The D-Constructed Cook: Hosting a Pandemic-Friendly Friendsgiving

by Justin Mon | 11/16/20 2:00am

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by Lucy Handy / The Dartmouth

Over the years, the idea of “Friendsgiving” — a Thanksgiving meal with friends — has become wildly popular, especially among college students. It’s a great excuse to host a dinner party, catch up with friends and share good food and drink. I have fond memories from my first two years at Dartmouth of gathering at a friend’s house at the end of fall term and feeling the stress dissipate as winter break began. 

It’s a glorious feeling to reconnect with the people around you and put academics on pause. There is something so nostalgic about Thanksgiving dishes and catching up with old friends that makes Friendsgiving all the more heartwarming.

Although we are in a pandemic, a Friendsgiving is still very doable. As a Dartmouth student, you might be looking to cook dinner for your housemates or plan a socially-distanced gathering at home. Either way, Friendsgiving remains an important event that can rekindle friendship in times of isolation.

As for food, there are a few ways to approach dinner: takeout, potluck or spearheading the cooking yourself. When it comes to takeout, I recommend ordering family-style portions of your favorite dishes. Not only is it better economically, but the act of sharing food adds to the meaning of the holiday. It can be exciting to try out new dishes you normally would not order; these experiences can be the backbone of conversation throughout the night. A great low-budget idea would be to order a few noodle dishes, curries and appetizers from a local Thai restaurant or a few stews and rice from a Persian place. Having a large spread of different dishes provides the feeling of variety and bounty for your guests.

Potluck dinners are also a great way to source food for Friendsgiving. When everyone brings their own dish, you can get a peek into their tastes as a cook. It can be a great chance to learn about each others’ cultural backgrounds or add a treasured family recipe to your own repertoire. Potlucks are great when your guests are equally interested in cooking, but inexperienced cooks are encouraged to partake too. The exchanging of recipes can act as a great vehicle for conversation throughout the night and incite some friendly competition — there is always one dish that garners endless praise from guests. Among my friends, this crispy garlic balsamic brussels sprout recipe from New York Times Cooking takes the cake.

When guests bring their own dishes, it alleviates some of the stress of cleaning after a dinner party. My family loves to do potluck-style dinners so that one person is not stuck in the kitchen all day, and there is a greater variety of dishes. However, I would recommend that the host assigns each guest a type of dish (main, side, vegetable, etc.) so that dinner isn’t just six pies and two turkeys.

For an ambitious host, cooking the dinner yourself can be a rewarding challenge. Cooking a meal yourself also makes guests feel special and is, in my opinion, the ultimate sign of hospitality. The key to this operation is planning; the worst feeling is being stuck in the kitchen all day and not having time to entertain guests. Preparing dishes like the stuffing, green bean casserole, baked goods and sides beforehand will allow you to spend more time socializing than stirring pots. With the exception of the turkey, most dishes can be prepared in baking trays ahead of time and reheated easily before serving. It might be helpful to take a glance at some of the online cooking plans out there for Thanksgiving dinner and draw some insights on how to time the cooking process. I recommend this guide from Food Network to get started.

In addition to the food, having an array of beverages is a great way to exceed guests’ expectations and arrange an activity of sorts for guests to entertain themselves. Consider setting aside a bar cart or counter space dedicated to drinks. The easiest way to plan drinks is to have one cocktail that guests can make themselves along with some beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages. This way, guests feel engaged with their drinks, and the pressure is off of the host to act as bartender. Some easy cocktails that both appeal to the masses and don't require fancy ingredients are Moscow mules, greyhounds and whisky sours — all easy to drink and easy to prepare.

The last thing to consider is entertaining guests before and after the meal. Although time should be dedicated to conversation and enjoying the food, there are lots of fun activities to keep the energy high. Board games like Catan, Cards Against Humanity and digital board games like Psych and Heads Up are fun ways to pass the time. Games can open up topics of conversation and help guests fight the post-turkey drowsiness. Entertainment can also help with the pacing of drinks and let your guests’ stomachs settle between dinner and dessert. 

Once you nail the food, drink and entertainment, Friendsgiving is a foolproof way to reunite with friends and enjoy a meal together. Even if the gathering has to be smaller or distanced and outside, Friendsgiving never fails to foster a sense of family among friends. With a lighthearted and high energy atmosphere, your guests will leave well-fed, entertained and happy.

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