Thanksgiving in Lockdown: Advice from Abroad

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is going to be different this year –and PSA: if it’s not going to be different, maybe you should cancel your plans and make it different! Canada’s early Thanksgiving resulted in a big spike of COVID-19 cases–Americans should look at this example and opt to stay home (and Brits should learn from it re: Christmas gatherings, too, but Boris is trying to figure out a way to “save Christmas”–we shall see).

Source: Time

Airline travel figures are about half of what they were the weekend before Thanksgiving last year, so even though headlines (rightly) decry “Millions of Americans Traveling for Thanksgiving, Ignoring CDC advice“, it’s good to see that millions are also staying home and following CDC advice. The Macy’s Parade is going to be downsized to one block and only televised performances, with no spectators. Thanksgiving day football is still going ahead somehow–3 NFL games, yet we can’t actually meet up in person…

I’ve spent 12 out of the last 14 Thanksgivings in the UK–sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, sometimes just with my husband, and now with our kids (it’s Paul’s first Thanksgiving!). I know what it’s like to have a weird Thanksgiving, to miss home and friends and family, to miss certain foods you can’t get hold of, to miss the Macy’s Parade (the time difference means I’ve often watched previous years’ parades on YouTube while cooking!). These experiences have given me some brilliant coping skills that I want to share as some of you go through a weird Thanksgiving for the first time:

Modify your menu!

The best part about a scaled-down Thanksgiving is that you can make only what you want–no more, no less. Growing up, our Thanksgiving table was loaded with so much amazing food–enough to feed our whole extended family and still provide leftovers for weeks. When I started cooking Thanksgiving abroad, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to recreate that same menu. If something felt like more work than it was worth (yeast rolls from scratch), I could use store bought–or simply cut them out altogether! I don’t have them any more, and I really haven’t missed them.

This weird Thanksgiving is also an opportunity to try a new recipe–something you probably wouldn’t risk if you were feeding a big crowd. If you’re bored with mashed potatoes, there are a million other ways to prepare them. You can even leave them out entirely–I stopped making mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving because they’re not really special when you live in ‘pie & mash’ country. Growing up, I was not a fan of the marshmallow-topped sweet potato/yam/”hot dish”, so I don’t make that. I make sweet potatoes with a Paula Deen recipe that doesn’t have marshmallows but does include butter, brown sugar, and Jack Daniels. This author is making an all-side-dishes feast that sounds fabulous. Embrace the freedom to modify your menu!

You can make a meal for whatever dietary needs you have–gluten free, dairy free, vegan, nut free, etc. For some people, this might be the first Thanksgiving where they can finally relax and not have to worry about explaining their dietary requirements and fielding jokes about being an awkward dinner guest. For a vegan/vegetarian main dish option, I love a good chestnut-mushroom pie. This version is vegan, while this one has Gruyere cheese so it’s just vegetarian, not vegan. Don’t waste your time doing anything sad with roasted cauliflower or tofu in the shape of a turkey–Thanksgiving deserves better than that, and you deserve better than that.

For the traditional turkey eaters, I highly recommend getting a turkey crown instead of a whole turkey. It’s the breast meat, so you still get a beautiful centerpiece and the “look” of a roast turkey, without the excess of leftovers. I use Nigella’s method of brining my turkey crown and it’s always amazingly juicy and full of flavor, never dry and boring like most turkey breast. Another crucial tip is to leave it out and let the turkey come to room temperature before it goes in your preheated oven. This makes your cooking time more accurate, which reduces the risk of overcooking and drying it out. I don’t remember if I learned that one from Jamie Oliver or Paula Deen, but it’s key!

Enjoy Socially-distanced Togetherness with Video Chat and/or Texts

If Thanksgiving won’t feel like Thanksgiving without a certain loved one, there’s always video calling. I recreate cooking together by talking to my mom about making her cornbread dressing or her pie crust recipe, but you can do whatever helps you. Maybe your family always plays a board game together after Thanksgiving dinner–do it via zoom. Watch a film at the same time and text each other your inside jokes that you’d normally be saying out loud. Send each other memes! Every time a friend or family member sends me a meme, I know they were thinking of me, and it shortens the distance to laugh at the same things together.

Focus on the positives

Obviously, some people have been through hell this year, losing jobs and losing loved ones–I’m not pushing “toxic positivity” on them. But for the majority of Americans whose biggest frustration is having to wear a mask in a supermarket, I think it’s important to focus on gratitude–the actual meaning of the holiday!

There was a great Oprah quote about gratitude–if you’re breathing, be grateful that you’re breathing. And if you need a machine to breathe, be thankful that you’ve got the machine! Start with the basics and work your way up. We used to have to go around the table every year and name something we were grateful for–recreate that, and write your answers down in a diary or journal. Look back on them at times when you don’t feel like being grateful.

Feel the weirdness and do it anyway!

I know a lot of people won’t feel like celebrating this year. I’ve been there, too–in 2008 I had pizza for Thanksgiving dinner. But marking the day in some small way can help make this crazy year seem a little bit better. Maybe read Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation and think about the circumstances of its creation as an official holiday. America was even more divided then (during an actual civil war) than it is now! For a more lighthearted approach, watch a classic TV special like Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving or Garfield’s Thanksgiving, or start in on the Christmas movies–Miracle on 34th Street opens with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, making it a great choice for kicking off the holiday season on Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Little Pilgrim George at Thanksgiving 2016, one of my 2 spent in America over the past 14 years

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