By Marcia Pilgeram
In anticipation of next week’s holiday, I’ve been busy cooking up a storm, for everyone! Or no one. Thanksgiving is on, then Thanksgiving is off. Two years ago, there were 25 of us gathered around the table, heaped with food, love, laughs and gratitude. This year I’ve named my holiday theme after my favorite Sidney Poitier film, Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner? Everyone? Someone? Anyone?
Originally, along with daughter Ryanne and her family in Moscow, my son Zane and his four children were headed over from eastern Montana, so I was looking forward to a dozen offspring.
Now, I’m vacillating about Ryanne’s reluctance to have Zane’s family join us, but I respect her opinion. In my heart, I know she’s right, and so I acquiesced to her appeal knowing that, as the oldest (and the nearest) child, she will probably get stuck taking care of me if I come down with COVID-19. Still, it’s breaking my heart that my baking protégé, granddaughter Miley, won’t be here to follow my every footstep in the kitchen, and my little clutch of pajama-clad grands won’t gather, sleepy-eyed, for our morning ritual of hot cocoa.
I’m still hopeful to at least have Ryanne and her family, as they are well-bubbled in a small pod (that thankfully includes me).
My dreams of adding the last leaf to the table have all but fluttered away. I haven’t polished the silver or made personalized napkin rings, nor planned six courses, starting with champagne for the adults and sparkling cider for the children, served with miniature rosemary pumpkin scones, topped with roasted pumpkin seeds and crème fraiche. Right now, I should be galvanized by gravy, not gloom.
I felt like we were making such great progress in our fight against this monster virus, but no, it’s back (and really, I guess it never left), surging with an angry vengeance. To tell you the truth, this Thanksgiving, I’m struggling to find the balance between being matriarchal and maudlin. To make my annual list of all the things I’m thankful for, including “our health” feels so cliché this year and, yet, knowing my family has so far dodged the bullet of COVID-19 washes me with gratitude.
Usually about now I would be busy locating community Thanksgiving meals, or calling around to grocery store managers for a tête-à-tête on their turkeys to share with my readers. But not this year. Lots of us won’t be cooking a traditional turkey, and the dining regulations are changing so often that I’m afraid to post any events for fear they’ll be outdated or canceled by the time you read this.
Instead, it almost feels surreal, but I am offering recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a safe Thanksgiving:
• a small dinner with the people in your household;
• a virtual dinner with friends and family;
• preparing food for family, friends or neighbors who live alone and delivering without contact;
• shopping online from home to avoid in-person Black Friday sales;
• watching favorite family movies or parades at home on TV, not in theaters or other public places.
Besides Thanksgiving, I desperately miss hosting themed dinner parties, girlfriend gatherings and cooking classes (all of which normally involved a tad too much wine). It hasn’t stopped me from cooking and freezing or giving it away, but it’s not the same, and how I long for a return to the norm.
For the upcoming pandemic holiday, I’m preparing some non-perishable baked items that I can send to my offspring in Chicago and Montana for their Thanksgiving tables. It’s my version of breaking bread together. We may not be able to gather in person, but sharing the same foods around our Zoom table feels as though it might be cathartic.
One of our family favorites is pecan pie, which is hard to ship, so I’ve modified my recipe into bars and they’re already in the freezer, ready for mailing. For good 2020 measure, this time I added chocolate and a dash of bourbon to their batches (and for good measure, a double dash of bourbon to mine). Turns out, they are also just what I needed for a midnight snack.
Whatever you cook and wherever you eat, I hope it’s enough for you this year. And may memories of past gatherings fill you up to the brim, until at last, we can gather again.
These are decadent, easy to make and a perfect ending to a holiday meal. Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream. Once cooled, store in the fridge for up to a week, or wrapped tightly in the freezer for a month. You can omit the bourbon, if you wish. And, they only take one bowl for both steps.
• 1 1/2 cups flour
• 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
• 1/2 cup butter, softened
• 3 large eggs
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• 1/2 cup light corn syrup
• 2 tsp vanilla
• 2 tbs melted butter (I use brown butter)
• 1/4 cup good quality bourbon
• 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
• 1 3/4 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease, then line a 9” x 13” pan with parchment paper.
Combine flour, brown sugar and softened butter in a mixer, and mix until just crumbly. Press evenly into bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 15 minutes. Let cool for approximately 10 minutes.
Using the same mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, corn syrup, cooled and melted butter, and bourbon. Fold in the pecans and chocolate chips, then pour over crust.
Return pan to oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until filling is set.
Allow to cool completely on wire rack before cutting into bars.
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