Instead of a browned bird for the centerpiece, artfully construct a charcuterie board with cured meats, olives, dried fruit, jam, nuts, hard and soft cheeses, mustards, and honey for drizzling. Add festive small gourds, sprigs of rosemary, or autumn leaves as decorations. Post your creation to Instagram.
Or, skip cooking altogether. Support a local restaurant by ordering takeout. Pack deli sandwiches and climb the nearest summit for a Thanksgiving picnic with gorgeous views.
Let go of trying to make everyone’s favorite sides this year. (Unless there are vegetarians, in which case, lean in on the side dishes.) Choose a vegetable like acorn squash that makes for easy personal servings and preferences. Add a dash of garlic powder in softened butter to melt in the middle as it bakes for a savory flavor. For those who like things sweet, add brown sugar or maple syrup to a tablespoon of butter.
If there is a yearly debate over whether sweet potatoes get marshmallows or not, make them plain and then serve them in individual ramekins with brown sugar and mini marshmallows on the side. A few seconds in the microwave or a minute under the broiler in the toaster oven will make a delicious gooey topping for those who want it.
Leftover pie shouldn’t be considered a problem, but if you don’t want to eat pie for days and still prefer a variety to choose from, make your favorite flavors as mini pies. This is a great way to involve kids in the meal prep, too. Use pre-made pie crusts to keep things simple. Let the pastry thaw until you can roll it and then use a 3-inch cookie cutter (or glass jar rim) to cut circles in the dough. Tuck each round into a muffin tin and spoon in your favorite filling.
If you have too much filling for the mini pies don’t despair: Pour any extra pumpkin filling in a custard dish and bake it. Extra apples tossed in cinnamon sugar can be a topping for oatmeal or yogurt, and chocolate pudding can be finished off when you have a moment alone in the pantry.
Don’t forget this part. It’s been a hard year for all of us, but take a moment to see where hope and progress are shining through – if it is more time with your family, house projects that finally got finished, or a greater appreciation for your neighbors – it’s worth the time to write these things down. Read them out loud to anyone who will listen, whether it’s to relatives over Zoom, at a table set for two, or to Whiskers the cat. Save them in an envelope marked “Thanksgiving 2020” and when you revisit these tiny epistles of gratitude in the years to come – maybe future generations will find them in an attic box – you’ll have put on record how you made it through with a heart full of thanks.
Pumpkin Pie Bites
Makes 12 mini pies. (To avoid leftover filling, reduce all portions in the filling recipe by half.)
1 9-inch pie crust, homemade or store-bought
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon sea salt
¾ cup sugar
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Whipped cream, optional
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Allow the frozen pie shell to come to room temperature. Lightly spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.
Mix the pumpkin, spices, and sugar together. Add remaining ingredients, and combine.
Roll out the pastry shell on a lightly floured surface until it is flat. If the dough is cracking, mound it into a ball and roll out again. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter press out circles in the dough. Settle each pastry circle into a muffin tin. With your fingertips, gently pull the edges to the top of the cup.
Using a spoon like a gravy ladle, fill each muffin cup ⅔ full.
Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees for an additional 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the edges of the shells so they don’t overbrown. Cool and remove from muffin tins with a butter knife.
Top with a dollop of whipped cream if desired before serving. The pies will keep for up to a week in the fridge, and for several months frozen.