The ATK Reviews Team’s Holiday Traditions, 2020 Edition

How we’re adapting our traditions to keep our 2020 celebrations special (and the equipment we’re using to do it).

Published Nov. 2, 2020.

Chase Brightwell

If the past several months have taught us anything, it’s that it’s hard to know what the future will bring. Predicting what Thanksgiving and the winter holidays will look like this year is tough, but we’re fairly sure that our celebrations are going to look and feel a bit different. As we adjust our table sizes and grocery lists to serve fewer guests, we’re committed to making  2020 just as special as any other year—and we think you should be too. Here’s how the ATK Reviews Team will celebrate this year.

Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor

In our Italian American family, most of the holiday traditions revolve around food. Holiday meals begin with traditional antipasto platters and fresh Italian bread. Next, we have lasagna and meatballs with gravy made from tomatoes my family members canned themselves. The next course of baked ham with yams and green beans usually tips our stomachs over the edge before we finish with cheesecake made using my grandmother’s recipe. Our meal on Christmas Eve is different—along with many other Italian American families, we celebrate with the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Left: Carolyn and her wife, nephews, and adorable pup, Ollie, on Christmas Eve. Right: Carolyn's family's holiday antipasto spread.
Left: Carolyn and her wife, nephews, and adorable pup, Ollie, on Christmas Eve. Right: Carolyn's family's holiday antipasto spread.

If my wife and I can’t be with our families this year I imagine we’ll cook smaller portions of similar dishes. We can make an antipasto platter for two and bake a mini lasagna in our winning loaf pan. And on Christmas Eve, instead of cooking seven fishes, we’ll choose a few of our favorite fish dishes to cook, like Linguine allo Scoglio. The most important part of the holidays for me is connecting with and honoring my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother by participating in their traditions. If I can’t physically be with my family for Christmas, I can be surrounded by our shared history.

Hannah Crowley, Executive Editor

I love Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. We have a massive extended family with a lot of food professionals and passionate hobbyists, so we take the eating part very seriously. (My aunt even brought back-up gravy one year after we'd come perilously close to running out the year before.) This year will look a little different but honestly, I'm kind of excited. I will miss seeing our huge extended clan, but I'm hoping we can do something I've been lobbying for for years—really pare down our menu so we don't spend all day washing dishes and prepping. No more green beans for the sake of tradition; no more turnips (why does my mother always insist upon turnips?). One dish I adore is my pal Andrew Janjigian's Mushroom and Leek Galette with Gorgonzola. I made it a few years ago for the vegetarians at the table, and we had to fend off the meat eaters with the carving fork. A pizza stone is essential for making sure the tart bottom is cooked all the way through. I also adore mine for weekly pizza nights, so it gets plenty of use year-round.

Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, Associate Editor

My mom has a big family—as in 16 siblings. Which means typical holidays (the only time when all of her siblings plus their spouses and children and their children's spouses and children are in the same place) can be a bit hectic. This year, we'll definitely miss all getting together and our Christmas tradition of what we call the "grab bag," also known as white elephant gift exchange. Every family brings a handful of gifts under $10 and we go in a circle, taking turns picking, stealing, and re-stealing gifts. It can get quite heated! This holiday will just be my mom, dad, my sister, myself, and my husband, but I still like the idea of playing a game together. I'm going to buy a Bingo set and make the prizes cooking-themed, since my parents recently moved into a new house and need to restock their kitchen and my sister will be moving into her first solo apartment this coming year. Potential prizes will include measuring spoons, a bamboo salt box, a silicone spatula, and any other inexpensive essentials I can think of! Another one of my favorite holiday traditions is dressing up my dogs in festive garb (like above). It's the little things! 

Lauren Savoie, Senior Editor

My actual Thanksgiving is likely to be unaffected; my mother-in-law would move earth and water to make sure we're all together safely for the holiday. Instead, the tradition most likely to change for me is Friendsgiving: a Thanksgiving-adjacent celebration I've shared with my group of friends for nearly a decade now. A dozen of us usually choose a weekend in November or December and rent a house in Vermont, where we spend the days mulling cider, hanging out in the jacuzzi, and cooking a giant feast of Thanksgiving food.

Whatever happens—whether we end up sharing a meal virtually on Zoom, or having a low-key picnic with a smaller group, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least make my pal Morgan Bolling's Tennessee Pulled Turkey, which has become the traditional main dish at our Friendsgiving. It's a fun, more flavorful twist on the classic bird, and you can serve it with both gravy and white barbecue sauce. Morgan tells me that for best results I'm going to actually have to get a grill instead of trying to finagle this recipe to work in my oven. So yeah, I'll probably be investing in a portable charcoal grill just to make this recipe, but I'm telling you this turkey is worth it. So worth it that I'm willing to stand outside in my apartment parking lot grilling in the middle of Boston winter just to make it

Chase Brightwell, Assistant Editor

The number of guests at my childhood Christmas lunches and dinners always varied, but whether we had large events with extended family, or cozy meals with just my parents, my brother, and me, one thing remained constant: our potato gratin. While we’re always excited to switch up the menu—prime rib or ham, cippolini onions or roasted brussels sprouts—the delicious gratin always ends up in the oven every year. So this year when it looks like I won’t be flying home for Christmas, it’s important that I make our favorite gratin—and especially vital that I make the full-sized dish. What about leftovers, you ask? I’ll rely on our winning reusable plastic storage containers to keep things contained and fresh for a few days. You know, if the leftovers last that long.

