My Best Thanksgiving

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Growing up primarily homeless with divorced parents means I was bounced around a lot as a child. My grandparents were the most stabilizing presence in my life. On the occasion that I happened to spend Thanksgiving with my grandparents, I remember it being a big production.

My grandmother would get up at 3 am to put the turkey in the oven and start the preparations. My grandparents lived on a farm when I was growing up. Just because it was Thanksgiving, did not mean it was a day off. The animals still needed to be tended and the chores still needed to be done, even if it was Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving meal was always served mid-day at my grandparent’s house. That way, it was in between morning and afternoon chores so my grandfather and uncles had time to sit down to enjoy the meal. Hence, my grandmother getting up at 3 am to start cooking. The Thanksgiving meal would be served sometime between 11 am and 1 pm. Closer to 11 am was preferable, closer to 1 pm was only if there was some unexpected delay.

When not at my grandparent’s house, I was tossed around between different relatives. In addition to having divorced parents, my mom was a nurse and nurses don’t always get holidays off either. My dad lived in another state, so there was always travel involved.

As an adult, I have always said I do not want to travel on holidays. I just want to stay in my house with my cats and celebrate the holiday. My cats are my family. By staying home with them, I am celebrating the holiday with family. 

There was one year where I did go somewhere to celebrate a holiday. I remember it was New Year’s Eve. I was completely miserable at this New Year’s Eve party I attended. I would have been happier at home with my cats. The entire time I was at the party, I felt guilty for not spending the holiday with my family. I have since renewed my vow to spend holidays with my family.

So for the past 20 years or so, I have spent every single holiday home alone with my cats. I am completely okay with that. I get plenty of phone calls, text messages and letters in the mail from humans. Holidays are family time and the cats are my family.

So spending Thanksgiving home alone with the cats during a pandemic was no big deal for me. It was just like any other Thanksgiving. While most of America completely ignored CDC recommendations and chose to risk their lives and the lives of other people to travel on Thanksgiving, I stayed home like I always do. I was perfectly happy.

Twenty years ago I cooked a big turkey Thanksgiving and had friends over. Even though I do not want to go anywhere on holidays, I don’t mind if people visit me. Cooking Thanksgiving was a lot of work. I did it once. I said I would not do it again. I haven’t.

In Thanksgivings since, I have been way too tired to do anything special for Thanksgiving. I spent 15 years working 2 or 3 jobs often 7 days a week trying to make ends meet. Holidays were the only times I ever got a day off. So instead of cooking anything special for Thanksgiving, I would often just put a frozen pizza in the oven and sleep. I was exhausted. I was just happy to have the day off to be home with the cats.

When I finished my master’s degree 5 years ago, I decided to cook Thanksgiving to see what it would be like to be a “normal,” non-student adult. However, instead of cooking any sort of poultry, I made a lentil loaf. I remember being in the kitchen almost all day. If you have ever cooked a lentil loaf from scratch, you know it takes about 3 hours to do so, provided you have soaked the lentils overnight ahead of time.

I got up early to cook so that my meal was ready about noontime, same as when I was a child. Cooking Thanksgiving that year was a lot of work. I even went out of my way to make an allergy-friendly pumpkin pie. That was another endeavor that took hours to make. Of course the allergy friendly pie crust was made and rolled out by hand too. 

Again, after that Thanksgiving, I said never again. I was not going to get up early and spend the entire day cooking just for one meal. It’s not worth it. For the record, the lentil loaf was excellent. I have made it many times since then. However, I do not spend hours making mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the other things to do with it. It is much more manageable to make the lentil loaf by itself on a long weekend.

This year, being in quarantine, I am home all the time. I really wanted to do something to make the holidays extra special this year to break up the monotony and to feel like I was really getting a break and having a special treat. 

I decided to cook Thanksgiving this year. However, I told myself that based on my past experience watching my grandmother toil in the kitchen at 3 am, that I was not going to do that. However I chose to cook Thanksgiving this year, I would rather have my meal later than get up that early just to cook a meal.

Plus, as a single person, a turkey is a bit much. Yes, you can always have leftovers, but I just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking an entire turkey. When looking in my cupboards, I do not even have any pans or cookware that is big enough or adequate to cook a turkey.

