For many of our closest friends, this Thanksgiving marks the first time since late August or early September that they will see the sons and daughters that left home in the fall to attend college. The buzz around the homecoming anticipation is contagious. Nonetheless, the important part of these precious days will require planning so that enjoying the good company is not lost among the details. Making the feast appear effortless requires nothing more than solid organizational skills. That includes tasks as simple as pouring the hostess a glass of wine at noon sharp Thanksgiving day. My husband knows a crisp, cool glass of white wine takes the edge off. He also takes his position as sommelier extraordinaire seriously, and keeps the glasses of his wife and his guests full throughout the day.

While the turkeys are cooking, two 14 pound birds, our entourage dons hats, mittens, and fleece and stuff our getting hungry selves into as few cars as possible for the fifteen minute trek to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. A walk in Ralph Waldo Emerson's woods stimulates the mind and the body and reminds us to in Henry David Thoreau's words "live deliberately" and "suck out all the marrow of life."

The oldest person at our gathering has the honorary head of the table overstuffed chair and delivers grace before the meal. We all join hands and listen to him recite Daniel Roselle's "Thanksgiving Grace":

This is a day thanks.
A day in which we
see or hear or feel
the wonders of the other
moments of the year.
This is a day for time.
A day in which we
think of pasts that make
our present rich
and future bountiful.
This is a day for joy.
A day in which we share a gift of laughter
warm and gentle
as a smile.
Above all, this is a day for peace.
So let us
touch each other
and know that
we are one.
Fore these and other blessings,
we thank Thee, God.

Every Thanksgiving, the usual suspects populate the table--it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without Aunt Kathy's pies, Brady's AUTUMN MUFFINS, or Emily's NANTUCKET CORNBREAD. They are made early Thanksgiving morning and the house smells wonderful. Covered with linens, the breads arrive at the set table first. The BRUSSELS SPROUTS with BACON and APPLE CIDER SYRUP are roasted and left on the baking tray (just before serving dinner they will be reheated in the oven at 350 for five minutes). The best thing about ONCE A YEAR MASHED POTATOES is they can be made the day before and reheated with just a touch more fat added ten minutes before guests make their way to the table. Scout's honor, no one will know they were peeled and boiled Wednesday. With so many people at our gatherings, the WATERCRESS, POINT REYES REYES BLUE & WALNUT SALAD with POMEGRANATE MOLASSES DRESSING will be served family style (made in the morning minus the dressing). The salad dressing is passed to maintain the integrity of the greens throughout the long meal. 

Controversy surrounds the ubiquitous Thanksgiving sweet potato--marshmallows or not, that is the question. At our house, it is an option for each and every person to choose. The SWEET POTATO SOUFFLES are served in individual cast iron coquettes and baked off before dinner (these souffles are not fussy and there is no worry if, or rather when, they fall as they are fantastic any way). When the souffles are finished cooking, pull them out of the oven and top the appropriate number with mini-marshmallows and pop under the broiler until brown and bubbling--be careful, they go from perfect to burned in seconds.

The vegetable dishes seem to be the plates that come and go year to year. They represent the necessary, but less popular, part of the food pyramid. The TUSCAN KALE with TRUFFLE HONEY, PECORINO & PINENUTS has been requested again this year and I wager the HONEYCRISP & MANCHEGO SALAD will be a hit with the toddlers and any crunchy texture aficionados.

Our gatherings often include twenty to thirty guests. This year a newborn baby and a grandfather celebrating his seventy-seventh birthday will dine with us. Every child over three is asked to bring a poem or a prayer to recite during dessert. We stoke the fire, make sure glasses are topped off to toast the efforts of the children, and find a comfortable place to sit as each of the little ones performs. My son, Christian, left tears of happiness and hope in eyes all around the room when three years ago he shared Rudyard Kipling's poem IF.  In a year filled with stories of Syrian strife, refugee desperation abroad, and at our own Southern doorstep, my thoughtful sixteen year old daughter, Michaela, plans to share Emma Lazarus' THE NEW COLOSSUS.  In it, we are reminded of the "huddled masses yearning to be free" and the reason why we celebrate Thanksgiving in our great country.

After all the giving of thanks, it is finally time for the grand finale. Side by side with pumpkin, pecan, and apple pies, stands one glorious dessert meant to encourage conversation, "What's that?", "Wow, I can't wait to cut into it", or "I'm sticking with my favorite...." This year's sweet surprise will be SALTED CARAMEL PAVLOVA with MAPLE CREAM & COGNAC RAISINS

Cheers to generations of family, to friends old and new, and to a time of year in which we are together for the sole purpose of giving thanks for health, happiness, abundance, and opportunity.