I hit snooze on my phone this morning, half dreaming of auburn leaves falling to the sidewalk. Somewhere along the way—and I’m not quite sure when it happened—fall arrived. We’re currently in the golden era, where the light is all honey sugar and the air is all bourbon maple.
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From my POV, Thanksgiving—like handwriting or musical preferences—is an indicator of personality. I’ve gone to bougie celebrations with beautiful lace tablecloths and perfectly tasteless sugar cookies and I’ve cooked for 12 people with my mom, dancing around in a kimono to Frank Sinatra and basting the hell out of the turkey, as friends and lovers come through the door, chatting about recent trips to Africa and nudist beaches.
What point am I making with these descriptions? This: Each celebration is a marker of a house, a home, a way of entertaining, and savoring the holiday.
The nuance of a perfect Thanksgiving is creating a personalized vibe and menu while also accommodating the guests who are sharing the moment. And this, of course, leads us down the rabbit hole of dietary preferences.
Related Reading: 10 Potato Alternatives for Thanksgiving Mashes
Now I grew up in a house where dietary preferences were not considered. My parents used to lie to my sisters’ friends, citing that they were eating chicken when they were really enjoying rabbit, and if I didn’t want that eggplant Parmigiana at 10 years old, well, that was dinner. The kitchen was closed.
This wasn’t cruel but educational; it pushed me to explore my own palate and to engage with foods, smells, and recipes I wouldn’t have enjoyed otherwise.
As far as planning your Thanksgiving menu goes, I would take ownership of the dishes while leaving room for inclusivity. You’re the chef, the visionary, the creator of the adventure. The evening is the product of your boldness and thoughtfulness. It’s exciting to your guests to see your tastes and imagination come to life through a delicious meal. But, it’s also cool to incorporate some of their desires.
Let’s say your Thanksgiving meal will be a mixture of generations, backgrounds, and diets. You’re cooking for 12, and in the mix we have grandma (she’s picky), grandpa (he’s a meat lover), mom (she’s experimenting with veganism), dad (he’s a purist), sister (she’s obsessed with India after a recent trip), brother (he loves a stiff drink), sister-in-law (she recently took a cooking class and fancies herself to be Julia Child), and four friends from high school and college (they are all vivacious, hungover, psyched about turkey, and wondering if they can borrow a sweater from your closet).
In this situation we do not send an email opening up the floodgates of conversation. We don’t say, “Hey guys, what are we thinking we might like to eat this year?” No. You own the menu but you incorporate these subtle shifts in character into your meal. You lean in just like Sheryl Sandberg said to do, and crank it with a delicious feast.
For the Experimental Vegans: Kale-Apple Coleslaw with Poppy Seed Dressing
Coleslaw. It’s classic, it’s comforting, and it’s beckoning you forward with its sultry tang. Enjoy the unbearable lightness of being (near) this dish. With kale, honey, poppy seeds, Dijon, and red onion, it’ll set your night off with a bang. Get our Kale-Apple Coleslaw with Poppy Seed Dressing recipe.
Related Reading: Vegan Thanksgiving Dishes Everyone Will Love
For the World Travelers: Curried Carrot Soup
Throw sis a curve ball with a New Wave carrot soup. With curry, coconut, garlic, and carrots, it’s a nod to the adventures abroad which made your family complete. Get our Curried Carrot Soup recipe. (And see more international Thanksgiving recipe inspiration.)
For the Meat Lovers: Smoked Turkey
Light er’ up with a gorgeous smoked turkey. Cooking that bird on the grill with a bourbon cocktail is not to be underestimated, not to mention that the smoke smells delish in your flannel after hours. Get our Smoked Turkey recipe.
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For the Cocktail Crowd: Spiked Wassail & Prosecco Negronis
Let’s be real: If we’re going to talk politics, then the booze better be flowing. For one part style and one part substance, go with slow cooker wassail punch and Prosecco Negronis. So good that even Uncle Larry will forget he’s a Trump supporter. Get our Spiked Wassail recipe and our Prosecco Negronis recipe.
Related Reading: 15 Small Talk Topics for the Thanksgiving Table
For the Whole Crew: Pumpkin Pie
You’re loving the crew and they’re loving this pie. Close out your perfect Thanksgiving with this crowd pleaser. Best served with friends, recollections of high school shenanigans, and plans for post-din coffee and knit sweaters. Get our Perfect Pumpkin Pie recipe.
For more tips, tricks, and recipes, see our Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving.
Related Video: For Something Completely Different, Try This Thanksgiving Turkey Cake
Header image courtesy of Debby Hudson / Unsplash