Joni Woolf: Thanksgiving made easy

Published 7:45 pm Monday, November 14, 2016

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year, and I plan weeks, sometimes months, in advance to get everything ready. It is quite an undertaking, but one that my daughter Carey Wooten, and her husband Marshall, have also taken great pleasure in for many years. We share the same piece of rural property, and Marshall has worked tirelessly of late, clearing undergrowth from fence rows, mending fences, making sure the fields are free of debris for those who want to ride around in the Gator during the family outing. Granddaughter Lane Wooten has scrubbed the deck and steps and is pressure washing the walls; we are all invested in welcoming family and friends to the old farm house on Bumphead Road.
We do most of the cooking (and next week in this column. I’ll offer Marshall’s smoked turkey, which is tasty, tender, perfect). But we have learned to take a few shortcuts with some things. And I get by with a little help from my friends — and from local businesses that offer special treats that are great anytime, but especially when you’ve finally gotten too busy to shop or cook or think. So think while you still can, and consider some options available locally, lightening your load while increasing your bounty. No less than Ina Garten, Food TV’s Barefoot Contessa, says it’s perfectly alright to combine things you buy, fully prepared, that make life a little easier, with those you spend hours preparing. It’s admirable to make those special recipes for those you love, but not at the expense of your health and sanity.
For appetizers, there’s none better than Frances Irlbeck’s cheese straws, available at The Maze, the large downtown Americus mall owned by her son, Chuck Smith. Available at the front counter, as long as they last, these cheese straws are among the best I’ve ever eaten, and I dare not buy too many. I could eat the entire package in one sitting (I haven’t — but I could). Delicious with a Bloody Mary or a glass of sweet tea or lemonade, or a Coke, these tasty cheese straws have a mere hint of something hot, and it’s just enough to make you want another. And then another.
While you’re on Forsyth Street, drop in at Bittersweet, the great coffee shop/bookstore — just up the street from The Maze, and talk to chef Kelli Taranto about preparing at least one dessert for your Thanksgiving table. (The pecan pies, I hear, are spectacular.) Or, if you’ve already baked the cakes and pies and custards, consider how attractive a large platter of beautifully decorated cookies would be, especially for children, who prefer a dessert they can hold in one hand while they run around the house and neighborhood.
On the same street, in the same block, you can visit Center Stage Market and find all the items you often cannot find in chain grocery stores. There’s a new wine selection and these are wines you won’t see on most grocery shelves. Koinonia pecans are there, and they are among the best pecans around — always fresh, always a fully-packed pound bag. Of course, if you have time to drive out Ga. Highway 49 South to Koinonia, you can visit their store, which offers not only the freshest pecans, but all kinds of pecan delights, boxed and ready for serving. You don’t have to cook a thing: just put the tasty tidbits on a pretty platter and a dessert appears without much effort on your part.
Another no-effort sweet tidbit might be the delicious pecan muffins made daily by Steve Miller at Little Brother’s Bistro. These delightful treats, made from a recipe given him years ago by Amelia Pat Cohen, are two or three tasty bites of a soft, sweet, pecan-filled muffin that can take the place of a heavy dessert after you’ve had your fill of turkey and dressing and all the trimmings.
Instead of agonizing over making the perfect biscuits or breads to accompany the Thanksgiving meal, be prepared in advance, and reduce your kitchen time: Stop in at Sweet Georgia Baking Co. and pick up two or three loaves of Lee Harris’s focaccia bread, and you will please your guests while clearing your schedule just a bit.
If drought has destroyed your yard or garden (as it has mine), there are several local florists who will prepare a lovely arrangement for your Thanksgiving table, in your price range and in your color scheme (if you have one — my colors tend to be what’s still alive in the woods around the house, but this year, the choices are few and falling fast.) For those of us who enjoy gathering natural foliage from surrounding woods, this year offers little of use. Even the dogwoods are more brown than red, and the swamp flowers died on the stalk.
Thanksgiving is a major American holiday, a time when families gather to reconnect over food and drink, and long conversations in the dwindling daylight. There is never enough time to say and do — and cook — all the things you meant to say and do — and cook — so accept the brevity of the moment and enjoy it while it lasts. But don’t be afraid to take an occasional shortcut that eases the stress of the day. No one will know. Or care.
Next week we’ll talk turkey.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at