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10 ways to a better holiday

Day-after turkey vegetable soup.

Styling by Sheryl Julian and Valerie Ryan; Aram Boghosian for the Boston Globe

Day-after turkey vegetable soup.

Sometimes the only thing your holiday needs to improve dramatically is a paid dishwasher. Or perhaps cloth napkins that throw themselves in the washing machine and then dry and fold themselves later. Or a perfect guest who can distract an unruly one.

Or a few simple menu tweaks.

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Many families sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner whose menu was established so many decades ago that even though no one really likes it anymore, no one is willing to disturb the equilibrium. The harvest ingredients are set in stone, and that’s the way it should be: winter squashes, hearty roots, and apples are in season right now and they’re pretty wonderful next to a big, juicy bird.

But wouldn’t it be nice if the person assigned to bring a pie didn’t have to fret for an instant? Didn’t have to text several friends to ask advice, didn’t have to download a dozen recipes for pie pastry, and finally give up and order one at a bakery? And the feast would be a much better spread if the entire thing weren’t pureed. It’s one thing to serve mashed potatoes, but pureed squash, pureed turnips, and pureed sweet potatoes seem like a quartet of baby food.

Make little adjustments so your time in the kitchen is easier and more fun. Instead of those pureed spuds, make old-fashioned potato skins dusted with Parmesan and sprinkled with crispy bacon. Prepare your own croutons — after all, it’s a matter of cutting an unsliced loaf into cubes and sending them into the oven — which will transform stuffing into a sensational (though still quite homey) dish.

As for that pie, forget pastry. If it doesn’t come naturally, don’t torture yourself. Butter triangles of challah or brioche, toast them, and top with sauteed apples. No fretting. No bakery pickup. Very little fuss. And smiles all around the table. Even from the unruly guest.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.
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