11th-hour aid and comfort

Keep recipes for easy side dishes handy. Above all, relax.

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An assortment of cheeses is a simple appetizer. Add fruit, if you like.

You planned to plan.

But Thanksgiving is here and even the best-laid plans may need some last-minute tweaking. Here, then, are some calming tips as well as easy recipes for those last-minute side dishes.

Step one, relax for real. Nobody has a good time when the hosts are in a dither - and believe me, most of your guests know when you're trying to mask your emotions. That's why we call them friends and family.

My sister, Phyllis, taught me to set the table first. This provides a safeguard against early-arriving guests and last-minute scrambling. A home where the table is set makes early birds feel welcome and it saves you from having to search for serving spoons.

Assemble everything you'll need: extra tables and chairs, the tablecloth and a spare, napkins, plates, flatware and glasses for each course. You'll need water glasses, too. Chill pitchers of fresh tap water with slices of lime or lemon, now.

Put empty platters on the table and label each with the dish it will hold.

Write out your menu on paper large enough so you can check off what's under control, reassess what you still have time for, consider which elements can be delegated, and decide what lofty, complicated ideas should be scrapped.

Include everything on your menu, from the toasted almonds to sprinkle on the soup to the cream and sugar for the coffee.

A written menu also guards against that end-of-the-evening anguish when you realize you forgot to serve the salad.

If your concern is that the turkey may take longer than anticipated, buy time by adding an appetizer, serving the salad as a separate course, or putting a store-bought soup on the menu.

Pennsylvania Wine and Spirits Shops are closed today (Some liquor stores in New Jersey are open). But there's still time to serve hot cider, kept warm in a Crock-Pot.

Did you forget flowers? Not a problem - just remember all the times you had to take the flowers off the table to make room for the food. If there are young helpers around, ask them to collect fallen leaves (soft ones, not crumbly) to sprinkle on the table along with acorns (wash and dry them, kids).

Many supermarkets, among them Whole Foods and Acme, are open until 4 p.m. for last-minute shopping. If you are rethinking your side dishes, select those that won't take up time and space in the oven.

Seth Kalkstein, general manager of the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market, says the easiest appetizer is a platter of local cheeses, perhaps with slices of Asian pear or seasonal clementines.

Ruth Yaskin, of the Philadelphia Women's Culinary Guild, has two favorite stove-top sides: a quick saute of Asian greens and mushrooms and stewed seasonal fruit (see accompanying recipes).

Her roasted cauliflower (see recipe) does need 45 minutes in the oven, but it can be made this morning and reheated while you're working on the turkey gravy.

"Using locally grown ingredients is a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving," Kalkstein says. "It's about living off what the land right around you has to offer, respecting the land, and being thankful for the food it provides."


Asian Greens

Makes 8 to 10 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves of garlic chopped

   or crushed

1 finger of gingerroot diced

   or grated

Two handfuls of local mush-         rooms, any variety

2 pounds Asian greens, such

   as baby bok choy and

   Chinese broccoli

1 tablespoon of roasted

   sesame oil

Pinch of sea salt

1. Combine olive oil, garlic, and gingerroot in a large saute pan. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, being careful not to let the garlic burn.

2. Add greens and cook until wilted.

3. Toss with roasted sesame oil and a pinch of sea salt.

- From Ruth Yaskin, Philadelphia Women's Culinary Guild

Per serving (based on 10): 66 calories, 2 grams protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 6 grams fat, no cholesterol, 79 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Stewed Fruit

Makes 8 to 10 servings

3 tablespoons butter

1 cinnamon stick

Sprig of lavender, if available

6 heirloom apples, any

   variety: Honey Crisp, GoldRush, cored and sliced

4 pears

2 quinces, if available

Handful of cranberries or apricots

3 tablespoons honey

2 cups apple cider

1. In a stove-top frying pan, melt butter. Add cinnamon stick and lavender (if using).

2. Add sliced apples, pears, quinces, cranberries or apricots and cook on medium-low heat at least 3 to 5 minutes until the fruits have released some of their juices. Then add the honey and cook through.

3. Add cider and cook on medium-low heat until half the cider cooks down and fruit is soft, but not mushy.

- From Ruth Yaskin, Philadelphia Women's Culinary Guild

Per serving (based on 10): 168 calories, trace protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams sugar, 4 grams fat, 9 milligrams cholesterol, 29 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.


Roast Cauliflower

Makes 6 servings

Whole large head of cauli-         flower (white, orange, or

   purple)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons of smoked

   paprika or chili powder

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Cut and toss cauliflower with olive oil and paprika.

3. Place in large ceramic oven dish and bake for 45 minutes.

- From Ruth Yaskin, Philadelphia Women's Culinary Guild

Per serving: 76 calories, 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 7 grams fat, no cholesterol, 14 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder.