This year, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, our holiday festivities are going to be completely different for most of us.
Because travel is too risky for them and for us, our out-of-town kids will not be flying here to celebrate with us, and we will not be going there, either. Even observing a social-distancing Thanksgiving with friends outdoors will be impossible because of the unpredictable weather. Large gatherings of family or friends will have to be put on hold until the pandemic is over or under better control.
Video chatting with our families is a welcome possibility. Virtual socializing has been taking place in households all over the country -- Friday night happy hour with Bob and Sue, Sunday night family call with Mom and Dad -- throughout the pandemic. I know some people who plan to video chat with their family or friends and even eat their Thanksgiving meals together to create a virtual holiday online.
A friend of mine has a unique idea – a drive-by Thanksgiving. She will cook her usual Thanksgiving meal, but this year, she plans to package up individual servings and pass them out at a designated time. Those friends who live nearby will drive past her house, where she and her husband will adopt safe practices like masks, gloves and hand sanitizer as they hand out a ready-to-eat feast.
I like the sound of that. But it is not practical for us, given our rural location. Instead, I am embracing the idea of an intimate holiday with just me and my husband. So this Thanksgiving, I am going to cook Thanksgiving dinner for two.
To keep things simple, I have decided to roast a turkey breast instead of a whole bird. For traditional holiday flavor, I will slip fresh herbs -- sage, thyme, rosemary and oregano -- under the skin along with salt and pepper.
But this year, I do not need to satisfy the Thanksgiving expectations of my guests. So, in addition to the fresh herbs, I am also going to add a piquant red chile rub for a New Mexico twist. To keep the turkey breast moist while cooking, my secret technique is to drape it with a cheesecloth soaked in butter, just like I do with a whole turkey. A perfectly juicy result is guaranteed and no basting required!
And even though it is only the two of us, I still plan to cook up our favorite sides. But no need to stay in the kitchen all day, as I will make the side dishes ahead. This year, I plan to roast a savory butternut squash and cranberry casserole -- and my Greek heritage is given a nod with the addition of feta for a piquant flavor contrast.
A turkey breast is much more compact than a big bird, so there will be plenty of room in my oven to cook the sides at the same time. My butternut squash casserole will go in after 20 minutes to cook alongside the breast. Then 20 minutes later, I will slide in the stuffing to heat up and develop a crust.
While everything is in the oven, I can easily make mashed potatoes. Ten minutes before the timer goes off, I will remove the cheesecloth from the turkey breast so the skin browns and crisps.
When done, I will place the turkey on a board or a platter to rest, and leave the side dishes in the turned-off oven to stay warm. Then I will make an easy gravy right in the roasting pan using the delicious turkey drippings. And voila! Dinner is served.
And like any other Thanksgiving, I will still have plenty of leftovers for my husband's favorite turkey casserole the next day -- especially for a smaller scaled-down version.
So there is no reason not to have a "tiny" and safe traditional holiday solely with those in your household. Continuing a festive tradition like Thanksgiving dinner makes difficult times seem much more normal. In this pandemic, I am grateful to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving with my "nearest and dearest."
And we will still look forward to sharing a Thanksgiving Zoom call with our faraway family and to toasting both them and the holiday.