There was a time in my life when Thanksgiving meant four full plates of turkey. That’s also four plates with biscuits and oyster dressing. Four scoops of sweet potato casserole topped with miniature marshmallows. And four small slivers of pie. The pie part was mostly out of politeness. Because it turns out that eating pie before loading up on yet another plate of turkey and dressing exactly one hour and seventeen minutes later – don’t be late, can’t be late – is actually not appetizing at all.
It was this day, of all the days in the year, that I tended to become kind of, just a little bit of a green-eyed monster, I admit, imagining the rest of the country tucked in with their picture-perfect nuclear families, with everyone gathered around one table and one turkey, eating one slice of pie and spending exactly zero minutes in a car house-hopping all over the city. I’d wonder what it would be like to have just one family like that. I’d imagine it looking a lot like an episode of Parenthood — a million crazy people spanning the generations packed in a warm house with food and laughter and all their weird little quirks and squabbles, none of which fall into the realm of politics, because surely they all at least agree on that. At the end of the meal there’s probably enough time to kick back and watch football or play a round of charades. Maybe they even get to do both.
Truth is, it wasn’t until I got older and started talking more to my friends about their own frustrations with family-oriented holidays that I realized how not alone I was in my experiences of being an adult child of divorce partnered with another adult child of divorce, trying to appease everyone, one house at a time, one holiday at a time. You mean I’m not the only one subject to the dance of thanksgiving dinners, I thought when my friends would pipe up about their own. It was revelatory.
This really shouldn’t have shocked me, by the way, given my background in the study of marriage and the family. According to PEW researchers, only 75% of kids in 1990 lived in a household with both parents and that number has only declined further over time (to about 69% today.) I guess all the self-pity kind of overwhelmed the rational part of my brain that would have otherwise pieced it together that many young adults and adults today spend their holidays shuffling about. So with that in mind, I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’ve come up with over the years for the rest of you adult children of non-cohabiting parents.
First, don’t be afraid to skip the family holiday all together. I know, that makes me sound like a total jerk and families across the country will hate me for saying it. But the truth is that in addition to kids of my generation being particularly likely to have grown up in separate-household parents, they are also more geographically mobile than ever and flying home is downright expensive. (Like $800/ticket expensive from Portland to New Orleans, yuck.) But family doesn’t always have to be found in blood ties. And if you’re so lucky to find a group of friends in your city that you consider family, or who perhaps have the possibility of someday becoming like family, host a potluck thanksgiving meal with them instead. This is what we did last year, plus my mom and stepdad who were in town visiting and got to play parents to all of our twenty-something friends. We all agreed it was one of the best, most relaxing thanksgivings ever. So good that we even hosted another thanksgiving dinner with our friend-family before we left Portland earlier this summer since we wouldn’t be around for the actual holiday, which also turned out to be a night to remember. (Stay tuned for more on that!)
Second, think about this: Thanksgiving is just a day. The real sentiment behind it is to gather, eat, and spend time – being present, not overstuffed and rush rush rushed for time – with the people you love. So with that in mind, see if your family is willing to divvy up the days. Maybe celebrate with the in-laws on one day, your paternal side on another, and your maternal side on yet another. Do a BBQ at home for one, Chinese take-out another, and the real deal for the next. Sure, it makes for a busy week but at least you’ll be able enjoy the meals and make real memories. As for choosing which parent gets the “real” Thanksgiving Day feast? You’re on your own with that one but I recommend a random name picker, like this one, which also happens to be the tool I use to select winners for blog and instagram giveaways.
Third, if you find yourself subjected to two, three, or four thanksgiving dinners in the same day, be in charge of bringing the “light” dish to each, something you can pile high to fill your plate and that won’t land you curled up on the couch clutching your stomach in regret, fretting that you’ll be late for the next dinner or worse, too sick to attend. This shaved brussels sprouts salad with spiced pecans, paper-thin red onion, bright pomegranate seeds, and a tangy sweet cane syrup vinaigrette is my recommendation for doing just that. I buy my Brussels sprouts from Whole Foods Market, where I know they’ll be bright green, fresh from the stalk, tightly bundled balls of brassica, just as they should be at this time of year. When I’m in the usual holiday hurry, I also purchase their pomegranate seeds pre-extracted and packaged nice and neat, because, let’s face it, no one has time for deseeding a pomegranate on thanksgiving morning. Both the dressing and the toasted spiced pecans can be made in advance using the mild, smooth Louisiana cane syrup to sweeten. Cane syrup is easily available here but if it’s hard to find where you are, feel free to substitute with maple syrup. I’ve offered suggestions on how to do that in the recipe below. This festive fall-inspired salad is also girthy enough to stand up to driving around town all day even after it’s dressed and assembled and it’s light enough to not overwhelm your stomach as you hop from house to house. In other words, it’s your secret weapon for surviving multiple dinners, though it would also, I’m sure, be cherished among you lucky-duck solo turkey day dinner goers out there.
Finally, don’t forget (and feel free to remind me because I often do) that multiple dinners just mean multiple humans who love you, whether they’re under the same roof or not. And while that might translate to you eating a lot of turkey and spending many minutes behind the wheel of a car, it’s far better than no love, or no turkey, at all.
Now, I know I’m not alone here with this multiple Turkey Day Dinner Dilemma. What’s your Thanksgiving Day look like usually? Got any strategies for coping with multiple dinners that you’d care to share?
This post is sponsored by the good folks at Whole Foods Market. Thank you, dear readers, for supporting the brands that I believe in and that keep C+M thriving. I’m sending you all the love and turkey and brussels sprout salad in the world this Thanksgiving and always. <3
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon of Louisiana pure cane syrup (such as Steen's) or maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon of water
- 2-1/2 cups of pecans, about 8 ounces
- 1 tablespoon of satsuma or orange juice
- 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons of Louisiana pure cane syrup (such as Steen's) or 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper
- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, shredded with a box grate or food processor
- Spiced pecans, see above
- ½ red onion, sliced paper thin
- ¼-pound, or 4 ounces, of pomegranate seeds
- Cane syrup vinaigrette, see above
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Heat butter over medium heat in a medium sized cast iron skillet to melt. Add spices, syrup, water, and pecans and toss to combine. Transfer to preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, tossing every 5-10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer onto a paper towel.
- Whisk together all of the ingredients, except for the olive oil, in a small bowl. Add olive oil, a little bit at a time, whisking continuously—to emulsify start with just a few drops of oil at first, then a few more, then begin to add in a thin steady stream, stopping to whisk if the oil is not incorporating fast enough. Set aside. (Note: you may not use all of the dressing to dress salad.)
- Toss together the Brussels sprouts, pecans, red onion, and pomegranate seeds in a large bowl. Add vinaigrette, one tablespoon at a time until salad is dressed. Leftover vinaigrette can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.