Normally November is the busiest time for cooks and food writers – we cannot get enough of making plans and menus for Thanksgiving and the December holidays at which we gather together. This is not a normal year. We are all dancing as fast as we can to hold onto our fraying sanity, while wearing masks and keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Unless we are very comfortable with Zoom, there won’t be any holiday parties. The only plus is that we won’t have to talk about the election with our uncles. But wouldn’t it be nice to see them all again?
We are opting for a smaller, less boisterous Thanksgiving. At which we will earnestly ask for blessings for everyone, and will remember jollier times. Like the Thanksgiving where we ran out of chairs and the children were relegated to a coffee table. And how, like clockwork, we almost always manage to forget the green beans until after the parade of food from the kitchen to the table has begun. Our cast of characters will be smaller this year. We always have a couple of mashed potato specialists, but only one master baster. We will suffer pie-wise, because Courtnei brings the only acceptable pecan pie. And Julia is in charge of the corn bread stuffing. It just won’t feel the same.
One Thanksgiving in Florida we ate outside, because it was a pleasant temperature and there were lots of wriggling children. We fired up the fairy lights and moved the stereo speakers out onto the back porch. It was an adventure to eat formally, with candles and sterling, and the ancestral china, and tinkling crystal outside, not because we were minimizing the spread of germs. Outside dining is an option for some folks this year. Everyone brings a covered dish, a blanket and some hand sanitizer. (Can I suggest from personal experience that you leave the good china inside, and go for the everyday? It will be dark, after all.) It will be challenging, but I bet we see some clever Instagram feeds of families breaking bread while bundled up. And think about grilling a turkey breast instead of deep frying an entire bird – you can spend even more time outdoors: https://www.101cookingfortwo.com/grilled-brown-sugar-rubbed-turkey/ Added extra: the white wine will chill itself.
So start your low-key Thanksgiving planning. Be innovative. Instead of forgetting the green beans this year, why don’t you try roasting some Brussels sprouts? https://www.wellplated.com/oven-roasted-brussels-sprouts/
If you are going to be a smaller family unit this year, how about making your life easy? Roast a chicken. You can still eat drumsticks: https://food52.com/recipes/17568-barbara-kafka-s-simplest-roast-chicken Then you can splash out for some really nice wine, and make a labor intensive and decadent dessert involving choux pastry, chocolate and creme pat: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/choux-pastry/
A dose of romance could liven up a holiday spent at home. Lots of candles and a brace of Cornish game hen, wild rice, roasted Brussels sprouts, chocolate eclairs, with fewer dishes to wash. Take a nice meandering walk in the cold, and have an evening streaming comforting Hayao Miyazaki films. Find something to make yourselves happy. And in 20 years, you’ll have something to remember when this chapter is all over.
With COVID lurking around every corner these days, we have to be flexible and learn how to pivot. Maybe next year we will be back to normal, while listening to the uncles still droning on about the election. And won’t that be grand?
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”
― Oscar Wilde