Opinion | Thanksgiving During a Pandemic? We Have a Plan for That

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For weeks now, as coronavirus case and hospitalization counts surged to unprecedented levels across the country, public health experts have been pleading with Americans to change their holiday plans. “The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday, “is at home with members of your household.”

Hopefully, at least some Americans will follow this guidance. But they’ll need some of the culinary variety as well, provided they’re anything like me: I’ve made Thanksgiving dinner for four to eight people every year since I was 13 — the cooking gene is recessive in my family — but the only other person in my apartment these days is my roommate, and she’s a vegetarian. How, exactly, does one plan a miniature feast?

For answers, I sought the counsel of my Times colleagues in Food. After nine months of keeping on top of C.D.C. guidelines, I’m thankful to have some new advice to follow.

Sam Sifton: The Times’s Melissa Clark has been an invaluable resource for home cooks since the pandemic began, and as Thanksgiving approaches she’s doubling down, with a terrific guide to scaling down the Thanksgiving feast, and a lovely Thanksgiving menu for two. With many Americans unable to travel home for the holiday, some will be cooking the meal for the first time, and Margaux Laskey is here to help them, with a beginner’s guide to the meal. Me, I’ll be roasting a smaller bird than I usually do, but not so small that I can’t have leftovers the following day: turkey tikka masala, if you please.

Melissa Clark: In a way, after developing so many different Thanksgiving recipes for NYT Cooking, it’s a relief this year not to have to do it again for a large group on the big day. This year, I’m going to combine the traditional with the nontraditional for my family of three, including a citrusy roasted duck for the main attraction, along with a classic buttery, herby stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and a giant green salad, maybe this one, with kale, brussels sprouts and halloumi. And for dessert, pie, of course, though I’m not sure which one. I’ll let my 12-year-old pick out of Erin McDowell’s fantastic collection of Thanksgiving showstoppers.

Get unlimited digital access to easy-to-follow Thanksgiving guides, a Thanksgiving menu planner, and thousands of recipes tested and curated by the experts at The Times. Subscribe to NYT Cooking.

Becky Hughes: We’re usually just four for Thanksgiving, but we always commit to a big turkey for the sake of festivity. My dad likes to smoke the bird (here’s a Steven Raichlen recipe), which makes for the best leftover turkey soup. There’s no chance we’ll agree on one pie recipe, so both apple and pecan will be present … and they’ll serve as breakfasts through the end of the weekend.

Kim Severson: For me, the first step was to accept that I wasn’t going to have a big Thanksgiving with a perfectly executed menu that hit all the notes. Once that emotional work was done, I decided to cook exactly what I want to cook, unhurried and with no regard to fashion or the demands of extended family and friends. (Goodbye green bean casserole!) I will bake Marion Cunningham’s Parker House rolls like a meditation and float a cloud of meringue on top of a sweet potato pie. I will roast a turkey with dressing like my late mom used to make, which is sort of like this. And I will rest in the knowledge that this is the year I will finally have enough gravy, and plenty of food left to bring to friends who don’t cook.

Julia Moskin: After almost 20 years of NYT Food Thanksgivings, and with three of us at the table this year, my plan is to skip the meal and go all in on Thanksgiving desserts. (I’m lucky that the Sichuanese restaurants in my neighborhood are open on Thanksgiving.) There are eight disks of dough in the freezer, each of us is making at least one pie, and we’ll have leftovers for days. (Pie is the best breakfast.) I’m making hand pies. And I’m finally making all the fancy toppings I always run out of time for, like salted caramel sauce and coffee whipped cream. And for once, we will actually be hungry for dessert!

Kim Gougenheim: With only four of us for Thanksgiving this year, everything will be different. I usually make a big turkey, but there will be no guests to eat it. I’m the only turkey eater in this small group. I’m also the cook, and have come to the realization that I want turkey! I’m looking forward to trying Samin Nosrat’s Buttermilk Brined Turkey Breast. I’ll let the non-turkey eaters pick something from our Vegetarian Thanksgiving Roundup. My husband will make his great-grandmother’s antipasto for a starter. I have to make my mother’s cornbread dressing. Vermont Cheddar Mashed Potatoes are a fave of my daughters. I’ll add something green to the menu and then focus on dessert. I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie, so I’m thinking we’ll make this Pumpkin Fudge Torte and Pecan Pie Sandwich Cookies.

There will be no cranberry sauce or sweet potatoes. I can live without those. We’ll Zoom throughout the day with family and friends and likely end the day cozied up on the couch with an Apple Cider Bourbon Punch and watching a movie together as a family.

Alexa Weibel: In terms of turkey, my house is currently divided — but after researching options for 16 Festive Thanksgiving Mains That Aren’t Turkey, I’m leaning toward this Pan-Roasted Duck recipe from David Tanis. Since we are just a party of two, we’ll deviate liberally from tradition. Gabrielle Hamilton’s blue cheese-lined celery toasts are effortlessly celebratory, and I’m eying her brussels sprouts with olive oil and fish sauce to nibble on as we cook. The rest of the meal is as much in the air as everything else, but there’s one nonnegotiable: boxed stuffing, with my mother’s addition of apples, celery and fresh herbs, for nostalgia and comfort.

Genevieve Ko: My daughters said they were fine with skipping Thanksgiving. Then, they clarified: They still want apple pie, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, green beans and turkey, in that order. I’ll do a full-sized Mixed Apples Pie so we can eat leftovers all week for breakfast and Mini Sweet Potato Pies so we can do contactless deliveries of extras. Small-scale side dishes from this list will be the bulk of the meal. Since I have a small whole turkey we won’t be able to finish, I’m going to break it down and roast the breasts, braise the legs and make stock from the rest. I’ll freeze the leftover meat in stock to save for making holiday tamales.

What’s your plan for this year’s menu? Email us at [email protected]. Please note your name, age and location in your response, which may be included in the next newsletter.

MORE ON PANDEMIC THANKSGIVING

“Staying Safe This Thanksgiving” [The New York Times]

“You Don’t Have to Fake It Through Thanksgiving” [The New York Times]

“Solo on the Holiday? Reach Out” [The New York Times]

“What 635 Epidemiologists Are Doing for Thanksgiving” [The New York Times]

WHAT YOU’RE SAYING

Here’s what readers had to say about the last debate: Closing schools alone is not going to stop the coronavirus.

David from Colorado: “I was on a video call with a colleague in Ireland this week. In our initial niceties, he mentioned they were currently in lockdown. I asked what that meant, and he described how restaurants and pubs are closed, as are retail stores. There is an infrastructure where everything can be ordered online. But schools are still open. I was immediately struck by the stark contrast with my own community. My son’s elementary school just closed down again, yet bars and restaurants remained open. My colleague truly thought I was kidding when I told him this. He remarked that of all places, the Irish hold their pubs in particular esteem, but the debate, when choosing between pubs and schools, didn’t last very long at all.”

Paul from Tennessee: “I am a teacher, and many in my family are teachers. Virtually teaching is much harder, and teachers work longer careers, often well into their 60s and 70s. What about their health and well-being? I shake my head, as we are often the last, and the least well-thought-of parts of schools.”

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