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From Zoom calls to green bean casserole, your guide to a pandemic Thanksgiving

a pumpkin pie on a table
This Thanksgiving, show family your love by staying far away from them, suggests Bon Appétit staff writer Alex Beggs."

Planning a Thanksgiving celebration isn’t usually a simple task—but this year, it’s bound to be particularly complicated. As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Michigan, health officials warn that even small holiday gatherings pose risks.

It’s hard to know how to celebrate. Do you brave the cold and see family from a safe distance outdoors? Host a virtual dinner? Load up on turkey and take a long, tryptophan-induced nap? 

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Stateside spoke with Bon Appétit senior staff writer Alex Beggs about how to navigate preparations for the upcoming holiday. Beggs, who’s based in Michigan, writes about questionable etiquette all the time for her column in the magazine. Here’s what she suggests:

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Health officials are urging Michiganders to keep to a safe distance to curb the spread of COVID-19, especially as hospitals brace for overcrowding. Beggs says one of the best ways to show your family you love them is to skip the big celebration this year.

“We had to tell my partner’s parents that you know what, Mom and Dad, we don’t want to kill you, so we’re going to stay home this year. Maybe we'll drop a pie off, have a beer in the backyard, but we love you so much we can’t put you at risk,” she said.

There are still ways to make it a Thanksgiving to remember, she says, but passing along a potentially deadly virus isn’t one of them.

Don’t be afraid to do something different

Maybe you’re tired of turkey. Since this year’s celebration is likely to be unconventional, it might be a good time to forgo the fowl and try something new. Beggs says she’s planning a non-turkey meal, as well as a Thanksgiving flan.

“I’m trying to play with: What would I have at a restaurant that I would never make at home? Like duck confit or some lobster pasta-something. It’s got to feel fancy and awesome,” she said.

Or, if you’ve never been a big fan of Thanksgiving, you could start a new tradition, like taking a long, sad walk or marathoning the John Wick series, Beggs suggests.

Avoid that prolonged family conference call

Zoom recently announced that it will remove its 40-minute time limit on free meetings during the Thanksgiving holiday. But if the prospect of a long, virtual dinner is already triggering Zoom fatigue, plan ahead for some graceful ways to dip out of the virtual celebration. 

“I do think we like to check in with each other on holidays, so however you need [to do] the check-in with your family, do that, whether it’s the phone or Zoom,” Beggs said. “I just think it’s kind of like: ‘What are you cooking, what are you doing? Okay, love you, bye.’ But having the entire meal digitally, everyone’s yelling over each other—I can't imagine that’s fun for anyone.”

Need an excuse to jump off the call? Beggs says you could always blame it on the pie you’ve got baking in the oven.

Don’t forget the essentials

If you still want a taste of Michigan holiday tradition in your 2020 Thanksgiving menu, Beggs recommends a green bean casserole. She is (obviously) partial to Bon Appétit’s recipe.

“You make kind of a homemade cream of mushroom soup. You still get to use the French’s crispy onions on top, so like, don’t worry about that part. You use fresh green beans,” she said. “Michigan produce is so awesome. I think anything that kind of highlights Michigan produce is a good Michigan side for Thanksgiving.”

You can read more advice from Beggs in “Is It Ever Okay,” her questionable etiquette column.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Nell Ovitt.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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