For Thanksgiving 2020, one that will undoubtedly be the one of weirdest of our lives, we turned to a voice of reason in culinary personality Andrew Zimmern. The four-time James Beard award winner knows a thing or two about food, hosting others, and getting through the holidays in one sound mental piece.
Recently, Zimmern collaborated with the AARP and hosted a virtual caregiver Thanksgiving. It’s a fitting move for a variety of reasons, with the backdrop being that November is National Caregivers Month. Giving back is inherent to the holiday season, especially this year amid a surging pandemic. Zimmern was the caretaker for his late parents, one of an estimated 48 million nationwide.
The esteemed foodie offered some sage advice for improving your Thanksgiving this year.
Let’s start with a quick inhale and exhale. As Zimmern says, the stakes are always set unfairly high during Turkey Day, something we can address by just keeping things simple. “I think you need to remember that Thanksgiving is ironically the one holiday where traditionally people who don’t cook that often cook abnormally large amounts of food, in abnormally large quantities, in a pressure-filled environment where they feel judged by all of their family members, in kitchens that are too small using containers that aren’t big enough to cook them,” he says.
How to streamline things in the kitchen? Zimmern strongly encourages prep, hours and even days in advance. Also, there’s no shame in passing off some of the labor. “If you have family members that you’ve ‘podded’ with over the past several months, dole out some jobs,” he says. “Let someone else pick up the beverages. Let someone else bring a pie. Focus on the things that you want to do and that you love cooking. You’ll find the experience is more successful.”
Some of that prep work might even involve bringing in some food from eateries. Zimmern says the many bakeshops, cheese stores, and more are suffering amid the pandemic and could really use your dollars. “There’s no better time, ever, to actually be paying for food and bringing it in, and the quality is going to be spectacular as well,” he says.
When it’s showtime in the kitchen, Zimmern again champions simplicity. “Don’t over complicate it! It’s just food,” he says. The chef and food expert reminds us that mental health issues are on the rise for just about every age group and there’s the added pressure of cooking, hosting, and taking care of others.
“We don’t do a good job in America bringing our older Americans in,” Zimmern admits. “We tend, culturally, to be pushing them away. And I know that there are so many people out there that really need that warm hug that food gives.”
How do you offer that edible hug? By simply engaging in the act of cooking and sharing food with others. It brings people together and doesn’t need to be fussed over and continuously dissected. Share some kitchen work, toast to the day, and share in a meal you helped make (or brought in). It’s more than enough.
There are means of connecting beyond simply sharing a meal. Obviously, we should be taking advantage of the many technologies we have at our disposal to check in with cousins, grandparents, and old friends while social distancing properly. Zimmern suggests we do the old fashioned thing and pick up the phone.
“I made a list of about 20 or 30 people that I’m going to reach out to,” he says. “I’m cooking for one this year. I’m used to cooking for 24 at the table, another 24 dropping in. So I am going to be reaching out to friends and family and sending them my well wishes and telling everyone why I’m grateful for them.”
There’s an awareness aspect as well. Zimmern says he has neighbors that won’t be cooking or are not confident in their abilities but also can’t leave the house amid the pandemic. He’s planning on cooking for about a dozen in the area and shlepping food around to various stoops and porches.
Caregivers especially sometimes to forget to look in the mirror. They’re so busy looking after others they may neglect themselves. Take care of yourself first,” Zimmern says. “That means including some activities that you want. Get out of the house, take a walk, make a list of things ahead of time that you’re going to do that day.”
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