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Holiday meals, at their essence, are about gathering people together. But in pandemic times, a major scaling down of invitees — not to mention recipes — is likely to be the norm for celebrations this November and December.
"Everyone is talking about the new Thanksgiving this year,” says Cynthia Graubart, the James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and cooking teacher who recently published Thanksgiving Dinner for Two (or Four): Downsized Recipes for Today's Smaller Thanksgiving Dinner. “Many people aren't traveling to be with family, and they're feeling sad about it.”
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5 Tips to Help Keep Things Special on a Smaller Scale
- Make the atmosphere as much a priority as the food.
- Use the good china if you feel like it. If the weather permits, move the party outside to a candlelit table for something different.
- Simplify things for the chef while keeping it special by considering a soup bar, ice cream sundae bar and the like.
- Downsize from your usual 15 holiday dishes to the five you love best.
- Incorporate one family recipe, if you have it, that everyone enjoys.
But that's no reason not to celebrate and connect. Graubart, who lives in Atlanta, says she and her husband have planned a virtual cooking date with two other couples, who will be tuning in from their own kitchens on Thanksgiving Day over Zoom.
If ever there was a year to give yourself a break from the stress of cooking for a crowd — and more time to be in the moment enjoying the people you're with — the time is now.
Think outside of the usual holiday meal box
"Nobody wants to roast a 20-pound turkey for two people,” says Graubart, who suggests considering cooking individual Cornish game hens (available in the freezer section of most supermarkets) for your holiday meal.
"They kind of look like cute little turkeys, and they're special because they're not something you have all the time,” she says, “Plus, they roast beautifully, are super flavorful and stay moist.”
Graubart also suggests frozen turkey breast and turkey thighs as a downsized way to bring the iconic poultry to the holiday table, with enough left over for turkey sandwiches the next day, but no leftover overload. Graubart's cookbook features an easy recipe for turkey thighs with mushrooms and sage. She's advising people to buy smaller cuts of turkey and other meats early as “there's going to be a demand for these smaller items this year.”
If you're willing to go a bit further in parting with the idea of a traditional holiday meal, consider hosting a fondue night with your partner or just a few guests in a cozy outdoor setting, suggests Marcey Brownstein, who runs a catering business in New York City.
"A lot of people have these fondue pots they never use, and it's a real fun and interactive way to enjoy a meal together,” says Brownstein, adding that heaters and cozy throw blankets can be incorporated into an outdoor dining space to make it all the more inviting.