Monday, November 10, 2008

Alternative Thanksgiving Entertaining Ideas

HGTV’s Libby Langdon knows all about packing small spaces with big style. But the decorating star also has some great entertaining ideas up her sleeve, including clever alternatives to traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
While each of the following ideas focuses on get-together planning, its centerpiece is what the holiday is all about: celebrating life and the people we love.

Throw a Perfect Pie Party:

Host a pie party the weekend before Thanksgiving or even the night before–just make sure there’s one person who’s an excellent pie maker so they will be there to give inside tips and instruction. Invite eight to 10 friends who like to bake. Or even better, invite people who want to learn to bake a great pie.
Ask guests to bring a rolling pin, pie pan, and six to eight firm, tart apples, pears or whatever filling they want. You supply the makings for the crust and wine and cheese! Begin by having the expert pie maker give descriptions and tips on how to make the best pie then have everyone find a spot to get to work. Have everyone finish their pie but wait to bake it until they get home…they’ll want their home to have the wonderful aroma of a fresh baked pie. People will share their baking secrets and favorite memories, and it’s a great way to begin the holiday season.

Thanksgiving Parade Party:

Growing up in North Carolina we always watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, but we were even more excited to actually go to our own small town parade on Thanksgiving Day. If your town has a parade, host a parade party! It’s actually just like hosting Thanksgiving dinner with about half the work–you make the turkey, the stuffing, and the pies and let your guests bring the side dishes. The only stipulation is that everyone goes to the parade–no one is allowed to stay behind and cook. The idea is to be outside relaxing with friends, family, and kids and then to go home and finish making dinner–and it’s a more active version of Thanksgiving for everyone!

Host a Good Old Wine and Cheese Party:

This is a classic for a reason. During the holidays we all get pulled in a million directions–and what’s easier than setting out some cheese, opening some wine, and having friends over? It’s also easy enough for people to stop over just for one drink and it’s inexpensive enough for friends to bring their house guests. Either way, you still get a chance to say hello to the people that mean the most to you. Choose five or six different cheeses (brie, blue, goat, Parmesan, are a few good options) and choose several different accompaniments (crackers, crusty bread and crostini). Then all you have to do is style them on platters and cutting boards with bunches of grapes, bowls of olives, and sliced pears; it’s as easy as can be but all your guests will be sure to rave about the presentation. A local wine store can help you choose suitable wine pairings based on the cheese. Then simply light some candles, put on some music, and have fun!

The “I-Only-Have-24-hours-off-for-Thanksgiving” get together:

Even if you leave work Wednesday night and have to be back there Friday morning, it doesn’t mean you have to skip the whole holiday, and it also means you have more choices than just going to someone else’s house. You can actually do a paired-down version of the big feast for yourself and your friends–less work but just as much food, fun, and laughs! Find out which friends and other “strays” are in the same time constraint as you and invite them. Tell everyone to come mid-afternoon (you only have 24 hours and you may as well make the most of it)…the only thing they have to bring is a side dish, wine, and a celebratory mood. Make a turkey breast instead of the whole turkey, buy pies, and serve wine and cheese early in the day. Light candles, get some fun games going like charades and scrabble…have friends bring their iPods and take turns playing different guest’s play lists.
Relax and enjoy!

Kick-Off Cocktails and Touch Down Desserts:

This is for those folks that know friends have other plans for the actual Thanksgiving feast but could make it by for a drink before or after the main event. People also eat the big Thanksgiving meal at different times during the day, so why not have an open house so pals can come and go throughout the day, catch some of the football action, enjoy a taste of chili or a bite of dessert, and toast the beginning of the holiday season? Design your invitation to look like a ticket to a football stadium and call it an open house for “Kick-off Cocktails or Touch Down Desserts” (this way guests will know they can come anytime during the day or night).

Serve “un-Thanksgiving food.” Make a chili/potato bar with a big pot of chili and bake a bunch of small baking potatoes. Accompany it with all sorts of toppings to choose from and be sure to have lots of cold beer standing by. Bake a bunch of chocolate chip cookies and brownies and put them at the end of your buffet in a set of football shoulder pads turned upside down. (Line the pads with a napkin.)

Mail Order Thanksgiving:

This Thanksgiving, slow down, spend great time with family and friends, and still serve them an incredible meal. These days we can order just about everything on the internet or over the phone and Thanksgiving is no exception. If you have an incredibly busy schedule but don’t want to completely pass up the Holiday, consider ordering everything and having it delivered to your door. It’s a more expensive way to go so keep your guest list small. You can also set a budget, order most of it, and ask friends to bring a side dish and wine. The order items usually are shipped frozen, uncooked, and oven ready so all you have to do is turn on your oven and set a timer. (Just be sure not to order all items that need to go into the oven at the same time unless you have a large oven.) You’ll wow your guests and you’ll have more time to enjoy with them! Some resources are, Honeybaked ham, and Omaha Steaks.

Friday Bike Ride and Lunch:

A lot of us don’t have guests just for Thanksgiving day–instead we have guests for the weekend. Why not plan a fun bike ride (or hike) and then a nice lunch? After the big Thursday feast we all want to get out and move around a little, but we still want to linger and chat with our guests…this is the perfect combination of both! If there’s no place to rent bikes and guests are flying and cannot bring bikes, go for a nice walk in a park, or round up a game of touch football; the main goal here is to get outside and get moving before you saddle up to the dining table again! Make a menu of items that can be prepared ahead of time like ham and asparagus strata (basically quiche), green beans, cupcakes, and green salad with pears, walnuts, and blue cheese.