Thanksgiving is a grand time to get together with family and friends -- and the food and the traditions that go along with it.

As I begin to write, it occurs to me that this is the weekend to start the preparations, to buy the turkey and stuffing mix, the sweet potatoes and cranberries, the French-style green beans and corn and all the other trimmings that go along with the annual dinner where you eat way too much and look forward to eating the leftovers the next day.

The first thought is the turkey and what size to get. Usually the turkey we buy is the size to accommodate way more than the three of us who will be dining. But I subscribe to the theory that you don't want to run short. You have to start thawing the turkey many days in advance because it has to be done in the fridge, never on the counter, and there have been times when the bird had to go swimming in a sink of cold water.

The day before Thanksgiving is a good time to make all the trimmings -- there's something comforting about "all the trimmings," suggesting full plates of sumptuous delights like green bean casserole of mushroom soup and french-fried onion rings you buy once a year, and scalloped corn made with a white sauce and crushed soda crackers. Years back I found the recipe in my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook, which also has my favorite recipe for stuffing, or dressing. I used to dry slices of bread, then cube it for the dressing, but now I do the Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix shortcut. And you can't ever have too much dressing. There is nothing better than leftover dressing the next day.

Then there are the Ocean Spray jellied cranberries, which I try to slide intact from the can. It is placed in my mother's special relish dish and served with an antique silver cranberry server I found at a rummage sale.

Now the preparation of the dressing, and the grinding of the celery and onions, for which I use my trusty Black and Decker food chopper. I have had the handy device at least 25 years, having bought it at the no-longer-there Virginia Kmart on a shopping trip with my mother. It has served well all these years, grinding and chopping and slicing faithfully.

Dressing requires a couple of sticks of melted margarine in which you gently cook the onions and celery, then adding the bread cubes and that staple spice called sage. I like to make more dressing than necessary, to have leftovers to accompany pieces of turkey in gravy ladled over mashed potatoes, and there is nothing like real mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. The potatoes are best when made with real butter -- a favorite is Kerry Gold butter from Ireland. Speaking of real butter, use it on your dinner rolls too, if only for the holiday.

On to dessert, even if you have absolutely no more room. Pumpkin pie is tradition, and when I was a senior in high school listed it as one of my favorite foods besides chocolate cake. You can make your own pie with Festal canned pumpkin, but in recent years have opted for tastes-just-like-homemade pumpkin pie from Italian Bakery. Top it off with Reddi-wip and the meal is complete.

But what really makes the Thanksgiving dinner special indeed is that we once again have the opportunity to express our gratitude for having had another year, with its joys, and sadly for some, its heartaches. And may God bless your Thanksgiving.

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