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How To Plan – And Even Be Grateful – For A Socially Distanced Thanksgiving


Thanks a lot, 2020. What we did not need this year was to add another layer of planning to a holiday already heavy on logistics. This year, it's not just who will cook the turkey or get the cake from one house to another with the frosting still intact. It's how to keep everyone safe during a spike in coronavirus infections. NPR's Neda Ulaby checked in with families who are trying to figure it all out.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Jasmine Surti is a mother, a daughter, a friend and a master planner. She's taken on the daunting job of organizing a pandemic Thanksgiving and doing it happily.

JASMINE SURTI: Well, I guess I like to make spreadsheets and surveys and things and basically problem-solving.

ULABY: For her socially distanced Thanksgiving, with six households spread across New Jersey and Philadelphia, Surti planned a complicated system of not just who makes what this year, but who drops what on which family's doorstep.

SURTI: People laugh about this about me. But I created a map how we're going to get the food where it needs to go.

ULABY: This way, everyone gets to share food prepared by friends and family. The logistics are so dizzying, it's hard to lay them out. But let's cut to the part involving one New Jersey person making the longest hop.

SURTI: She's going to bring whatever we contributed over to my sisters in Philadelphia and then bring back what they made. And then the people from New Jersey will pick up those things. And so everything gets where it needs to go with only one trip.

ULABY: Call this a holiday plandemic (ph). Spreadsheets are not a solution for Cora Faith Walker of Ferguson, Mo. Her massive family is spread all over the country. Everyone loves her father-in-law's potato salad. But his nine kids, plus their families, cannot congregate this year to enjoy it. So, she says...

CORA FAITH WALKER: I reached out to him and asked him about whether or not we thought that we could maybe send the potato salad in the mail.

ULABY: Oh, no, no, no. But this potato salad meant that much to Walker.

WALKER: Like, I really - I took a moment and looked into the logistics of what that would take.

ULABY: Possibly a bout of botulism. So Walker's father-in-law will just share his recipe instead.

It seems more people are being generous this year with heavily guarded recipes. Tina Lam of Riverside County, Calif., is particular about how she makes larb, a staple salad involving meat and citrus in northern Thailand and in Laos. For her American Thanksgiving, Tina Lam uses turkey.

TINA LAM: The white meat - we would shred it and then put some fresh lemon juice and toasted rice.

ULABY: The toasted rice part is tricky, says Lam's daughter Lihn Song.

LIHN SONG: It takes a while. You have to put it on low heat. And the rice has to slowly turn brown. So it ends up - after it's been browned, it's like a nutty taste.

ULABY: Song lives across the country in Michigan. So she, her mom and her young daughter will all make larb together this year over FaceTime.

SONG: We'll try to make it. And we'll FaceTime my mother. And I'll also have my daughter hold the camera up to have her inspect the state of my skin.

ULABY: Her skin for spots and wrinkles - because what's Thanksgiving without the loving judgment of your family?

SONG: She'll probably tell me that I need to use more oil of Olay.

LAM: (Laughter) That's also traditional.

ULABY: Tina Lam fled Laos during that country's civil war in 1975. She knows what it's like to be separated from your family during terrible times. To see the faces of people you love and call them on a whim to say hello - that's not something Lam takes for granted. It's something, she says, to be thankful for.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.