Lisa McManus, Executive Editor

At my house, Thanksgiving can go from big to bigger—often at the last minute. We have close friends who fly here every other year, alternating with visits to their families. Another local couple and their daughter often suddenly ask to join us if they suspect that going to their family Thanksgiving dinner will stress them out too much. Sometimes they scoop up other friends and bring them along. I truly don't mind, because once I start cooking, I always make way too much food, and to me, having a crowd of people makes the day more festive and fun. Everyone helps with something, and we put all three leaves in to expand our dining room table, and wedge in extra chairs. We eat, bundle up and take a walk, come back and eat some more.

Thanksgiving Guide 2020

Reliable recipes, tips, and how-tos so you can make the best—and least stressful—Thanksgiving meal you've ever had.    
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But this year, our Thanksgiving will be small and quiet, and I'm thinking of other ways to make it special. I'm going to try a few "project" type recipes that take more care and time. Maybe I'll fuss more over the table setting to make it extra beautiful. But I'll still grill-roast the turkey outside on my Weber 22" charcoal grill (our Best Buy). Simple Grill-Roasted Turkey is a brilliant recipe by my Cook's Illustrated colleague Lan Lam that not only frees up oven space, but also makes the juiciest, most gorgeous golden-brown centerpiece. Also I decided I'm still buying a big bird. We'll probably be showing it off over Zoom to all our friends at their houses—and we'll be eating leftovers for days, but with this flavorful turkey, I don't mind.

Miye Bromberg, Associate Editor

Lately I've been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving, the holiday, big T, with its roots in religion, conquest, displacement, and genocide. Is it even possible to rehabilitate such a holiday? Maybe, if we place more emphasis on thanksgiving, the act, little t. What are we thankful for? How do we reflect upon our privileges? How can we acknowledge the importance of community, and serve our communities better? Those are questions that we can ask no matter what dishes we serve and regardless of who is sitting at the table on the fourth Thursday of November. 

I've cooked for my family's Thanksgiving for nearly twenty years. Sometimes there's a turkey, smoked. I like stuffing, and gravy, and mashed potatoes. My boyfriend likes creamed onions. There's always pie. But it seems like a good time to reconsider the meal as well as the holiday. Separated from our extended families, my boyfriend and I might make pizza. Or biryani. Or soondubu jjigae. Maybe we'll treat our cat to a little bacon. The important thing is that we keep thinking.

Kate Shannon, Senior Editor

In a typical year, my partner and I would be celebrating Thanksgiving at her parents' house with upwards of 20 family members and friends. She also has a culinary background, so we do the bulk of the cooking. I'm always amazed by this holiday. We clean up as we go, but somehow there's still an absolute mountain of dishes at the end of the meal. This is when my partner's dad stands up, nudges us towards the living room, and starts filling the sink with soapy water. I know a division of labor doesn't sound like an important family tradition, but it is. Since we likely won't be traveling for the holiday this year, every household will be doing some cooking and cleaning. I'll order everyone packages of our favorite kitchen sponge, the O-Cedar Scrunge. It doesn't matter if their cranberry sauce boils over onto the stovetop (a mistake I have made) or if they scorch the bottom of their roasting pan (I've made that mistake too), these sponges will make cleanup easier. I hope that gives us more time to meet up for desserts over Zoom.

Marissa Angelone, Art Director

For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays have never been short of my Meme’s homemade ricotta pie. When I was younger, I would sit next to her as she made 24 (yes, you read that right) pies and steal pieces of dough to snack on or make little personal flower cookies. That was my way of “helping.” After we were done, relatives, friends, and neighbors all lined up at the door to pick up their pie. We used to make so many that we’d use disposable pie tins for ease. In the years since Meme has passed, the total of 24 pies has decreased to about 14 for close family and friends. This year, I picture my mom and I making only one or two. Since the load is a lot lighter, maybe we’ll take it up a notch and bake it in our winning pie plate, the Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch Nonstick Pie Dish. Trust me, it is foolproof for a beautifully baked crust. Whatever the holidays will look like for my family this year, there’s no doubt we’ll have a ricotta pie on the table; that’s the silver lining of all this. Holidays may look different, but the traditions live on, and I’ll be thinking of my Meme with every bite.

Ricotta pie
Marissa's family's ricotta pie.

Get the best Thanksgiving recipes, tips, and product reviews in our 2020 Thanksgiving Guide, and check out more helpful holiday information below.

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