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Thanksgiving is only nine (9) weeks away. I know many do not want to think about it. I mean, come on…I too am one of those people annoyed that stores were setting up Halloween displays on Labor Day weekend. But the truth of the matter is that Thanksgiving is, if not the best, one of the most favored holidays…especially if you are a lover of fall’s food flavors.

To that end, I beg of you, DO NOT experiment on your Thanksgiving guests. Have I blogged about this before? If so, sorry…it bears repeating. It is fine to present a new dish along with the usual suspects (please serve the usual suspects), just try it out first. I suggest that now is the time to start planning your menu. If you are including a new recipe, make it now, serve it to your family, see how it goes over. That way, if it doesn’t pass muster, you can move on to some other item that tickles your fancy.

Go with a basic side dish with familiar ingredients. Know your audience. Here are some ideas: http://www.food.com/ideas/favorite-thanksgiving-side-dishes-6374?c=24901 Generally, you can’t go wrong with a potato, sweet potato or veggie side. I find Thanksgiving tables to be heavy on the meat and carbs. If the crowd is large, consider those who are going to use your buffet as an excuse to overindulge. Variety is the spice of life. I like balance and the move vegetable based dishes, the better.

If you’re not a cook, STAY IN YOUR LANE. You can still present a lovely spread. Find out now where to order a good, farm raised turkey. Even better, find out where you can buy one already roasted, smoked or fried. Don’t like turkey, you say? Ok, but if you’re having guests, SERVE TURKEY. It is fine to just get a breast or parts and serve them. Then present some other entree meat: duck, lamb, beef, venison, rabbit, fish…up to you. People will expect turkey. How about a “Thanksgiving” appetizer: a roasted Brussels sprout, a cube of turkey, a cube of stuffing, a cube of jellied cranberry sauce–on a skewer!? If you’re only feeding those who you know don’t like turkey in any form, then you are off the hook.

For some of us, this is the dinner we start thinking about as soon as September begins to wind down. It conjures up fond memories of grandparents, friends, good food. If you are “of a certain age” and have more Thanksgivings behind you, than ahead of you, these dinners become all the more sentimental. If you are a younger member of a family, now is the time to offer assistance to the elder cooks. Give them the right to refuse, but it should be clear that Grans or Aunties may not be up to the Herculean task that you merely enjoy eating. You don’t cook or no one wants you to cook? No problem. You can still help. Set up, clean up, bring disposables, send invitations (spring for postage), order baked goods, clean up afterwards. Pulling off a successful holiday meal is quite the undertaking. Our seasoned family members shouldn’t have to keep doing it. Besides, how will the others learn what is required by only knowing what is expected?

Now, while I warn y’all not to turn your guests (or fellow attendees) into guinea pigs, if you would like to cook/bring a new item, don’t be afraid. However, again, know your diners and sample the item in advance. One of the worst things is when a new dish is presented and the presenter is asked “what’s in it” or “how’s it taste” and can’t be given an answer.

Oh…and I didn’t forget you my friends who are M-O-T. Same rules apply to Rosh Hashana. Though, I imagine since the menu is flush with traditional, biblical food items maybe this is less of an issue? I don’t know, have yet to be invited to a seder (hint, hint). Happy New Year.

Food experimentation can be fun. But it can also be tragic. Heed my warning. There are myriad options out there. Prepare a dish people will talk about well into the future…for good reason, not because of the Urgent Care visit that followed. (FYI, food safety info can be found at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/BuyStoreServeSafeFood/ucm255180.htm )