Full disclosure, that’s chicken in the photo, not turkey
Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates food and friends, and even if you don’t have a fully-stocked kitchen you likely love both of those things and deserve to celebrate.
If you want to indulge your inner-Bree Van de Kamp and make a perfect start-to-finish meal as I did a couple years ago, I’d suggest setting aside 6+ hours of active prep time in addition to planning and grocery shopping. Going whole hog, I mean turkey, is a tiresome but rewarding journey to try at least once. If you’re gutsy, keep track of the money you’ve spent and kindly ask guests for donations. (For me it came to about $7 per person, a sweet bargain for a quality meal.) You can also figure out what to ask friends to bring–alcohol adds up quickly, and it’s not awkward to ask friends to byob. Dessert is a good option for contributions too.
If you don’t have the time or the desire to do it all yourself, potluck. You can maintain a balance of control and guest creativity by listing general options people can publicly (i.e. on facebook) sign up for. For example, instead of saying “mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, dinner rolls, apple pie” say “potatoes, fruit side dish, starch side, bread product, fruit dessert” and see what people come up with. Also have guests bring their own dishes for less clean-up.
Either way, I’ve created this special mantra you can repeat to yourself to keep your spirits up. It goes: “You can do it” and it’s true. That, and the suggestions below, will have you well on your way to your own collegiate Thanksgiving with minimal stress-induced side effects.
What: A Thanksgiving-themed celebration of food and friends in an intimate and non-overwhelming setting.
For: Five to 10 of your closest friends and roomies. Overloading the guest list can detract from a family-like closeness and can be a logistical annoyance with seating and expenses.
When: The weekend preceding Thanksgiving unless your break is super long and people start to take off Friday afternoon. In that case, try the Thursday before Thanksgiving to give people a nice kick-off to their weekend/break. A later dinner at 7 or 8pm gives people more time to prepare and makes it more of a dinner party rather than just a dinner. If you host during the week, starting at 5 or 6pm leaves a couple of reasonable late-night homework hours for guests (or you) when the party dies down. International students or other students far from home often enjoy an on-campus celebration on the day of, and more power to them!
What to Eat: A whole gigungo (pronounced jy-gung-go) turkey to take up your entire fridge and stress you out all day long while it takes forever to cook??? Maybe, but maybe not. Most supermarkets carry individually packaged boneless, skinless turkey breasts and drumsticks (two very popular choices) that are much more manageable. Turkey breasts can be stuffed, rolled and tied up with butcher’s twine (ask the butcher for some) for a low-maintenance but cool-looking turkey/stuffing combo. A roasted chicken is delicious, festive, and small enough to fit in the fridge.
Besides turkey and main dish considerations for vegetarians and vegans, a selection of traditional or new and interesting interpretations both make satisfying sides, so you really can’t lose on that front. Most Thanksgiving dishes are best served hot, so plan to enjoy your bounty before it gets cold.
What to drink: Warm drinks can sit in a large pot on the stovetop, convenient options for a crowd if you have an oven in your living space. Seasonal beverages include hot or cold apple cider (can be spiked with dark rum and cinnamon schnapps), hot chocolate (can be spiked with Kahlua or Bailey’s), a tasty autumn beer or hard cider. If you think you might enter food coma territory, consider wine as a lighter option. Sparkling cider or punch-style mocktails are fun non-alcoholic choices.
How to Set the Scene: First and foremost: “hand turkeys” made with guests earlier in the week or after dinner; they’ll be jealous if you do it by yourself. Hearken back to 3rd grade by telling everyone what you’re thankful for, or asking guests to bring a small item that symbolizes what they’re grateful for this year–you can put those in a bowl or basket as a centerpiece. (Think objects like cheesy old mix cds, some cheap souvenir from a fun day at Six Flags, a funny note someone wrote you that they’d be surprised to learn you kept.) Make it more formal than everyday by using a (clean) bedsheet or curtain as a tablecloth. Light a few candles if fire alarms will allow it.
Attire: There are those of us who look for any excuse to dress up. You know what to do. If not, no dress code necessary. Just make any specifications clear to people ahead of time and explicitly mention that people don’t have to dress up if they don’t want to and don’t pressure and/or mock them, a rule we sometimes forget with our poor friend Amanda, who simply prefers to be casual, and that’s okay! Wearing oranges, reds, and browns augments the Thanksgiving atmosphere.
Jen Cantin recently graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. with a degree in English and Journalism as well as all the ambition in the whole wide world. She shares other (a)musings at Deep Fried Epiphany and dedicates this post to dressing up for most New Year’s Eve parties in the last five years and having a wonderful time.