Tag Archives: friendsgiving

Friendsgiving Isn’t a Trend for Me. It’s a Lifeline.

When I was little, I had an aunt named Peggy. She had dark hair and hunched shoulders and was warm and wonderful. She ran a catering business, and her house smelled always like cooking. Her Thanksgiving was the best day of the year. She’d set a big long table down the whole living room. It’d be loud and fun, and all the food would be fantastic. I remember her mostly from photos now—one of her laughing by the piano, a line of kids rushing by, a cousin at the keys, mid boogie-woogie.

Peggy used to pick me up after school in her white Jeep. She and her family lived in a squat ranch house on a Northern California suburban block fringed by chaparral and oaks. There were teens coming or going, their kids, their friends. The TV in the front played soaps.

Peggy was who taught me to get flour from the big jar on the counter. She taught me to watch the stove. She taught me to line up little glass bowls and put some lettuce in each, then some candied walnuts and some Granny Smith apples, finally some dressing, some crumbly cheese. Candied walnuts, I couldn’t believe such a taste! And then the combination of it all!

Peggy died suddenly one day when I was in first grade. A heart thing, people said. It was the worst day of my life for a long time.

I think her death split me; forever after I pictured my life had she not died, the way things would’ve gone differently instead. For many years there was a particular time of day, 5:55 p.m., that whenever I saw it, I superstitiously thought of her, willed her to come back somehow.

Perhaps I thought of her because, had she still been around, I could have asked to go up to her place whenever things got bad at home. They weren’t always bad—sometimes they were fine, sometimes they were really good—but sometimes they got really bad. They grew worse through my middle school and high school years. When 5:55 p.m. came around, I willed even harder, even more improbably, for her to return. I thought of her often, looked at boxes in the closet that I knew were filled with ceramics she’d made when she was young, ones we didn’t use. At 18 I flew to college on the East Coast, 3,000 miles away.

I pretended I was fine. I pretended hard as I could. The whole time my insides would feel like melting wax.

People don’t like it when you let on that you don’t go home for the holidays, that you don’t see your family much, or at all. They want to know what you went through. For me, talking about what I went through in any detail is something I only really do with my partner, my therapist, my closest friends. I’ve nonetheless ended up writing publicly, if abstrusely, about these topics. I write about mental health, which means I often end up writing about how we treat one another, how that affects us later on.

Believe me when I say I tried for years to go home. Believe me, I wanted to be like everybody else. I’d return to a house I’d spent forever calculating to leave, walk back into fights I’d realize were still in progress, be thrust back into them myself. I pretended I was fine. I pretended hard as I could. The whole time my insides would feel like melting wax.

A couple of years into college, when Thanksgiving came around, I started following friends to their homes instead. To Virginia, to Long Island. During these evenings, I’d often spend the whole night explaining to the friend’s relatives that we weren’t dating, we were just friends. If people asked why I hadn’t gone home, I’d allude to California being very far away. I’d feel intense shame, one paired with an intense relief at not having forced myself to go back.

It felt terribly transgressive, asserting myself as someone who could cook my own Thanksgiving.

I moved to Iowa City for grad school at 22. That first Thanksgiving I convinced some friends to come from Chicago to my studio apartment. I wore heels and a dress and they wore ties and I cooked four courses, including Ina Garten’s roast turkey. It felt terribly transgressive, asserting myself as someone who could cook my own Thanksgiving. It was my favorite Thanksgiving I’d had since Peggy.

Winter set in, dark and freezing. I found excuses to have people over, to cook big dinners. I taught wine-tasting classes, as I had since college. I grew more ambitious, pairing bottles with a leg of lamb or several roast ducks. I made friends with someone who liked barbecuing, a serious, bearded Minnesotan. We’d stand around my backyard, sip beers, smoke cigarettes in the cold, watch meat brown. The longer I lived in Iowa, the more friends I made. We gathered in big groups, we ladled out hot meaty soups and cups of cider with whiskey. Our hearts grew gangly and intertwined like end-of-summer tomato vines.

Over the last decade, reporting and researching about mental health, there is one deceptively simple and I think profound point I encounter over and over: Having community matters, having friends matters, having relationships rooted in support and love matters. I often think of the family I found in my 20s in Iowa City and how they showed me I could still feel—and that I deserved—that kind of love.

When my time in grad school ended, I wondered where to go next, figuring I’d head to New York City and try to find a job in media. Before I left I had coffee with a friend who, before coming to Iowa, had built a beautiful house in northern Wisconsin. He now offered something that very much surprised me: I could consider his house my home for the time being, he said. I felt an electric gratitude flow through me. I also felt seen, almost exposed. How had he noticed I was someone who was searching for home?

I moved to New York, weeping over the friends I was leaving, knowing there was a chance I’d never find anyone like them again. Or, put another way, I knew how much work it would be to start over, to find that feeling with some new group. I had people over. I served big dinners. I hosted wine tastings. I continued to push myself as a cook and as a host.

We met and our souls folded in together like meringue into a batter. We fell in a sort of total love I imagined existed only for people other than me.

And every year I flew to Wisconsin to my friend’s house to cook a gigantic Thanksgiving. The guest count swelled to 22 at one point—neighbors and their kids, friends who were dogsledders, writers, and academics we knew who’d come in from university towns. One year a documentary crew. I’d start cooking on Thursday and serve on Saturday, a marathon that began with pies and worked its way toward my friend deep-frying a turkey. We took to calling it Not Thanksgiving.

