Thanksgiving will be different this year. Fewer family members traveling to us and fewer parties with friends means that many of us need to adapt (mentally, for sure), but also our menus and traditions. My Thanksgiving is shrinking from 12 people last year (most flew in from out of state) to just four, and our traditional post-Thanksgiving Saturday party for 35 or so is canceled. Dang on all accounts! I’m in a funk about not having the holiday I want, which I realize is a minor problem given everything going on in the world, but since I’m not the only one bummed about the pandemic holidays, Marjie and I decided to make our next challenge something we could take charge of: Edit the Thanksgiving menu.
To help us, we called our good friend Julie Chernoff, who is an extraordinary writer and foodie. She’s worked with big names in the industry, was an International Association of Culinary Professionals Finalist for Food Styling and Food Photography, and served on the Board of Directors of Les Dames d’Escoffier International. She’s also an amazing hostess, and we knew she’d have ideas on how to tackle this challenge.
- Shrink the Turkey – Julie will be getting a smallish turkey and having the butcher cut it into eight pieces and then she’ll roast it over the stuffing. “It solves the problem of having the breast dry out,” she says. “And it cooks in about an hour-and-a-half, so your oven isn’t tied up all morning.” This technique also works if you just want to cook a breast or just some dark meat for a smaller-than-usual crowd. What else could you miniaturize this year?
- Support Your Local Restaurants – Our inboxes are flooded with restaurants that can supply everything from a single pie to the whole meal. Marjie is going to get her pies from a local bakery, and I’m going to outsource Wednesday night’s dinner and Saturday lunch to two fave restaurants. People need to eat more than once that week, but you don’t need to cook every meal or every element of the big meal.
- Edit the Sides – Julie points out that the carbs are ripe for eliminating. “Do you really need mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and stuffing?” she asks. I’m eliminating the homemade parker rolls, the second stuffing (we usually have a cornbread and a classic sage) and the sweet potatoes. What could you get rid of that no one would really notice?
- Change it Up – Since Marjie is spending her first Thanksgiving in Florida, she asked Julie if there was a way to make everything less wintery. Julie’s answer: citrus. You can add it to the cranberry relish and the sweet potatoes (if they make the cut). A new location is a prime opportunity to lighten and brighten that menu.
- Group Participation – Last year, I had my mom, my mother-in-law, my daughter, my niece and my sister-in-law all helping me. This year, it’s me, my husband and our two sons. I’ll miss all that feminine energy and talent in the kitchen, but I’m trying to look at it as a chance to bond with my guys over food. My husband enjoys making and eating the OG green bean casserole (he might be the only one), and my sons are eager to up their cooking games. With a little more space in the kitchen this year, it’s my chance to teach them how to make my grandmother’s pies and for them to shuck some oysters.
This year isn’t going to be the same. The challenge is to rise to this untraditional year with a spirit of thankfulness for all that we do have. We’re starting with our menus! Let us know what your Thanksgiving challenge is and how you’re going to meet it this year. We’ll report next week on how we changed our Thanksgiving menus and we’ll also link to some fave recipes.