A different Thanksgiving — in the shadow of COVID-19

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Image from a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the past. Photo: Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

Indian Americans around the country appear to have heeded the dire warning about getting too close together for Thanksgiving as they plan single household gatherings, bubble brunches and outdoor socially distanced celebrations. This is crunch time, time to exercise restraint, as the coronavirus is spreading in what is being called a ‘third wave’ in the United States.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois,was re-elected for the third term to Congress Nov. 3, 2020 election day. Photo: Krishnamoorthi.house.gov

“We are doing a household only Thanksgiving this year. Look forward to Priya’s excellent cooking!” messaged Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, responding to a query from Desi Talk. His wife Priya, a doctor on the frontlines, and their two children, are keeping each other company this Thanksgiving.

Others like Krishna Roy, an environmentalist from Virginia, and her husband George, are avoiding any gatherings at all. For years the center of large Thanksgiving meals, Roy’s house will not ring with music and lively discussions this time.

“It’s one festival I always celebrate… the one holiday I love. We are doing nothing. We are not going anywhere even though invited. And we have not invited anyone, not even my brother and his wife.”

According to Krishna, “The world is in chaos and we don’t want to contribute to that chaos. We have good friends and we want to protect them.”

Krishna Roy, environmentalist, from Greater Washington. (Photo: Krishna Roy)

But she sent her nephew Shantanu Sen’s recipe for Turkey/Chicken/Lamb Tandoori. Sen, who owns the Kathi Rolls restaurant in Orlando, FL, has no qualms sharing what was a signature dish on Roy’s table in past Thanksgiving dinners for which he was always present. (See Box).

For Aditi, an artist and designer in New Jersey, it is all about her five-year old son enjoying a near-normal Thanksgiving. She has organized a get-together with two little friends who have been in the bubble for the past several months, along with the parents.

“My son said he wants to have a ‘Friendsgiving’ Thanksgiving, a brunch with friends who are in the safe bubble. He has chosen the food items – mashed potatoes, green beans and juice made from cranberries added to infused blueberry juice. The kids are going to participate in a game I’ve called ‘Turkey in Disguise’.”

Aditi has printed out pictures of Turkeys or ‘turkey-related stuff’. She’s got some art supplies. The kids are going to ‘disguise’ the turkey to look like something else – “So they are saving the turkey. Plus they have to give the reason for what they have turned the turkey into.”

Tanya from Marlborough, NJ, is celebrating with family and friends. But it’s a backyard event with social distancing. And everyone is going to bring their own food, and everyone with keep on their masks while engaging in conversations. Thanksgiving, which is so famous for the political arguments and shouting matches, may be difficult in that scenario.

Vaaruni Eashwar of Washington, D.C., who works at the World Bank, planned to celebrate Thanksgiving outdoors, socially distanced, with masks on. Photo: Vaaruni Eashwar

Vaaruni Eashwar, who works with the World Bank in Washington, D.C., is also participating in a backyard event. Her landlords have invited her to   their outdoor get together, where like Tanya, they have set up socially distanced tables for family members. “The tables are a good distance away from each other. And there’s an outdoor heater. And if the weather gets bad, we will do it on the Friday, or during the weekend,” Vaaruni says. “I’m making Kheer because they loved it when I made it for Diwali – basically, I am adding the Indian touch to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.”

She presumes everything will be done with safety at the top of mind. “My landlord was part of the Moderna vaccine trials,” Vaaruni said, “So they are extra careful in their own self interest and that of everyone else.”

Shreya Chowdhry, a vehicle validation engineer based in Detroit, Michigan, believes Thanksgiving is all about being with your loved ones and feeling grateful to them. Her usual Thanksgivings were about getting up early morning and preparing a feast for guests. “This year I am celebrating with just my family.” Her kids are going to bake cookies. “As the new norm is all about going online, maybe we will have dinner with our families and friends virtually,” she thinks. For now, “I am grateful for my family’s health during these harsh times,” Chowdhry told Desi Talk.

Shreya Chowdhry of Detroit, MI, might spend her Thanksgiving virtually with friends and family. Photo: Shreya Chowdhry

Resham, who lives in The Hamptons, plans to get her friends together in the backyard hot tub, and serve up the umpteen versions of martinis that she has trained to make like a professional, plus some Scotch Whisky.

Sheekha Upadhyaya, 25, a pharmacist from Long Island, NY told Desi Talk this year had taken a toll on frontline workers like herself. So she is “looking forward to celebrating a small and laid-back Thanksgiving with my parents and sibling.”

Sheekha Upadhyaya, a pharmacist in Long Island, plans to celebrate Thanksgiving in a relaxed and laid-back way. Photo: courtesy Sheekha Upadhyaya

She loves incorporating Indian recipes into other cuisines. “I follow a few Indian American food accounts on Instagram and get my cooking inspiration from there. I am planning to make some new dishes for Thanksgiving, which include gulab jamun bundt cake, peda macarons and hari-bhari ramen. I hope everyone has a good holiday.”

(Shruti Dhawan contributed to this report)

SHANTANU SEN OF KATHI ROLL RESTAURANT IN ORLANDO, FL, SHARES HIS RECIPE FOR TANDOORI CHICKEN (Any meat will do)

Chicken Tandoori a la Shantanu Sen, owner of Kathi Rolls Restaurant in Orlando, FL. (Photo: Priyanka Chandra)

INGREDIENTS

3 Tbsp mustard oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 Tbsp (Kashmiri chili) or paprika
1 cup plain yogurt 
             Food coloring- egg shade yellow & red 
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 minced garlic cloves
2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
             1 teaspoon black salt 
4 whole chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs), or its equivalent, skinless, bone-in
Method:
Mix all ingredients together, adding colors little at a time until you get a nice orange red color. Marinade chicken for at least 6 to 8 hours, preferably overnight. Cook at 350 until done, garnish with lemon wedges and raw onion rings.
Shantanu Sen of Kathi Rolls Restaurant in Orlando, FL. (Photo: Priyanka Chandra)
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