By CATHI AYCOCK

When my family rolls in town for Thanksgiving, I refuse to miss a minute of face to face time.

I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen preparing food, but I do want a homemade meal that will still feel homey and warm. (And, yes, satisfy my 80-something year old Daddy who is an all things Southern and homemade eater that would never eat high brow foodie food.)

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This is my actual dining room table–loaded with homemade Thanksgiving dishes. I am so not a superwoman. Just smart enough to maximize my precious family time. Because I want laughter and fun, not stress and stuck-in-the-kitchen memories.

Last year, I prepared Thanksgiving dinner for my entire family in under three hours: turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, squash casserole, rolls and pie. Homemade and yummy, I was relaxed and rested when it came time to say grace. (Instead of years past when I nearly nodded off from exhaustion.)

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Who wants to get up at o’dark hundred to put the turkey in the oven for a mid-day meal? Not to mention a smoked turkey (over cherry wood) is way more flavorful than my attempt at roasting. I add roasted root vegetables and plate the turkey on a beautiful platter for a homemade vibe.

Am I superwoman? Yeah, not so much. But I have finally gotten over my overachiever tendencies by squashing that evil Martha Stewart-meets-Pinterest voice. The one that whispers you must grow your own herbs, bake your own bread and every dish must be from scratch or you are not showing your family love.

And that other voice? The false vanity voice that loves to moan and kvetch to others about all of the work that I do had to be silenced too.

I kept this liberating experience on the down low for a few years, but I am truth-telling so that you can experience the same joy this Thanksgiving and Christmas. I order my turkey, dressing, squash casserole, rolls and pies from Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant. 

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I love that ordering part of my Thanksgiving meal allows me to have fun cooking the things I love. And I make everything my own with unique spices and fun flourishes.

No one cares if the yummy green beans were prepared by me. What they care about is spending time with the happy-me. (And not the martyr-me who is secretly pissed that I do most of the work and starts slamming pots and pans around.)

I am not lying when I say, with a straight face, that my Thanksgiving dinner is homemade. Because while those magic fairies at Puckett’s prepare most of the dishes, I add a touch of my own culinary love so that it is still, technically, made in my kitchen. (My story, people, and I’m sticking to it.)

Have a non-turkey lover? Puckett's Boat House offers holiday catering with a seafood spin. Oyster dressing anyone?
Have a non-turkey lover? Puckett’s Boat House offers holiday catering with a seafood spin. Oyster dressing anyone?

My hubs picks up the food the afternoon before Thanksgiving, all items come chilled and are packaged with reheating instructions, and I add my own flourishes.

First, I replate everything into my own serving pieces. And I am not above tasting and reseasoning to my own taste. A pinch more sage and a splash of chicken broth makes the dressing taste more like home to me.

For the squash, a yummy mix of yellow squash, onion and seasoning, Puckett’s sends a separate container of bread crumbs. I bake a pan of cornbread and use a herb and cornbread crumble, with a healthy dose of cheese, as a topping instead.

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A huge pan of squash casserole from Puckettt’s becomes my own with a cornbread crumble topping. (But if you want to use the breadcrumbs that are included, along with easy to follow heating instructions, the squash casserole is still yum.)

I make real whipped cream, with a generous dose of  pumpkin rum, and pipe the pumpkin pie with the sinfully good topping.

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Making a homemade pie crust is scary. I let Puckett’s make the pumpkin pie and I make a yummy pumpkin rum infused whipped cream to go with.

I roast in-season root vegetables and serve them alongside the (amazing) smoked turkey.

I make a few from scratch items. Things I really love to make like homemade cranberry sauce with ginger and orange and decadent macaroni and cheese. But everything, including arranging flowers for the centerpiece and setting the table, is done in less than three hours.

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Not going to lie. I love arranging flowers and fluffing the table more than pulling giblets and other mystery items from the innards of a turkey. Ordering from Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant lets me play and have fun at the holidays. (And still serve an amazing meal!)

And the dinner tastes totally homemade. Because Puckett’s is sort of that home-cooked-Mama-made-this eatery so everything they offer for holiday catering tastes legit.

I put my martyr and overachiever in the closet for Thanksgiving. And liberate a relaxed woman who serves a delicious Thanksgiving dinner without spending hours in the kitchen.

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If my sweet Daddy gives Puckett’s turkey and dressing a thumbs up–you know it is Southern good.

Those hours, spent with my precious Dad, college kiddos who rarely come home and sweet husband (who would rather eat a cold hot dog that suffer through my whiney phase) can never be replaced. I’m determined not to waste those hours on anything less than living in a moment filled love.

The latest date that Puckett’s will accept Thanksgiving orders for to-go or office catering is Sunday, Nov. 20. The full to-go menu — consisting of all Thanksgiving favorites, from sliced turkey to cornbread dressing and sweet potato casserole — can be viewed and ordered online at http://puckettsgro.com/holiday.

Have a seafood lover–oyster dressing anyone? Puckett’s Boathouse also offer a full catering menu for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Thanksgiving orders accepted through Sunday, November 20. Pickup is available 11-5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23 and 8 a.m.-10 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 24. Christmas orders accepted through Sunday, Dec. 18. Christmas pickup is available 8 a.m.-10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 24.

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