Thanksgiving is my favorite nondenominational holiday – perfect in every way. What could be wrong with delicious food, often in excess, that brings family and friends together, without the hassle or stress of exchanging gifts? It was also my late father’s favorite holiday. Early Thanksgiving morning, he and my mother would drive to our home. They would arrive mid-morning to the extended table with bright fall-colored flowers at each place setting. The delicious scent of citrus-infused turkey slowly baking in the oven: the bourbon pecan sweet potato casserole and turkey stuffing adding to the medley of aromas. A few hours later, approximately 30 family members and close friends would join us for the celebration and reflection. The COVID pandemic upended many traditions we all took for granted.
Coping with Loss
In June, I lost my father. He had survived pancreatic cancer for almost three years. In January, he underwent a heart valve replacement. As the COVID-19 numbers increased and stressed the medical system, dad could no longer participate in cardiac rehab, became housebound, and slowly began a vicious cycle that led to his passing from a heart attack five months later.
Having Fun with Cooking for the Holiday
I think we can all agree, 2020 has dealt us with more surprises and turmoil than any other year we have experienced this last decade. This Thanksgiving, my husband, Colin, and I were determined to make the most of it and give thanks for what we have. We spent inordinate hours chopping, prepping, laughing, and finally cooking, savoring warm, delicious smells wafting throughout our home. We prepared some traditional Thanksgiving favorites, such as butternut squash soup, Bourbon sweet potato casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, apple crisp, and pecan pie – the comfort dishes that we found ourselves craving, especially in these uncertain times. We decided to draw inspiration for our feast by incorporating some new menu items such as Moroccan Tagine Chicken, Moroccan couscous, squash-au-Vin, and a fall spinach salad.
Trying Something New
Although it was a smaller gathering, we wanted it to reflect the festivities of this holiday. Although I cannot garden, I love flowers and their ability to transform a table into an inviting sensorial setting. This Thanksgiving, I enjoyed creating small, simple fall foliage arrangements in mason jars and perfume bottles, placing them throughout our home, adding colorful festivity, and brightening the mood.
Share your Gratitude
At the start of the meal, we focused on the good things we have learned as a result of COVID-19. We bought bicycles and frequently cycle through our neighborhood. We then bought a bike rack for the car and two to three times per week, cycle the 20 miles from Sarasota to Venice and back on the Legacy Trail. We are fortunate to have close friends and often meet on Turtle or Nokomis Beach for socially distanced walks on the beach, heart to heart talks, swims, dinners, and sunsets. In all, we have learned to slow down, be present, and enjoy the simple activities we previously took for granted. Although we did not gather together with our large extended family, I am grateful for the Zoom alternative, to see and talk with extended family all over the country and celebrate good health.
Walking our two dogs later that evening, I realized that I am most grateful for this nation’s collaboration and resilience, with a sense of unprecedented hope for the future. My wish is that 2021 is a year of calm.
Some wonderful recipes
Photos from Natasha Reisner