Dear Martha: Plan This.

You know those “easy” hol­i­day game plans that prom­ise to help you cre­ate the per­fect meal if only you fol­low them weekby-week, day-by-day, minute-by-minute? Yeah, it doesn’t hap­pen that way.

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Plan the Menu

Copy all your fa­vorite recipes and draw up a mas­ter shop­ping list. Or­der flo­ral cen­ter­pieces, in­vite guests. Con­grat­u­late self on how serene and or­ga­nized you feel. This is def­i­nitely go­ing to be the very best hol­i­day din­ner ever, pro­duced with the least amount of fuss. Sim­ple!

Make and Freeze Soup

OK, so there may be no sim­ple way to make parsnip pump­kin soup, but you’re pre­par­ing the whole thing pre-in­san­ity. And you’re mak­ing ex­cel­lent use of the en­tire Hal­loween pump­kin! Clean your freezer to make room for the soup, and while you’re at it, clean the re­frig­er­a­tor, clear out the pantry, and bet­ter buy a new dish­washer too. And a sofa. And get the house painted. Wait a minute. Where were you? Oh right, the soup…

Del­e­gate Side Dishes, Make Place Cards

As­sign guests their con­tri­bu­tions to the meal: cock­tails, cran­berry sauce, pota­toes, pies. Cre­ate a spread­sheet to co­or­di­nate re­frig­er­a­tor, stove and oven times. Or­der card­stock from Ja­pan and take cal­lig­ra­phy course to pro­duce beau­ti­ful place cards and de­sign a seat­ing chart to max­i­mize fel­low­ship and min­i­mize bick­er­ing. Rec­og­nize that you are not merely a host or a cook, but a boun­ti­ful god­dess with the power to con­jure love, hap­pi­ness and the true magic of the hol­i­day sea­son.

Pick Up Turkey

Visit free-range turkey farm to in­di­vid­u­ally se­lect your bird, which you then slaugh­ter in an eth­i­cal man­ner. As you wash the turkey blood from your hands, con­tem­plate go­ing ve­gan. You def­i­nitely might, but not be­fore you eat that turkey, which costs ap­prox­i­mately 23 times as much as the su­per­mar­ket one that comes com­plete with pop-up ther­mome­ter.


Re­con­firm ev­ery­one on the guest list is com­ing; they are. Re­con­firm their meal con­tri­bu­tions; they’ve all for­got­ten and are too busy/de­pressed/ in­com­pe­tent to even con­sider re-cre­at­ing Granny Miller’s cran­berry sauce or con­densed-soup casse­role. In­stead, ev­ery­one of­fers to bring a bot­tle of wine. Con­sider not only dis­invit­ing but dis­em­bow­el­ing them. In­stead, agree to the wine con­tri­bu­tion, given that your per­sonal wine needs have now tripled.

Set the Ta­ble

Lay out all your serv­ing dishes, with notes on what goes in each. Take out your ta­ble linens to iron; re­mem­ber you don’t own an iron. Go on­line to buy an iron and end up plan­ning a spa week at a re­mote is­land in Jan­uary. But for­get the iron.

Brine Turkey

Pre­pare the brine, then dis­cover the turkey is still frozen. Run it un­der hot wa­ter. Still frozen. Blast it with a hair dryer. Still frozen. Look up other thaw­ing tech­niques, only to re­al­ize that you have now maybe prob­a­bly made your gently slaugh­tered bird un­safe for con­sump­tion. Brine it any­way.

Be­gin Prep Work

Wake up and with­out even chang­ing out of your pa­ja­mas, head in des­per­a­tion to the near­est su­per­mar­ket. Bak­ery is packed with beau­ti­ful pies. Ready-made mashed pota­toes and sweet pota­toes and cran­berry sauce are in plen­ti­ful sup­ply. Sup­ple­ment the ba­sics with as much heavy cream and but­ter as you nor­mally con­sume in a year, on the the­ory that if you use enough, no one will no­tice what’s un­der­neath.

Start the Turkey

Shove turkey in the oven with a lit­tle salt and pep­per. Cook the bird to 190 de­grees in­stead of 165 to (hope­fully) solve thaw­ing de­ba­cle.

Warm Up Sides

Trans­fer ev­ery­thing to your own serv­ing dishes and bury the ev­i­dence in the neigh­bor’s trash. Re­sist the urge to clean and in­stead, turn down all the lights and change into your best clothes. Or any clothes that are not pa­ja­mas. Scrub the tear stains off your cheeks. Prac­tice smil­ing.

Party Time!

Greet your guests, pour drinks and di­rect your brother’s turkey-carv­ing. Or­der ev­ery­one to find their places in the din­ing room and be­gin pass­ing the meal while you fin­ish mak­ing the gravy. En­joy a mo­ment of peace as you add first a lit­tle flour to the gently sim­mer­ing pan juices, then a lit­tle wa­ter, then some more flour, then a lit­tle cream, un­til you have at least a gal­lon of gravy as pale as co­conut milk. Burst in bear­ing the gravy, full of apolo­gies for keep­ing ev­ery­body wait­ing, to find that they are, in fact, nearly done eat­ing. They com­pletely for­got about not only the gravy, but about you. But they’re also hav­ing a won­der­ful time. Soak in the com­pli­ments, feel­ing ab­so­lutely no need to con­fess your short­cuts. Pre­pare your own plate, hog­ging all the gravy with im­punity. And dream about that spa trip in Jan­uary.


is the au­thor of the best­selling hu­mor col­lec­tion How to Not Act Old. Her novel, Younger, in­spired the hit TV Land show.

“…I don’t know…she stum­bled around the dairy aisle, made a dash for the tur­keys, then just col­lapsed!”

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