Photos by Wing Ta
I didn’t grow up celebrating Thanksgiving or any US holidays, aside from some trick-or-treating. My family came to the states when I was seven and we just didn’t really know much about these traditions.
My first real Thanksgiving meal was with Brian’s family when we began dating. From the conversations to the food, I remember how special the connection felt and since that day, I’ve looked forward to this tradition every year. It became even more special when we started our own little family. With our first born, we both had demanding careers working long hours (Brian still does) and it’s nice to have holidays where we can relax and be fully present with our family without the distraction of work.
Brian runs the kitchen and I’m the clean up + styling crew. It’s a team effort and while our day is busy, it’s filled with warmth and gratitude. We spend the entire day sipping on special beverages, chatting, cooking, dancing, handing out treats to the kids, chasing around the littlest, setting the table, eating, laughing and cleaning as we sneak in sweet hugs and kisses. I find this whole experience to be incredibly beautiful and while this year is different, time with my little family on this day will always be sacred.
In partnership with Crate and Barrel, I am sharing inspiration for creating an intimate family style Thanksgiving meal to get you excited for the big day! I’m giving you a run down of our traditional menu, kitchen + tabletop item recommendations and some styling ideas to create a memorable experience the whole family will enjoy!
Before we get started, I wanted to share a couple of tips for a smooth and fun day when hosting.
Tip 1: this year is so different and we won’t get to celebrate a big Thanksgiving like the past but go into the day with the right attitude. When the host(s) is overwhelmed, everyone (yes, even our kids) can feel that energy. So start the day with good mood music, fun beverages and remember that it’s about the full day experience, not just the final meal.
Tip 2: don’t forget to plan out your cooking schedule to avoid overbooking the oven and pushing out the meal time so your meal is served nice and warm.
1. Our Menu
We solidify our menu a week in advance to gather ingredients leading up to the big day. The menu is pretty traditional with staple dishes but some change out annually. There’s always a mix of familiar and new for both kids and grown-ups to enjoy. While there are snacks set out to graze on all day, the meal is usually around 4:00pm when the sun is setting and the ambiance is cozy.
Many of the recipes have been passed down from Brian’s mom who admits, “I don’t do perfection”. She may refer back to an old cookbook or a hand written recipe that she modifies by adding a little bit of this and that. Luckily, I was able to gather two of her staples that are easy and loved by all ages to share with you.
Candied Sweet Potatoes w/ Marshmallows
3 large sweet potatoes (cooked and sliced lengthwise)
1/2 cup salted butter (melted)
2 cups large marshmallows (or enough to cover the top)
3/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375ºF
Boil water in a large pot with enough water to cover sweet potatoes. Place sweet potatoes in pot until they are fork tender – approximately 20-30 minutes. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly before slicing them in half, lengthwise.
Layer the sweet potatoes, butter, brown sugar, and salt in a 9×9 inch baking dish
Cover pan with foil
Bake for 30 minutes
Uncover and put marshmallows on top, enough to completely cover
Bake an additional 15 minutes.
Broil for a few minutes if needed, 6-8 inches from the top broiler until marshmallows are golden brown
Apple Streusel Pie
This recipe is from a cookbook from her high school home economics class. This pie is a staple but new desserts can be introduced in addition to it.
5 to 7 tart apples
One 9” unbaked pastry shell
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup enriched flour
1/3 cup butter or margarine
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Pare apples; cut in eighths. Arrange in unbaked pie shell in three layers. Mix 1/2 cup sugar with the cinnamon; sprinkle over apples for each layer.
Mix 1/2 cup sugar with the flour; cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over apples.
Bake in oven for 40 minutes or until done. Let cool.
Serve with vanilla ice cream on top!
A new recipe we tried this year and recommend is the Autumn Pear Salad from Feel Good Foodie! Our littles loved it! The soft pear + grapes and pecan gives a nice sweetness and crunch. It’s flavorful and easy to make. Best of all, you can actually refrigerate the leftover and still tastes good the next day! The kale absorbs the flavors of the dressing but won’t become soggy like lettuce (although I wouldn’t suggest keeping longer than a day in the fridge).
Roasted Rainbow Carrots
We are always keeping our eyes out for simple and healthy veggie recipes. This Roasted Rainbow Carrots from Food Network was such a beautiful dish that we all had fun munching on. Just like the salad, you can refrigerate the leftovers and they stay crunchy and delicious to snack on the next day.
2. Kitchen Tools
Having the right kitchen tools is essential when making a big meal like this. We registered at Crate and Barrel for our wedding in 2012 and it continues to be one of our go-to stores as we add on to our collection year to year. When we’ve hosted in the past, we’d borrow a lot of items that we didn’t have from Brian’s mom or siblings – like the gravy boat, extra cookware, carving set, roasting pan, large platter, potato masher and turkey platter. It was nice to finally add these must-have items to our kitchen!
We opted for the hand potato masher instead of the mixer because it’s easy to use and store. Its convenient spring-loaded action produces light and fluffy potatoes every time.
If you’re in the market for new cookware, we can’t recommend ours enough! Brian loves cooking with the Lagostina Martellata Hammered Copper Cookware Set. These beauties heat up quickly and consistently because of their heat-radiating aluminum core surface. Brian used them to cook the potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberries and wild rice casserole and appreciates their stay-cool handle while I appreciate that they are easy to clean!
Click the below photos to shop our must-have kitchen tools.
3. Tabletop (Serveware, Dinnerware, Drinkware, Flatware)
As a designer, I naturally gravitate towards the presentation of the meal and want our food to look as nice as they taste. Tabletop items can make a big impact so I tend to stick with simple solid colored serveware and dinnerware to highlight the food. These white oven to table serveware with trivets enhance the colors of the Autumn Pear Salad and cranberries. Its rich acacia wood stand elevates the oven-safe ceramic but also does double duty as a trivet to protect our table and counters.
We’re big fans of the white porcelain Verge dinnerware collection designed by Martin Hunt. The clean, simple and beautifully balanced design make it the ideal blank canvas for our culinary creations. Also, the flared rims and straight sides are perfect for keeping food contained for little messy eaters.
Click the below photos to shop our must-have tabletop items.
4. Decor and Styling
A beautiful table isn’t a must-have but it sure does set the mood and we’re all about the experience here! Even when it’s just me and Brian, I still love to decorate the table. Just because this year is different, doesn’t mean it needs to feel less special.
I tend to go for a classic look using the table runner as my foundation. I’m really into the clay hue right now so this Bonita fringe runner was perfect! The fiber leaf placemats and 3-ring wood napkin ring brought in some natural and subtle fall elements. Our oldest helped set the table so we made a fun turkey silhouette with the fringe napkin and she got a real kick out of that!
Candles bring out the coziest and relaxed vibe for me. These wood taper and wire votive candle holders add a dreamy touch to the room. Place a couple of small vases with flowers in saturated autumnal colors and you have a pretty centerpiece without blocking any view.
Click on photos to shop the items we used to style the table.
Brian and I truly enjoy hosting, even if it’s just with our little family, and I hope you found some ideas and inspiration for your upcoming Thanksgiving meal. If you’d like to see more weekly inspiration and behind-the-scenes, please follow along on my Instagram!
Wishing you a fun-filled holiday season! Cheers!