Everyone loves a party!

Keep holiday festivities on your calendar this year, just stay safe.

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What will Thanksgiving or Christmas be without large gatherings of friends and family breaking bread at a shared table laden with food? Well, like everything else this year, it’s going to take some compromise and some imagination to celebrate the holidays 2020-style.

There are always ways to scale back on the feast a bit, but cookbook author Tina Miller believes that it’s still important to make the holidays special, maybe even more so this year. “During these trying times, you need to have things that make you feel good, and if you continue to feel cheated, why bother?” she says. “We still need to go through the motions.”

Whether she’s hosting a crowd or just celebrating with her husband and kids, Miller always goes all-out with the Thanksgiving spread. “I think it’s going to still be really important to have what you want. You can do turkey breast with all the fixings, but I think it’s still worth making the meal, still having all those things that you like, and just having leftovers. You can freeze the meat and use it for burritos or chili later on.”

For Christmas dinner, Miller opts for a beef roast, which may be a more efficient choice this year than a turkey or ham, since you can choose a more manageable size and still provide a special meal. If you decide to limit your holiday guest list to your “pod” but still want to provide cheer for others who are without family to celebrate, Miller suggests making up a pretty plate of food for a neighbor, or anyone else who may be alone, and dropping it off safely. She says that a gesture like that may be the perfect way to share your good fortune in these trying times without compromising your family’s safety.

Caterer extraordinaire Jaime Hamlin also believes in doing it up for the holidays, although she’s roasting up a smaller bird this year for Thanksgiving. One thing she recommends for those who may not want to go through all the work that a holiday meal might require, but would still like to offer something special, is to try some sort of new dish that’s not too labor-intensive to prepare. This year she will be making two special dishes that require only a few ingredients and very little prep. Mustard-sautéed Lowely’s Brussels Sprouts and homemade Cranberry-Orange Relish will be on the table, along with Koginut Squash. Hamlin also urges people to try to make the day special, maybe even a bit more special this year, even if it’s just you and a significant other or close friend.

“We always start our Thanksgiving get-togethers in the morning in the kitchen,” she says. “Even if it’s just the two of you, prepare the meal together, and make a day of it. Put candles out, flowers if they’re available. Decide on a toast. It just needs to be an uplifting day. Give thanks that we live on this incredible Island and that we’re safe.”

Cookbook author Cathy Walthers, a private chef who is currently also delivering meals during COVID, was recently faced with a dilemma when preparing for a festive gathering. The plan was to host a going-away party outdoors around a fire pit but, with a forecast of rain all weekend, she had to think quickly to save the day. The solution — a party in a garage.

In late October, a group of women prepared to honor their friend Margaret Emerson, who had stood alongside them for the past four years as a very active member of a number of left-leaning political groups on the Island (M.V Dems, M.V. Indivisible, etc.). The nine friends refused to concede defeat to the weather. “We planned for weeks and invited everybody,” recalls Walthers. “Someone asked, ‘What’s your plan C?’ I didn’t have one, until one of the group [Carla Cooper] said that we could have the party in her garage. She has a nice two-car garage.”

As Walthers describes it, they kept the doors open, and compensated for the cold by wearing hats, mittens, and, of course, masks. Blankets were distributed, and the warmth of camaraderie (as well as that provided by ample glasses of wine) helped turn a near disaster into a memorable event.

The nine guests sat in chairs placed strategically six feet apart, with no shared table. To abide by safe practices, Walthers brought out a pot of homemade soup which she ladled into guests’ bowls individually, and passed around bread in Baggies. “The key is having one person with gloves on, cutting and serving things,” she says.

Decorations were simple — Christmas lights strung around the garage. One seasonal — and very group-appropriate touch — was a series of “Trumpkins,” hand-painted and decorated pumpkin caricatures of the president, orange-faced and angry. A large, framed picture board featured photos of Emerson and friends participating in a variety of political activities. A gluten-free cake from the Scottish Bakehouse proclaimed Emerson “The Notorious M.H.E.” (her initials).

During the celebration, the guest of honor received phone calls from State Senator Julian Cyr and State Representative Dylan Fernandes, thanking her for her years of service.
Emerson and her husband have relocated back to Boston, after a long stretch as year-round Islanders. “We’re going to miss Margaret tremendously,” says Walthers. “She gave so much to the Vineyard. When it came to service, she never said no. The Island is losing a true citizen. She’s been a really involved, active, contributing citizen, and I’ll sorely miss my ‘partner in crime.’”

Recipes
Just because it’s been quite the year doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get into the holiday spirit. Jaime Hamlin offers a couple of simple new recipes to try this year.

Cranberry-Orange Relish 
Serves 6.

1 cup cranberries
1 whole orange (skin and all)
1 cup (or to taste) sugar

Cut up the orange into chunks, put into a Cuisinart with the cranberries and sugar, and

whiz up until still a bit chunky. Taste for sweetness. Put into a pretty dish, and serve with turkey!

Lowely’s Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4 to 6.

2 lbs. small Brussels sprouts
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3-4 Tbsp. salted butter

Steam Brussels sprouts to desired doneness. (Don’t overdo! Can be done ahead and mixed with mustard butter, then reheated in the microwave.) Melt butter and mix with mustard, add steamed Brussel sprouts, season with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately, or reheat closer to dinnertime in the microwave.

Koginut Squash
Try this quick recipe for a tasty and dense squash dish.

Choose a smallish Koginut squash, cut in half, and scoop out seeds. Put in a small baking dish with about an inch of water in it. Fill the squash with a tablespoon of butter, golden raisins, a big splash of maple syrup (or about 2 Tbsp. of brown sugar), salt and pepper to taste, and bake at 375° for about half an hour, or until the flesh is soft.

This squash is superior to all others, having a dense, velvety flesh perfect for individual servings at Thanksgiving.