During a year of so much uncertainty, how do we even start to plan for the holidays?
I’m not sure what my Thanksgiving and Christmas plans look like right now, but I know I’ll probably be cooking and that I’ll need some supplies that I need every year: canned corn for a cheesy corn casserole. Pecans, sugar and flour for pie. Cranberries to go with whatever poultry I end up roasting. (It might be a chicken this year if it’s just my kids and me eating together.)
Austinite Suzanna Cole, a friend, food blogger and longtime Central Market employee, posted a piece of advice on social media Thursday that I thought was worth sharing: Buy whatever you can early.
"Please, from someone who works in specialty grocery, start making your lists of what you will need for Thanksgiving and Christmas this week, and plan on purchasing your dry goods now as some supply chains may be a bit wonky," she wrote.
Fresh ingredients won’t last between now and Nov. 26 (except maybe winter squash and sweet potatoes), but you can pick up whatever canned, frozen and dry goods you’re going to need for these big food holidays now. A few examples: spices, broth, canned pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, nuts, baking powder and baking soda, sugar and flour. You could even buy that special sparkling grape juice or wine that you plan to serve that day.
There’s also the nonfood stuff you might use during the holiday season: aluminum foil, aluminum roasting pans, parchment paper, thermometers, paper napkins and paper towels.
Grocery stores don’t typically carry a large selection of frozen turkeys and hams until a little closer to the holiday, but if you see one that looks like a good size for you and whoever you think you’ll be eating with, you can store it in the freezer until the week you plan to cook it. (Consider Cornish game hens if you’re making a small dinner this year.)
Several local meat companies, including Dai Due, Stuffed Cajun Meat Market and Countryside Farm, are taking holiday preorders for their specialty meats, including brined birds, cured hams and turduckens.
This isn’t a call to go out and hoard, but it’s a good reminder that if we all stretch out our buying, we might be able to avoid the typical last-minute supply issues, not to mention overcrowding. Grocery stores will likely implement social distancing protocols as the holidays get closer, and it will be harder to book a curbside or delivery when the holiday demand kicks in.
Now, about that planning.
Experts are encouraging families to consider this year’s holiday gatherings carefully, taking into account transmission rates and social distancing practices of those who attend.
If you can, eat outside, which will help reduce the chance that your Thanksgiving dinner will become its own COVID-19 hot spot, and explain to guests what the protocol will be (such as wearing masks when not eating, and not hugging, even though you want to).
You can seat families who are already social distancing together at the same table to help reduce the likelihood of transmission, and you also can designate one (masked and gloved) person to serve all of the food so that guests aren’t all touching the same utensils.
I’m not a medical expert, but I do know a little about family gatherings, and here’s my advice: Start having these sometimes awkward but important conversations now. After such a long year apart, spending time together safely can be a boost to our collective mental and social health, but we can’t sacrifice the community’s safety to do it.
If being together in-person and hugging everyone is important to you, ask if participants can make an extra effort to quarantine for two weeks before the holiday. If that’s not possible because of work or school, come up with a plan so you can celebrate safely in another way. That might mean Zooming with family members instead of driving or flying to see them, or hosting a potluck-style dinner where each family brings their own meals.
It’s not ideal, but the coronavirus won’t take time off for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or New Year’s, so we need to stay on top of our own stay-healthy practices while also honoring the roots of the holiday: our need to connect with each other and mark the passing of another year.