Thanksgiving Table for One

Whether we travel or stay at home, Thanksgiving week is one of the busiest of the year. For one meal, we scurry through airports, plow down interstates and push our way through supermarket aisles -- just to break bread (or a turkey wishbone) with loved ones.

The anxiety is high, the lines are long and the Scotch suddenly is not strong enough. Take my friend B., a farmer in Virginia. After several intense weeks of turkey season, she is enormously relieved on Thanksgiving. Finally, she is left alone.

The husband and kid will have left town to visit his family, and she's got the house, football and the TV tray all to herself. Instead of turkey, she will give thanks to beer, cheese and crackers.

In her book, An Alphabet for Gourmets, the late M.F.K. Fisher wrote that "dining alone" has its place, however unpopular. "This misanthropic attitude is one I am not proud of," she writes, "but it is firmly there, based on my increasing conviction that sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly."

With the season's obsessive emphasis on family gatherings, eating Thanksgiving dinner alone is perhaps the ultimate protest or an exercise in mindful meditation. Who will you argue with over the last piece of dark meat? If you lick your knife, will anyone notice? Always wanted to dine in your birthday suit? The evening is all yours.

The classic Thanksgiving menu, shrunk down for one, presents an interesting kitchen challenge. The key is to think small. Scrap the notion of roasting a whole turkey. Ditto for casserole-sized sides and a trough of gravy.

Instead, consider a baked sweet potato, scooped out and mixed with scallions, olive oil and pecans. Make applesauce, with a few peeled apples, quartered, in a pot, with an inch or two of water, and cook until desired doneness (about 15 minutes). Hold off on the stuffing and make rice or a cast-iron skillet of corn bread instead.

And when it comes to the bird, think wings. A few smoked turkey wings added to a pot of slow-cooked collard greens is a bit of culinary serendipity; in one pot, you get both your green veg and your bird.

Unlike its chicken counterparts, turkey wings are meaty, supper plate-worthy morsels. Smoked, they take on a hammy quality but are a respectable alternative to the traditional, belly-heavy pork butt and fatback.

Like a one-man band, the meal can come together in perfect melody, all at once. The sweet potato needs about an hour, as do the wings and greens. At the 30-minute mark, make the applesauce and a pot of rice.

Dinner will be served in an hour. Being alone never sounded so tasty.

Excerpted from "A Mighty Appetite for the Holidays: Kitchen Tricks for the Feasting Season."

Ever been home alone on Thanksgiving? Share your stories in the comments area below.

Have a delicious and safe Thanksgiving! Check in on Friday for leftover ideas.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 21, 2007; 8:00 AM ET Thanksgiving
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I'm home alone this Thanksgiving and aside from trying to explain to everyone I'll be fine, I'm very excited about it. No dry turkey because I'll be cooking it. More bread to meat in the stuffing and a green bean casserole made with an actual roux as opposed to canned soup. I can't wait to get cooking.

Posted by: phan | November 21, 2007 10:08 AM

I've only had one Thanksgiving alone, right after college. Stuffing has always been my favorite part of the meal, so I skipped everything else and spent the day on my couch watching the parade and football and eating myself silly on stuffing and gravy. Not a bad way to spend a solitary day!

Posted by: Anonymous | November 21, 2007 10:18 AM

I too am home alone this year and am looking forward to enjoying a traditional, albeit scaled down feast. At this point, being alone is preferable to dealing with family drama. I am cooking a very small turkey, with plans for a lovely soup to be made with a lot of the leftovers, stuffing, cranberry sauce, a small sweet potato souffle, and a pumpkin creme brulee.

This is my second solo Thanksgiving (third if you count the year I spent the holiday in the Virgin Islands snorkeling and kayaking on Thanksgiving). While it's not something I would want to do every year, it's not a bad thing to do every once in a while.