I’d look down the table at the crowded plates, the mirth, experiencing the total pride that comes with pulling off a more-ambitious-than-ever cooking project. I felt the feeling of family, of home, even if it wasn’t really mine. I figured I would always be someone who got to experience that feeling in blips, swooping in for a weekend.

But I was wrong.

One winter on a dating app I started chatting with someone who was recently divorced, living with his cat in a tall building. We met and our souls folded in together like meringue into a batter. We cooked dinner. We had people over. We fell in a sort of total love I imagined existed only for people other than me.

Last year we moved to the country, to an old farmhouse full of mouse shit and crap nobody had bothered to throw away. We made it a home. We married. In November we hosted our first Not Thanksgiving. I started cooking on Thursday and served Saturday evening. Friends from many moments in our lives gathered. Sixteen down the long table.

When we got the house, my parents mailed me the boxes of Peggy’s ceramics that had been sitting in their closet all those years. There were heavy brown bowls and platters with beautiful swirling glaze patterns. I served my Not Thanksgiving dinner on them, watched them passed down the table, steaming. I felt her in the room. I thanked her for guiding me home.


Real Friends Serve Roast Chicken at Friendsgiving

You shouldn’t be serving turkey at your Friendsgiving. Before we get any further into this argument, I just want to admit that I am not even close to being a Turkey Guy. Besides a turkey club, I think it’s a food that possesses minimal worth. Yes, I am biased. But I also have the success of your Friendsgiving in mind, so hear me out. You should be roasting chicken at your Friendsgiving. Whether it’s one whole chicken or two, roasting chicken instead of turkey is going to make for a tastier, easier, more successful party. And yes, this is a party.

Choosing chicken will help you out before we even step foot in the kitchen. Chickens, for the most part, are smaller than turkeys. I’m not sure if you knew that or not, but they are. You can look it up if you doubt my credibility on the subject. But I promise you that the whole chicken you buy at the grocery store or butcher shop will weigh less than a whole turkey. And that means it will be easier to carry, especially for someone like me. I don’t have a car. I live in a city. I walk and ride the subway. Which means there’s a zero percent chance that I will ever volunteer to carry a whole turkey anywhere. Do you want to be the person deciding whether or not it’s acceptable to rest your 16-pound turkey on the subway floor, four inches from someone’s gnarly running sneakers, because your arm is tired? No. You don’t. That’s a lose-lose scenario. Chickens get from point A to point B much more easily. Also: How many people are you feeding, anyway? Yeah: not enough people to necessitate roasting a 15-plus pound animal.

No-Fail Roast Chicken with Lemon and Garlic

It’s also worth noting that whether you’ve roasted a bird before or not, a chicken is always less stress than a turkey. Less expensive. Less of a commitment. Less intimidating. Easier to schlep, but also easier to handle mentally.

But that difference in size also means that roasting a chicken (or a couple chickens) will take far less time than roasting the traditional, gargantuan, colonial-era poultry. You can roast a single chicken in about 45 minutes. Two will take a little longer, since there’s more heat being conducted, but the chicken will still be ready to serve much sooner than a turkey. As someone who went four years with a minuscule oven, I cherish the fact that chicken gives you more time and oven space to devote to side dishes. The mashed potatoes. The biscuits. The sweet potatoes. The salads. The sprouts. The stuff that most people like way more than the turkey.

Speaking of turkey, when was the last time you went to a restaurant and ordered turkey that wasn’t on a sandwich? Oh. Not in the last year? Not in the last decade? Never? And when was the last time you ordered chicken? Last weekend? This week? Last night? Yeah, that’s because more people like chicken than they do turkey. Because chicken tastes better.

But why does chicken taste better? Well, there are a couple reasons. First, the ratio of skin to meat on a chicken is better than that of a turkey. Since a chicken is smaller, there’s going to be more crispy, brown, beautiful skin for every bite of meat. Part of the reason turkey breast can be so bad is that there’s never enough skin to go around. Less meat, in this case, is more.

0317 ba basics lemon garlic roasted chicken 9

A roast chicken can look nice too!

The entirety of a chicken also cooks at the same rate. A turkey does not. The historical pitfall of the turkey is that the breast dries out in the time it takes the thighs to cook. And if you pull turkey out when the breast is perfect, the thighs will be undercooked. It’s a cruel paradox, and you can blame the massive size of the turkey for that. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to make a good turkey, but it takes some practice, and it’s just easier to roast a chicken so that all of it tastes amazing. And I don’t know about you, but I like to serve my friends food that tastes amazing. That’s called being a good friend.

And if you follow the logic I’ve presented about chicken being better to turkey, that means the chicken leftovers will be better than the turkey leftovers. Chicken salad is better than turkey salad. Chicken stock is much easier to make, because you don’t have to use a 348-gallon pot. Chicken tacos are better than turkey tacos. Chicken soup is better than turkey soup, just as chicken fried rice is better than turkey fried rice. Your chicken choices will continue to pay off for days to come.

But really, the reason you should serve chicken instead of turkey is that these are your friends. You don’t have to impress them. You don’t have to serve a massive, picturesque bird. They’ll love you either way. They chose to spend time with you on the day (or a day surrounding the day) that’s all about showing thanks for the things you value in your life. This is about showing your friends that you’re thankful, and the best way to do that is show them a good time. Friendsgiving is about celebrating in the way your family wouldn’t. Crack the sixth bottle of wine. Put miso in your green bean casserole. Turn up whatever playlist is ripping through the stereo. Eat those special brownies. Talk about politics. Roast a couple chickens. Tell your friends you love them. This is your Thanksgiving. It’s all groovy.

Want an easy roast chicken recipe? Yeah, you do.