Six years ago I was sitting around with a bunch of my gal pals drinking wine and talking about our collective love for Thanksgiving. "Why don't we all get together with our dudes and have a Thanksgiving together?" someone suggested. A Friendsgiving was born. At the first Friendsgiving there were construction-paper pilgrim hats. There was a long table in which we all sat and shared what we were Thankful for. There was turkey — and also a ham. (This was a result of a buy-a-turkey-get-a-free-ham deal at the grocery store that just couldn't be passed up.) There were full bellies and fuller wine glasses. It was an epic celebration.
You too can make Thanksgiving potluck with friends a stress-free and fun-for-all event to live on social media for eternity. Here are my 10 commandments for a Friendsgiving to remember.
1. Thou shalt have a sign-up for dishes.
This is the first step after choosing a host and a date. I'm pretty sure Google Docs was created with Friendsgiving in mind. It's easy, it's free, it's efficient — use it! Also, keep in mind the faster you sign up to bring a dish on the Google Doc, the better. If you wait, suddenly everyone has signed up for the crowd-pleasers* (Carrie: sausage stuffing; Natalie: Italian stuffing; Kate: cheesy potatoes; Sarah: potato gratin; Veronica: sweet potato pie).
*By the way, this leads me to a sub-commandment: Thou shalt never have too many stuffings or potatoes.
2. Thou shalt have a place setting for each guest.
If you're the host, 85 percent of your guests will shoot you a "let me know if you need any help" text. Take them up on it and appoint a décor committee.
Friendsgiving isn't an eat-off-a-paper-plate-in-your-lap kind of scenario (I realize this isn't always possible depending on space, but try your best). Yes, it's easier cleanup to eat with plastic forks from paper plates. Yes, it's less work when you don't have to haul in fold-up tables from IKEA and beg your neighbors to loan you their patio chairs. But this is a chance to up your entertaining game. Grab a mish-mash of old china at the thrift store, buy some remnant material from the fabric shop, handwrite names on cardstock, and throw a few gourds down the center of the table.
3. Thou shalt make thy turkey.
If you're hosting, you should make the turkey. It's just easier this way. Try googling "transporting a turkey." Nope! Allow time for buying, thawing, cooking, and making gravy.
Guests: Know that in handling the turkey (and gravy), the hosts have fulfilled their Friendsgiving contribution and then some. Which leads us to …
A Mini Guide for Making Thanksgiving Turkey
4. Honor thy host.
Even though it's a potluck, the hosts have gone out of their way to have everyone over. A small token to say "thank you" — some quirky paper napkins, a succulent or hard-to-kill houseplant, a bag of good coffee, heck even the step-up bottle of wine from 2-Buck-Chuck at Trader Joe's to be enjoyed at a later date — goes a long way. And one more last note about the hosts ...
5. Thou shalt not plan to cook/prep/assemble in the host's kitchen.
Don't. Even. Think. About. It. I mean, seriously. Your hosts are trying to get a 14-pound bird on the table, and make gravy, and answer the door, and make sure everyone has a wine glass, and make sure no one sees the bottom of their wine glass, and stay calm because "OMG we didn't defrost this thing early enough!" Don't you dare show up with the makings of green bean casserole that requires two baking pans and a 450°F oven.
6. Thou shalt bring (and share) wine.
Everyone throws a bottle in and you're set. But keep in mind a little organization (aka the Google Doc) is helpful here, too, lest everyone arrive with a California Cab. Plan for a few bottles of (pre-chilled) bubbly before the meal and a mix of easy-drinking whites/reds (dry Rieslings/Chardonnays/Pinot Noirs/Beaujolais) to accompany the feast. If you want things to get wild and crazy afterward, that's up to you.
7. Remember thy friends with allergies.
Chances are someone on the invite list is vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free/dairy-free. When looking over the Google Doc, make sure your lactose-intolerant buddy isn't the only one bringing a dish that isn't topped with cheese. This goes especially for the host/organizer, but really it's a neighborhood watch sort of situation. Friendsgiving is all about being inclusive, so be mindful of what's on the buffet.
Addendum to Commandment #6: For pregnant guests (or any abstainers), at the very least have three LaCroix options. Bonus points if you've got an eight-pack of those fancy skinny Curate cans in the fridge.
8. Thou shalt not be offended if no one eats your dish.
If you bring a salad and no one eats it, that's on you. Let's be real. No one comes to Friendsgiving fired up for some beets and arugula — even if there's a homemade candied pecan in the mix (trust me, I've tried). That said, this is the time to try something new. Family Thanksgivings tend to err on the side of tradition, so make Friendsgiving the wildcard. Try the cardamom pumpkin pie. Take a stab at the Eggo stuffing. Just know that if it's a swing and a miss, you might be taking leftovers home.
9. Thou shalt not critique any dish — including your own!
Friendsgiving is not your opportunity to assume the role of New York Times food critic. Even if your crowd is of the "didn't you just love Adam Rapoport's ed letter this month?" variety, that doesn't mean someone didn't try really hard and flop miserably. Remember the Friends episode when Rachel accidentally made half an English trifle and half a shepherd's pie? Even if something "tastes like feet," be gracious in your sampling of the Friendsgiving spread.
10. Thou shalt make new traditions.
Be creative — and the quirkier, the better. Here's an idea to get you started: Have guests write on a slip of paper what they're thankful for (i.e., my Starbucks barista Cathy who remembers my order! The Cartwheel app! This elastic waistband!) and throw the slips into the bowl. Pass the bowl around, have each person grab one of the notes, read them aloud, and guess whose is whose.