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An Orphan Thanksgiving

Erica Fehrman shares her recipe for how to spend an enjoyable Thanksgiving when you can't spend it with family. (Includes a great task timeline and recipe recommendations for anyone celebrating Turkey Day.)

Until age 23, I ranked Thanksgiving as my least-favorite holiday. Then at age 24, it suddenly became my favorite. Besides escaping school, which typically views Thanksgiving weekend as an excuse to stack up homework, I was able to avoid the inevitable family squabble over all things gobble-gobble. This was accomplished by moving from Indiana to Connecticut, deciding to remain at my new home for the holiday, and hosting a dinner for orphan friends--those whose families also lived too far away to go back twice in one jam-packed holiday month.

Admittedly, the first year in a new state was sparse. I cooked an entire spread for just two people--my husband of three months and me. We lived in a tiny apartment with a dollhouse stove and almost no counter space, but we made it happen--and blew out the oven in the process, though thankfully it sputtered its last breath after our garlic turkey was done. We ate leftovers for over a week. 

By the second year, we owned our first house and boasted a full-size kitchen and a dining table. Again, the lure of staying home and conserving energy for the twelve-hour drive at Christmas won us over. We put the word out that we would host an Orphan Thanksgiving, and two more people joined us. They were both bachelors, and their contributions included store-bought rolls and a lot of beer. No matter, my husband and I switched to a maple-ginger turkey, and also prepared sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, dressing, cranberries, corn and pumpkin pie. The guys did the dishes and we lulled around watching movies all afternoon. I fell asleep on the floor of the living room, but it was more out of contentment than exhaustion. The wine helped, too. We continued the Thanksgiving celebration the next day by taking a nice, long hiketo burn off calories and get some fresh air after two days of cooking.

The third year, more people joined us and we had reason to add the extension pieces to the table. The fourth year, we sat a table of twelve. This was the only year that family joined us, as my parents, my brother and his fiancee flew out for a visit. Our two bachelor friends were still a Thanksgiving staple, and we also had a married couple and a dating couple. While I worked away at pies and sides, my mom made twelve adorable walnut turkey seating cards. This way, we could organize the table to ensure like interests and full conversation from our varied crowd. Our guests added to the sides and provided rolls and wine.

Before dinner, everyone spoke about what they were thankful for in the last year, and what they looked forward to in the coming one. My family was genuinely interested in conversing with our friends, and they in turn enjoyed my mom’s hugs. We were a bit more cramped as we vied for couch space for the afternoon movies, and we had a fabulous hike the next day.

We’ve since left Connecticut and moved to several other states, though we’re still hours from family. Sometimes the Orphan Thanksgiving doesn’t come together, but when it does, it proves to be the best kind of dinner. People without another place to go are truly the most grateful guests, and hosting such a gathering likely makes for the most generous host. Whether with family or friends, it is good to take a moment to say Thanks for a good life.

Erica’s Traditional Menu*

Maple Roast Turkey with Riesling Gravy

Mashed Potatoes

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Click to enlarge.


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