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Twenty-something Thanksgiving: guest tips & ideas

Living 1,100 miles away from home is nothing new – after all, I’ve done it for the past four years. And yet, I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since 2010. It makes me sad sometimes, yes, but the other wonderful thing is that I have been fortunate enough to experience Thanksgiving in a variety of traditions.

My junior year, I spent the holiday wandering Copenhagen for pumpkin, turkey, and peanut butter (full-size turkey? non-existent. pumpkin? the few cans in Denmark snatched up before me. peanut butter? just ’cause I wanted it. too expensive, sadly) before hosting a potluck T-giving dinner at my host family’s house. It made us Americans a little homesick, a little happy, very proud, and re-defined the meaning of giving thanks so far away from home.

Senior year, I spent it with my freshman roommate’s family, one that has taken me in for many a cold Minnesota weekend to enjoy home-cooked food and relaxation. Her mom is from Thailand, so it was a hybrid Thai-American Thanksgiving meal complete with giant Costco pumpkin pies, homemade wantons, spicy salads, and mango sticky rice.

This year I will be spending Thanksgiving at another close friend’s house in Minneapolis, as I can’t afford to come home until Christmas. But since I’m not a wayward college student anymore, it’s only fair that this year I contribute to the meal. And how does one be a good, twenty-something Thanksgiving guest? Well, you should bring something. No one is expecting you to bring the perfectly-cooked, Jacques Pepin-style turkey, but bring at least a small token of gratitude. You’re a young adult, after all!

“Cooking really, really intimidates me.”

A mid-priced bottle of wine or six-pack of nice beer or two (and remember, it’s for the gathering, not just you!) is a good start, if the family drinks. If not, a no-cooking-required appetizer such as a unique cheese, grapes, and crackers would work. If there’s a bakery in your area known for their (sweet potato rolls, chocolate cake, caramels) come November, that is another option. Just made sure that you’re not going to overshadow Aunt Mary’s prized (sweet potato rolls, chocolate cake, caramels). Random: people get incredibly excited when you bring sparkling apple cider. Finally, you can’t wrong with bright flowers for the table.

“I have minimal cooking skills.” 

Too often we overlook the treasure trove of familiar recipes that is our family. A few years ago, when I didn’t really know how to bake or cook, I asked my dad for his famous apple pie recipe. Usually, if you follow a recipe, it’s pretty hard to mess things up. Ask your parents for one of their go-to dishes because you might be surprised to find that favorite green bean casserole of yours was just a can of soup, beans and chicken broth!

If family recipes won’t do, the quickest way to impress with something simple is to make a side that often gets overlooked. Cornbread, for example, is rarely seen but awesome with turkey, stuffing, and sauce. Many people use cranberry sauce from a can, and but try making it yourself! This recipe only has 4 ingredients. A chocolate tart is easily put together with a store-bought crust.

“I don’t want to tread on the family’s classics, and make something that someone else usually makes.”

Appetizers are your best bet here. Try a trio of dips such as sweet potato hummus, mint pea spread (using a bag of frozen peas), and white bean hummus (sans tahini) along with carrots and/or celery. Applesauce is delicious and homey, enjoyable with both dessert and turkey. If you do want to show your baking prowess, choose a dessert that isn’t normally seen on the table. Recipes such as lemon meringue pie and this chocolate candied squash cake will bring new flavors to the traditionally pumpkin and apple-heavy pie spread.

“I have food allergies or religious/dietary restrictions.”

That’s cool. Notify the family early on of anything medically serious (“I can’t be in the room with peanuts”) and if it’s dietary, offer to bring a few substitutes (“I’m a vegan, but plan on bringing a bean salad and Brussels sprouts”). You should definitely feel free to ask about ingredients (“I have Celiac’s, so I have to avoid gluten – what dishes are friendly for me?”) but do so in a polite way. Limited options are preventable, and by bringing dishes that you can eat and also share, there is less stress for everyone! Don’t preach, or be dramatic. People have worked hard, regardless, and everyone has to be flexible.

Finally, bring your smiling, happy self! Happy Thanksgiving 🙂