So while I decided I would cook Thanksgiving this year, I came up with a completely different plan and it worked perfectly. In fact, Thanksgiving 2020, in the middle of being quarantined in a global pandemic, was the best Thanksgiving of my entire life. Here is how it happened.

The cats actually let me sleep in for an extra hour on Thanksgiving morning. I was surprised. They usually don’t let me over sleep for too long before they start fussing around me wanting their breakfast. But on Thanksgiving morning, I had an extra hour of sleep. Thank you, furballs.

My morning went as usual. I even had time to sit on the couch with my coffee and relaxed listening to a CD. After my relaxing morning routine, I went to the kitchen to set up the crockpot.

I cooked my entire Thanksgiving meal in the crockpot. It resulted in less dishes, less mess, and less work on my part.

I sliced open a sweet potato and put the two halves on the bottom of the crockpot. When the crockpot was done later in the day, I essentially had a baked sweet potato. On top of the sweet potato, I put a Cornish game hen. The Cornish game hen I had gotten on an Instacart order back in September. It had been in my freezer waiting for Thanksgiving. The biggest prep I had to do was remembering to pull the Cornish game hen out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator a few days before Thanksgiving.

The Cornish game hen went in the crock pot on top of the sweet potato. I then opened a can of cranberry sauce and a can of mandarin oranges and out those in. This way, the Cornish game hen would have a cranberry-orange glaze, and the sweet potato would too. 

Now, there is a saying that “nobody likes it from the can” when it comes to cranberry sauce. I have to agree. I have made fresh cranberry sauce before from a bag of cranberries. However, I did not want to go to the hassle of making cranberry sauce from scratch. Not to mention, that when you put canned cranberry sauce in the crockpot, it makes it indistinguishable. By the time the crockpot is done, both the Cornish game hen and the sweet potato are cranberry flavored. There is no way to tell the difference between if fresh cranberries or canned cranberries were used, so I just used canned. Less work for me.

I set the crockpot up and went about my day until my Thanksgiving dinner was done. Thanksgiving dinner ended up being ready at about 5:30 pm, which was in line with my normal meal time and medication schedule. Another challenge with special holiday meals is trying to coordinate your food schedule with your medication schedule when you happen to be on a medication that requires you take it with food. I planned Thanksgiving dinner to replace my normal evening meal. I also had a bottle of sparkling white grape juice ($3), which was easier to obtain and way more affordable than if I had wine ($25).

For the record, the cats had Thanksgiving too. I wanted to make the day special for them also so that they would know it was Thanksgiving and not just another day. I do not ever feed the cats anything other than their prescribed cat food, but on Thanksgiving, I split a packet of tuna fish between the 3 of them. If they only get tuna fish on Thanksgiving, then they know that is a special day. This year was Jolene’s first Thanksgiving with us, so that made it even more special.

While Thanksgiving was cooking in the crockpot, I was able to get a lot done around the house. I watched two Thanksgiving movies. I pulled out my Christmas CDs and put them on.  I put up the Christmas tree and decorations. I wrapped all the Christmas presents.

It was a very relaxing day.

After my Thanksgiving meal in the evening, I watched a Christmas movie with the Christmas tree lights on. The cats and I had a great day. 

This was the best Thanksgiving I have ever had in my life. I was home with my family, the ones I love. I had a special meal that came out great and took little fuss to make. I think a cranberry-orange Cornish game hen with sweet potatoes sounds like Thanksgiving to me. It took a lot less work than a if I had done a traditional turkey.

Although, while the meal was great, I think next year I may try a boneless turkey breast or do boneless chicken breasts instead of a Cornish game hen to be honest with you. 

Many Americans this year were in uproar over COVID and Thanksgiving. Many people risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones to see their family. They just could not give up their traditional Thanksgiving to save their lives. 

I’m not judging. I just don’t understand it. The cats and I are “alone” every year. I was not lonely. People do call to wish my Happy Thanksgiving. I spent the holiday with my cats – my family and the ones I love. Thanksgiving could not have been better for me. I don’t understand why people have to put so much pressure on one day to tell people we love them. You should be telling people you love them every day. Life is short.

This year we are thankful to be alive. We are thankful to be together. The future is not promised.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone. The cats and I are having the best Thanksgiving of our lives.

My Quarantine Life: Week 24

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Jolene, my work from home supervisor.

