My Thanksgiving Binder (and How to Make Your Own!)

I love to cook. I love to chop and peel and knead and whisk–if there’s a menial kitchen task that most people delegate to an appliance or the processed food companies, I probably enjoy doing it by hand.

Not every day, of course. I have a food processor and a blender and a garlic press for everyday use. I use my KitchenAid mixer so much I’ve worn out several paddle attachments and one dough hook. I am no stranger to frozen pizzas and canned chili. These things help me (and my family) survive.

But every once in a while, an occasion calls for some serious cooking–and I actually have the time to do it. These are my favorite days.

That’s why I love Thanksgiving.

I get to cook for not one day, but a whole week. I start planning right after Halloween, creating a schedule for family activities, decorating, and meal prep. I’m not a hyper-organized person–or even reasonably organized for the most part–but when Thanksgiving rolls around my left brain just lights up. I have a binder full of recipes. There’s a section for yearly must-haves and a section of wild cards. I have every menu I’ve served since my son was born and I intend to keep printing and archiving them until one of my children wants to take on the cooking for him/herself.

The binder is not the most beautiful thing in the world, but we have decorated it with stickers. Some of the recipes and lists are handwritten, some printed on the computer. There are food stains aplenty. It’s a working cookbook as well as a scrapbook of sorts. It contains timelines and shopping lists and a hand-drawn dish guide that maybe only I would understand.

It contains schedules from each year, including my husband’s curling matches and my OB/GYN appointment from the year I was pregnant with my daughter. This year, I’m going to add a section for all the turkey handprints I’ve been collecting. By the time my kids are grown up, it might be two binders. Maybe three.

Over the years, the binder has helped me develop a system that spreads the prep and cooking across Thanksgiving week, not only so that I won’t be completely slammed on Thanksgiving Day (I have to have time to watch the parade and I’ve learned that, for digestion’s sake, I prefer to serve around lunchtime) but so I can enjoy the cooking a little longer. I do a three-day brine on my turkey and I bake all my own breads, even the bread for the stuffing and leftovers sandwiches. I make a delicious fresh cranberry jelly. I pre-chop a lot of my vegetables and I spend the bulk of Wednesday making pies.

Most importantly, the binder has helped me learn to love a holiday that I had previously scorned as an inconvenience between Halloween and Christmas, that as a kid meant a meal of pie and mashed potatoes and whining because my brother hogged the TV watching football. The binder has helped me appreciate the seasonal dishes that my family has always loved but that never impressed me as a child, and to cook them as well as I can for the sake of the people I love. In trying to fill its pages, the binder has given me a more charitable vision of the Thanksgiving holiday, and inspired me to make acts of generosity a family tradition. So far we’ve donated food and money to various organizations, including No Kid Hungry and our local food bank. If I can ever figure out how to schedule it, I’d like to get us involved in our local turkey trot.

In organizing what used to be my least favorite holiday, it’s become so much more than a meal and a fight over the remote control. It’s become a celebration of family and food, of all the wonderful things we have and the ways we can share them with others.

Here’s how you can make your own binder:

Supplies

One binder, in the color of your choice
One packet of plastic binder sleeves
One packet of binder dividers
Thanksgiving stickers
Your favorite recipes: photocopied, printed, or cut out
Seasonal magazines

Put It Together

  1. Decorate the outside of your binder!
  2. Add the dividers and label the sections (mine includes: “Core Recipes,” “Alternate Recipes,” “Tips & Tricks,” “Leftovers,” and “Scrapbook,” with the yearly schedules and shopping lists stacked at the front.
  3. Divide the plastic sleeves between the sections.
  4. Start filling the sleeves!

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