By Mark Cox
Perhaps nothing says “2020” quite so much as turkey dinner being classified as a “high-risk activity.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently classified gathering for the traditional Thanksgiving family dinner as a high-risk pursuit. And given the COVID-related dangers of travel and the associated risk of infecting loved ones, many of us are sensibly opting to stay home this year.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a good time. RED asked a team of Metropolitan State University of Denver experts – Jennifer Watson, M.S., RDN, lecturer in the School of Hospitality; Rachel Sinley, Ph.D., associate professor of Nutrition and department chair; Randi Smith, Ph.D., psychology professor; and Eunjoo Kang, Ph.D., Event and Meeting Management professor – for some useful tips on how to make even a Zoom-based dinner come alive.
“This is a great idea when Thanksgiving guests can’t physically be near their loved ones,” Smith says. Sending someone a gift requires thoughtful consideration on your part, while building a sense of anticipation in the recipient for the big reveal. Smith explains: “Sharing that gift-opening moment – even virtually – will help guests feel more present with the family members or friends they are missing.”
Zoom dinner guests might not actually be together, but they can still create a shared sensory experience to make the occasion feel more “real.”
“By planning together, guests can build an inclusive atmosphere that will enhance everyone’s evening,” Kang says. She suggests steps such as agreeing on the music list in advance, choosing the same wine and even adopting visual keys such as buying the same flowers or napkins to create a sense of everyone being there together.
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One advantage of a virtual dinner for one is that you can basically suit yourself. “Look at the typical Thanksgiving menu and ask yourself: Do I really need four side dishes? Likely not,” Sinley says. She sees this Thanksgiving as an ideal opportunity to be gentle on ourselves – to just think about those dishes we really love and forget about the rest.
Watson concurs: “I’d actively consider foods that can be prepped ahead of time or even cold foods that simply need to be served.”
Sweeten your holiday feast with these cranberry recipes
Cranberry ‘special’ side
With just a little effort, you can create a side dish that really sings,” says Sinley. “My mom’s recipe for cranberries will really enhance your Thanksgiving meal.”
1 pound cranberries
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup sugar
Orange zest (about 2 tablespoons)
1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan and cook on medium until cranberries pop.
2. Reduce to simmer and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, until sauce is thickened.
Cranberry Jello Salad
“This is totally 1960s,” says Watson, “but it’s had rave reviews at many potlucks. Prepare the day before, and it’ll be ready to go.”
1 box orange gelatin
1 box lemon gelatin
1 can crushed pineapple (do not drain)
1 can WHOLE BERRY cranberry sauce (not jellied)
½ cup chopped English walnuts or pecans 2.5 cups boiling water
1. Put the cranberry sauce in your serving bowl and break it up.
2. Add the gelatin, pineapple and boiling water; stir to combine.
3. Chill for an hour or until thick but not set.
4. Stir in nuts, then allow to chill fully (4-6 hours) before serving.
Both of our food experts agree that this is not a year to drive yourself crazy worrying about correctly cooking a big bird. “Try cutting up your turkey before you roast it,” Watson advises. “The parts cook more quickly and will be less likely to dry out.”
Sinley goes a step further: “Maybe just buy a turkey breast this year, or maybe don’t have turkey at all.” Practicing what she preaches, the professor will be tucking into smoked salmon instead on the big day.
At first, hanging out in our sweat pants and pajamas felt like a treat, but now it’s a grim daily reminder that the pandemic has changed everything. And Smith argues that repeatedly not putting our best foot forward can make it harder to feel worthy of special feelings such as joy, gratitude and love.
“Really dress the part and put on your best clothes,” she says. “Men – put on some cologne. Ladies – Wear your nice, fancy pants – who cares if no one can see them? – and your favorite dress shoes.” The way we present ourselves externally affects the way we feel internally, she says, so making an effort will help you feel confident and whole.
Ask each guest to prepare the same dish so everyone can compare their finished efforts on-screen and select a winner. “Pumpkin pie would be an ideal choice here,” Watson says, “because you can easily put your own interpretation on the dish to make it your own.”
Sinley agrees and suggests that guests can add points for creative twists, such as a unique crust or imaginative added ingredients.
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Perhaps more than any other year, it’s especially important now to consider what we’re thankful for. “We have all been hit by a barrage of ‘no’s’ and ‘can’ts’ and losses in 2020,” Smith says, “but it’s important to remember these are only part of the picture.”
During remote Thanksgiving dinners, guests should take the opportunity to highlight the positive things in life that sustain them. “That might be their dog, coffee, music, the sunrise,” Smith says. “But most importantly, it will be the people in their lives for whom they are deeply grateful.”
Maybe the coolest thing about a Zoom Thanksgiving dinner is your ability to mute a slightly racist drunk uncle once he’s four drinks in. Or if a political squabble erupts, Smith explains, “it’s much easier to excuse yourself due to a ‘failing internet connection’ than having to grab your coat and make an awkward real-life exit.”
Also, Zoom Thanksgivings are likely to be way shorter. “No one will expect you to hang out in front of a screen for the entire football game afterward,” Smith points out. The key is to plan so that the limited time you do spend together is meaningful and rewarding.
Zoom Thanksgiving parties might feel slightly odd, but they also present a unique opportunity to record a tiny slice of your personal history. “If you record the Zoom session,” Kang says, “you’ll easily be able to create a quick highlights video afterward on your smartphone to share with family members and friends.”
And in a year when so many of us will have to spend the holidays apart, that’s a great way of creating a connection.
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