Decision Fatigue. I am definitely feeling it. Prior to the pandemic, I had most of my life on a schedule designed to operate on cruise control. This made me more efficient so that I could focus on what matters most. 

For example, having a minimalist wardrobe reduces decision fatigue. When you only have 4 pairs of pants to throw around the room, you are less likely to feel frustrated with what you have to wear. Admit it. We all have times when we have been getting dressed in the morning, and some article of clothing gets removed and thrown around the room because it doesn’t fit right, feel right, look right, etc. When you have a minimalist wardrobe, you minimize decision fatigue. Every item you own is a favorite, so you are more likely to be happy with the first outfit you put on for the day.

In quarantine, I am running into decision fatigue with food. Yes, I do like to be creative. However, it is now downright absolutely exhausting having to be creative with food every single day. Due to the food shortages, many of my go-to items are unavailable. I have to get creative with what I do have. 

There is no longer the option to make something up quick in 30 minutes or less. I am often spending more than an hour cooking every single day. This is because all of my food allergy friendly convenience items are unavailable. I am being forced to cook every single meal from scratch every single day.

Take breakfast, for example. My special allergy-friendly cereal is either unavailable, or the choice that is available has a limit of 2. This is made even more challenging when I have people shopping for me by just adding items onto their own list. I have to just obtain food by where people are already going and what they can get for me. It is making living with food allergies that much harder.

For breakfast, I have been making muffins since cereal and milk are unavailable. Allergy-friendly milk, by the way, has been completely unavailable since the end of February.

Making muffins every 2-3 days is hard work. Yesterday, I had to shred the carrots by hand. Yes, they are made from scratch. I have no shortcuts available. Food in quarantine is hard. I am also going through more muffins because I am eating them for snacks. I get hungry a lot, and none of my allergy-friendly snack items are available due to factory closures. Food shortages are real. 

I have been trying to figure out how to get food without relying on my informal supports. As things have reopened and people go back to their routines, they don’t tend to check on me as much in quarantine. It is really challenging to order things online. I cannot get produce or anything fresh that way – only shelf stable items.

My fear throughout this entire pandemic is that I do not want to put anyone at risk to help me. Plus, if a person or people helping me get COVID, then they will no longer be able to help me because they will need help themselves.

That fear has come true. About half of the people helping me with food are now in quarantine awaiting COVID test results.

I have been hungry all the time throughout this pandemic. I don’t remember hunger like this since I was a child. This is primarily due to the fact that I have multiple food allergies and there are severe food shortages. I’m not going to eat something just to have it kill me. That defeats the point.

Decision fatigue over lack of food options combined with the fact that I have lost close to 15 pounds during the pandemic, has created a problem. I weigh less than 100 pounds to begin with. I have to figure out how to create some sense of normalcy with food even with food shortages.

Obtaining food is my biggest challenge right now.

Thankfully, one local non-profit is delivering food to houses for free – food pantry style. I requested a delivery last week to help. The challenge is that they were not able to accommodate my multiple food allergies. I am only able to eat about half of what they give me. It was also challenging trying to open the bags without touching something I am allergic to and causing a reaction. 

Money is tight right now since food prices have escalated to 3-4x more in the pandemic. That’s if you can find food. I hear many stories of bare shelves in grocery stores.

Instacart does deliver to my area. It is expensive. Many people have recommended that I not try it due to the expense. However, at this point, I am starving and desperate. 

I was so hungry the other day and the only thing I had to eat without spending an hour plus cooking was 2 hot dogs. Something needs to change. I need food.

I did sign up for a free 2-week trial of Instacart. Yes, I am fully aware I will be charged for it after the 2 weeks. However, I did the math, and it works out to be $8 per month for the service. Seeing that I will be in quarantine for close to a year if not longer, I decided to take the risk. At this point, I am so hungry, I just want food.

I placed my first order on Instacart. I was so impressed it arrived in less than 2 hours. Not only that, but I had the best “shopper” (yes, I tipped her well). 

For the first time in 6 months (since about February), I now have cereal, milk, bacon, allergy-friendly snacks and a few other items that make me feel more normal. What’s better is that Instacart is cheaper than the local delivery service I used previously. The other delivery service had a $100 minimum and a very limited selection of items. Instacart allows me to send someone to the stores where I know they have my allergy-friendly items. They also only have a $35 minimum, which is a lot easier on my wallet right now. 

