This thing that you are about to do late in November called "Thanksgiving Dinner" is the bar exam, the eighth-grade play, the wedding ceremony, the dissertation orals, the first big job interview, of American meals.


It's the craziest day in the kitchen each year. And why is that? Because it means so much to us and so we made it happen that way. Good on us; we know what matters.

But it wouldn't hurt to take it down a notch or five. Thanksgiving Dinner needn't be — really, shouldn't be — the mammoth, last-minute pile-on of so many dishes that the dining room looks like a midnight buffet in Vegas.

This week, and for the next four, I want to help you prepare — pre-pare, as in "cut it (out) ahead of time" — the big feast. So much can be done beforehand, way before November 22, to spare you the agitation of trying to do it all early that week or, Julia Child forbid, on Thanksgiving Day itself.

By November 1
•Start the guest list, especially if someone is coming from afar and will need to purchase transportation. Give them and their budget a heads up.
•Plan the menu. Sure, it’s early, but there are many foods that you’ll want to prepare piecemeal, and save time for yourself by making ahead. Plus last minute shopping is the worst, right?
•Once you begin to get an idea of the menu, and the number who will sit at table or forage at the buffet, match the menu to a list of serving pieces and tableware, in order to be sure to have on hand the necessary large serving pieces, bowls and platters; serving spoons and tongs; a sufficient number of knives and forks; etc. We normally do not serve this many foods at one sitting, so we often do not have an adequate number of things to hold them all in one presentation.
Broth or Stock
The most important thing that you can do now is make turkey broth (or, as some of us call it, "stock"). How to make turkey stock without the turkey? Easy. We do not need the November 22nd carcass here.

A delicious all-turkey stock may be made year-round with turkey wings, thighs and drumsticks, always available at the market. (Of course, so are whole — mostly frozen — turkeys; but no need to, um, stock up on those for this recipe.)

A solid, tawny-gold turkey stock will be the best liquid at hand on Thanksgiving Day itself — for the base of turkey gravy, for moistening the outside-the-bird stuffing, or even as the foundation for a soup that you might slot for an early course.

It also will serve as a calming "cuppa" in the days ahead, warmed to steaming and a terrific source of both comfort and nourishment.

No need to wait for "the drippings" to fashion a base for the wet things such as gravy for the Thanksgiving Day table; you'll be way ahead of the curve with a turkey stock at hand that day. The drippings and gizzards, should you render them that Thursday, simply will amplify the stock that you've wisely made ahead.
By the second week of November
If it were boiled down to the nub, preparing Thanksgiving Day dinner is mostly about managing space. The nub is: There isn’t enough of it.

(MAJOR do-ahead: If requesting that someone bring a dish for the groaning sideboard, assure that it isn’t something that will require finishing, heating up, or keeping warm in your oven. There won’t be room for it come November 22.)

To that end, now is the time to clean out the freezer. You’ll need the space in the two weeks to follow, plus you’ve probably already placed there some containers of turkey or chicken stock (Yay!), perhaps even some pan drippings that you’ll use for gravy or enrichments.

Some more do-now kitchen tips (that are useful when preparing other, non-Turkey Day big meals):
• Be sure that your knives are as sharp as they can be. Dull, even slightly dull, knives — frankly, what most of us keep around — do an awful job at their main task of cutting up. Furthermore, they can be hazardous because they haphazardly push around slippery foodstuffs instead of steadily cutting them. Not a good idea.
• Secure your cutting board by placing a moistened (paper or fabric) towel flat underneath it. A slipping or slippery cutting board is perhaps the most dangerous place in the kitchen.
• Have all the tools or gadgets that you'll use for any preparation, especially on Thanksgiving Day, ready at hand, laid out on a sheet pan or long towel, not secreted in their usual drawers. You'll save lots of time not having to search them out, one after the other, from their normal cubbyholes.
• Cover your baking trays with parchment paper, readily available at any grocery store. Almost nothing adheres to parchment paper and that means a lot less scrubbing when cleaning up. In case you did not know, you will do a lot of cleaning up.)