocery lists write down the amounts of everything you’ll need. If you need chicken stock for three different things (and you very well may) make sure you have enough, don’t just write down chicken stock write 3 quarts. Buy a quart of cream; you’ll use it. If nuts go on sale before the holiday buy them and freeze them, same with butter. If you’re planning on making something and will need an unusual ingredient don’t assume the store will have it, call and ask, and if they don’t carry it ask if they can special order it for you; do this sooner rather than later.
Shop at a store you know well so you don’t spend a lot of time hunting around. When I have a big shopping list I break it up by department, so I don’t have to do a lot of criss-crossing the store. You may want to get the heavier grocery items first, and the produce last so it doesn’t get smashed. If you have a spare kid around take them and grab two carts. This will also be easier if you don’t wait for Tuesday or Wednesday when carts can be in short supply. And remember as you countdown to Thanksgiving, this is not a test, it’s just dinner.