Thanksgiving is my favorite meal of the year to cook, perhaps in part because it's the simplest. Really. The task looks daunting to the novice, but that's only because the bird is bigger than anything else we normally cook. The truth of the meal is that it's a difficult one to mess up.

Oh, I know, there are all sorts of horror stories out there by unprepared cooks. (What? You have to defrost the bird first?)

But most of the apprehension for making the meal revolves around cooks who want to do too much in the time that they have. Yes, there used to be a bounty of food at Thanksgiving meals of the past, as the women of the family prepared platters and platters of fare over days, if not weeks.

But there also used be plenty of people at the table. These days many cooks find far fewer numbers joining them than the 20- or 30-plus that past generations may have welcomed.

In my kitchen, fewer guests mean I make fewer dishes, and no one seems to mind. There will be the traditional fare, always with a twist that depends on my whim: turkey, potatoes and gravy, and a fresh cranberry relish, of course. This year I will start the meal with a beet-and-green salad. I could stop there, but I'm likely to add a favorite vegetable to the menu, scalloped corn and broccoli that simply shouts "autumn" to me and my family.

And then I stop (well, after dessert is prepared).

The most time-consuming process for the menu? Peeling the potatoes. I think it's the last-minute prep -- mashing the potatoes and making the gravy -- that daunts many cooks. But with a little practice, that becomes a seamless process, too.

My advice to the cook for the big day: Keep it simple. And breathe. It's just a meal. LEE SVITAK DEAN