Posted by: Allison | November 21, 2007 10:44 AM

Not too long ago I did solo Thanksgiving, and loved it! Honey-Spice glazed Cornish Hen, as much stuffing and gravy as I wanted (10:18 Anon, I know what you mean!), a bottle of Shiraz and all the football and napping I wanted. No noise, no stress, no required family activities. Bliss! Solo holidays are soooooo underrated!

Posted by: OrganicGal | November 21, 2007 10:59 AM

I'm not doing a solo Thanksgiving as my boyfriend will be joining me but we are going camping down South instead of driving loooong hours to see large amounts of family and craziness. Instead of a overwhelming feast of foods I cannot eat (I'm GF as well as Casein free) we are roasting turkey breasts, sweet potatoes, and a skillet cornbread over the fire. I can't wait!

Posted by: Curious | November 21, 2007 2:02 PM

I've done Thanksgiving (and Easter) solo for several years. I usually get a small piece of meat, like lamb chops or a filet, or a pork tenderloin if I want leftovers. Then I make a full-sized pan of stuffing, half recipes of cranberry sauce and potatoes, roast an acorn squash, and make a full-sized pumpkin cheesecake. Crack a bottle of wine, turn on the football, and enjoy the peace and quiet.

Posted by: BxNY | November 21, 2007 2:13 PM

I really wanted a quiet Thanksgiving this year and planned to watch movies, knit, and eat a low-fuss meal with a friend or two. We were all invited to the big family thing at another friends, but I decided that I couldn't face the chaos and that I was sticking to the plan. I roasted a small turkey a few weeks ago because I was dying for a really good turkey sandwich (and the whole one was cheaper than a breast) and froze half. Today I stopped and bought some excellent bread to make the best turkey sandwich ever with pear-cranberry sauce, and to go with it I'm having roasted brussels sprouts, homemade applesauce, and braised chard. I invited the single friends to come for pie in the evening.

Posted by: Marianne | November 21, 2007 4:12 PM

excellent article

Posted by: Edward L. Forster | November 21, 2007 6:01 PM

Kim, thanks for posting this topic. It has done me a world of good to read about other's thorough enjoyment of a quiet, stress-free day. Yep, I've been feeling guilty about ducking my family this year so my boyfriend and I wouldn't have to deal with the chaos and drama. Plus I love seeing what everyone else cooks! We're having a small but traditional menu, and the house will smell wonderful! To "OrganicGal" - care to share your recipe for honey-spice glazed cornish hen? To "Marianne - thanks for mentioning roasted brussel sprouts. I hadn't decided on a veg, so that's what it will be. Also, you mentioned freezing half your cooked turkey. We've had poor results freezing sliced roast turkey, although the casseroles and soups freeze well. The meat alone tastes a little metallic-ish after freezing. Any ideas? Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Posted by: Diane | November 22, 2007 10:28 AM

Diane, I've had the same problem with sliced or shredded meat, but I've had good luck the breast and leg/thigh as whole as possible, wrapping them double with saran, then foil, then dropping into a freezer bag and that seems to work.

Posted by: Marianne | November 22, 2007 3:58 PM

I do Thanksgiving alone every year, and I enjoy it more than any other holiday. I start with morning Mass, followed by the gym, then cooking. I make a full spread, including the turkey (more to make soup with!), and I always try new recipes. This year I roasted beets, which are now my new favorite vegetable. I can scarcely wait to make soup tonight. Best of all, I got to spend my time being thankful for my blessings, and I didn't have to divulge them to anyone. Solo Thanksgivings are to be treasured.

Posted by: babsy | November 23, 2007 2:00 PM

My birthday was Tuesday, I was off on Wed,
from Wed to Sat I watched movies ALONE, I sewed, I was on the computer, ALONE, I am 62 and I play video games. I didn't answer telephones, emails,nothing.
I HAD A BALL! I DIDN'T EVEN GO OUT FOR THANKSGIVING. I had dinner bought to me. I was on a mini vacation and I rested my body and my brain. I wasn't really alone just by myself, JESUS WAS THERE!

Posted by: MAPA62 | November 26, 2007 10:57 AM

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