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by Slow Food USA intern Samantha Taylor

With plans for this gastronome’s favorite holiday beckoning just around the corner like an intimidating heap of rich, succulent and often stress-inducing delicacies, I am truly thankful for what the holiday is really about: the food. All uncomfortably inebriated family members, bland green-bean casseroles and football distractions aside, Turkey Day is a chance to gorge ourselves on a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of every comfort food Americans are proud to call their own, and if there is a way to feast free of the stress, guilt and anxiety typically served alongside, while keeping it slow, by golly I’ll find it.

With that in mind, here are some tips for extracting all of the convivial wonder at the heart of the meal and none of the trimmings:

1. Shop Early, Sleep Easy: Find yourself cursing the solitary bag of cranberries left on the grocery store shelf come Wednesday night? Take advantage of your local weekend farmers’ market and load up on the bounty of root vegetables so at home on a Thanksgiving table. Perusing the stands and sharing free range turkey-basting secrets is a pleasant (and conscientious) substitution for the chaos of the supermarket.
2. Ditch the Archetypal Meal: First time playing chef and hostess for the family? Rather than trying to live up to the yams of those who’ve come before you, manipulate the main characters of the meal with surprise combinations and novel cooking methods. Instead of a tart, runny cranberry sauce, try a buttery tart crust filled with cranberries, and a hint of orange zest. Fill your stuffing (the ultimate canvas) with your favorite tids and bits, sausage, chestnuts, apples, whatever strikes your fancy. With innovative sides your guests will be too busy praising your ingenuity to bicker.
3. Don’t Fight the Urge to go Potluck: The vast array and magnitude of Thanksgiving classics is too much for almost anyone (save Ms. Stewart) to bear alone. Not to mention, potlucks are a fabulous way for all your near and dears to showcase their mothers’ famous fillintheblank. Delegate a food group to each dinner guest, provide the ambiance, some good wine, the turkey, and a choice few accoutrements. Then sit back and let the eclectic meal (served family-style) be filled with quirky childhood memories and the host (that’s you) with inner peace.