While I still feel bad asking someone else to go to the store for me … well, this is their job. I’m sorry it’s their job, but thank you. Now I don’t have to worry about half the people helping me being quarantined for COVID tests. As long as Instacart can keep enough employees … Yes, I am tipping well. They deserve hazard pay for this. 

There are still food shortages. I had strawberries on my Instacart list, and the shopper had to substitute blueberries because there were no strawberries. That’s fine. I’m not picky. I was just happy to have fruit. There was also a substitution with my ground turkey … again, no problem. This is the first time since February I have been able to get ground turkey. I can’t wait to make turkey burgers and carrot fries this week. I communicated my food allergies to the shopper so they were able to make appropriate substitutions for me when needed.

I’m not sure if this Instacart thing is a good thing or a bad thing, but when I received my Instacart delivery this week, it was the first time in a long time I felt almost normal when it came to food. Everyone has been trying to discourage me from Instacart, so I am a little skeptical. 

However, I have what I need to make several of my normal meals and do not have to get creative with what I have. I feel very rich that I actually have food right now. I even have some things in my freezer so that I can go a while between needing groceries so I am not putting Instacart people at risk. I am happy that when I tip them, I am tipping a local person who needs the money right now.  

Food and work continue to be my two biggest challenges in the pandemic. I need food and I need to be able to do my job so I can continue to get paid. I am so thankful to be employed.

I am not sure if Instacart is going to solve my food issues or even if it will be more affordable than what I have been doing. Maybe I am throwing my money away. Who knows? All I know is that I am hungry, and I can’t live with being hungry anymore. The food shortages are one of the hardest things I have lived through.

Anyone else have any positive or negative experiences with Instacart?

Depression Era Cooking

Cooking, baking specifically, is a positive coping skill for me. With 4 food allergies plus an autoimmune disorder all adult onset, both cooking and baking have become daily challenges.

I have, for the most part, mastered egg substitution. With an egg allergy, I have learned that I can substitute applesauce for up to three eggs. Recipes beyond three eggs require some creativity. The individual cups of applesauce commonly found in children’s lunch boxes are the perfect size to equate to one egg.

I have used this applesauce coping skill to adapt some recipes. I successfully make banana bread on a regular basis. I even found an allergy friendly recipe for pumpkin pie that, while a lot of work, completely made my thanksgiving last year.

Tonight, completely by happenstance, I came across a recipe for depression era chocolate cake. I don’t even remember exactly what I typed into google, except that it involved something concerning the link between egg allergies and gluten autoimmune disorders.

Whatever I typed, I was fortunate enough to come across the depression era chocolate cake recipe. In the 1930s, eggs, milk, and butter were limited and expensive commodities in the United States. If Americans wanted baked goods and treats, then they had to get creative. Ingenuity is a hallmark of American civilization, indeed.

While invented for the purposes of economy, depression era chocolate cake is actually vegan, and perfect for someone trying to navigate the minefield that constitutes the modern problem of navigating the world with multiple food allergies.

It is quick, it is easy, and it completely fills the void left by being unable to bake comfort foods due to multiple allergens. Prior to food allergies, I used to enjoy making brownies and other baked goods to take to the fire station, for example, for some of my friends who work there. Since food allergies, I have had to make my entire environment allergen free due to the severity of my reactions.

Last night, not only did I have all of the ingredients readily on hand, but baking depression era chocolate cake was the perfect answer to the “I’m sick of eating the same allergy friendly food all the time” dilemma.

I have a new recipe to add to my arsenal, and now feel that I have something to contribute when it comes to potlucks and dishes to pass that is not completely obscure to those who don’t have to worry about food allergies.

I’m starting to wonder what other depression era recipes may be out there that would help with navigating the very frustrating world of multiple allergens.

For now, I have baked my cake and am going to eat it too. Lets hope that my search for more depression era recipes that are allergy friendly proves fruitful.

Depression era chocolate “wacky” cake recipe found in multiple locations, so it should be considered common knowledge without having to be cited:

1 1/2 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used the vegan one)

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

 1 tablespoon vinegar

1 cup water

preheat oven to 350. Bake for 30 minutes. I would recommend 35-40 if you use a loaf pan as I did for thicker texture.

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