In March, during the darker days of the coronavirus pandemic here in New York City, I often tried to cheer myself up while thinking about the holidays. At which point, at this point, I could surely travel again to visit my extended family.
Eight months later, it looks like the reunion won’t happen anytime soon. But the promise of one still fills me with hope and happiness.
This reality, however, raises a question: what will my immediate family and I do for the holidays? Turns out the answer is pretty straightforward (and, hopefully, my sanity): I pledge to view our solo vacation celebrations as opportunities to try new things and rethink traditions. . We will be experimenting, doing workshops on untested dishes and incorporating successful ones into our future holiday menus.
The time my wife and I spend mentally preparing for the trip with our two young sons (not to mention the physical exertion of dragging our crew around airports and beyond) will instead go towards food and drink preparation. At this point, I can think of a few better compromises.
Since we won’t be hitting the road or cooking for a large crowd, the whole process has the potential to be a bit more relaxed and less time consuming. Not all Thanksgiving day will be spent watching a giant turkey cook, but there will be plenty to keep us busy and happy.
Because the holidays will be like no other, I don’t feel the pressure to follow the tradition – and neither should you. Order take out if you wish. Now is a great time to support your local restaurants and bakeries who no doubt could use the business. We won’t tell your great aunt that you bought a delicious chocolate cake instead of making her signature cranberry bread. And there’s really no shame in outsourcing that damn meal this year.
For that matter, your local craft cocktail bar could also use the support this year. Why not order a punch or a large drink at your favorite establishment?
It’s time: open the bottles you saved for a special occasion. We all deserve a reward for going through this tumultuous year. Dip into that rare bottle of bourbon at the back of the liquor cabinet, like my precious Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon patiently waiting for me to drink it. As my sister once said while looking at my whiskey collection, “If you’re not going to open them now, then when?” Wise words.
Several years ago, I made a promise to myself that I would no longer go through the exhausting exercise of infusing every dish and cocktail with the flavor of the holidays. I have even less patience for this kind of nonsense now. (Believe me, no one wants to try a Gimlet or Candy Cane Martini giblet.)
Even without these nifty concoctions, I find finding the perfect drinks for Thanksgiving or the holidays quite difficult. Usually it has to be something that serves a crowd and goes with a variety of dishes with strong flavors. (What’s going with the yams or the cranberry sauce or the stuffing anyway?) So I’m usually defaulting on obvious things like champagne or punch. These are perfectly defensible choices, especially if, in addition to playing bartender and host, you’re cooking up a feast. Customers can simply refill their glasses when they are thirsty.
But this year I feel free from standard norms and plan to rework our full menus from top to bottom. A few years ago I started making big jars of turkey and bean chili on Christmas Day for my wife’s family. While not traditional, it ensured that people would eat more than just sugar cookies and potato chips. It’s easy to whip together and that’s a lot. Cooking has also become a meditative act. Usually I’m the one chopping onions and stirring pots, feeling content to make something hearty and delicious for my family.
Inspired by the success of our Christmas chili, I plan to rework our Thanksgiving menu this year. That means starting the meal off with steamed vegetable balls and replacing the turkey with just a turkey breast – or even throwing the turkey out completely and making lasagna.
We would like to start the day with our own turkey trot through Central Park. Without a turkey to cook for hours, we can take our time. Next, we’ll have a decadent brunch of bagels, cream cheese, and lox, plus a chocolate babka. And just in case anyone gets hungry before our start of the holiday dinner, I’ll be making homemade nacho platters with lots of cheese and olives.
I’m also rethinking our drink plan. Since only my wife and I are going to drink, I want to serve bubbles with our bagels. In the afternoon, while we prepare the meal, I plan to sip some Highballs of whiskey – tall glasses of ice topped with a few ounces of alcohol and lots of soda or ginger beer.
During dinner we will serve non-alcoholic apple cider as well as club soda. When dessert – a pie and an ice cream sundae bar – rolls around, I’m going to have a nightcap from my special bottle of Jefferson’s Bourbon. After the kids fall asleep, I’ll probably take a nap too. But, it’ll be a vacation and everything, it’ll be quick, leaving plenty of time for another glass of whiskey and some leftover nibbles while my wife and I talk about the day and watch silly TV shows.
Maybe some of these new ideas will work so well that we will present them to our families next year. I’m learning not to assume anything, but by then (fingers crossed) we’ll all be ready to go back to our regular holiday programming.
#rules #eating #drinking #holidays