As the wheel of the year finally turns into its latter seasons, we ordinarily begin to contemplate the get-togethers and celebrations that herald wintertime; tipsy office Christmas parties, potluck Friendsgivings, a warm and festive drawing together of families that spend the rest of the year scattered throughout the country. But of course, 2020 can’t help but be exceptional – and not in a good way. While many folks will likely still opt to keep their holiday traditions as intact as possible, many will make the choice to heed public health officials and cancel the usual gatherings while a pandemic continues to rip through American lives and livelihoods.
For many, it’s a heartbreaking decision to make in a year that’s already been fraught with stress and upheaval. Even in a regular old non-pandemic year, the holidays often provide a source of unique comfort. The opportunity to savor that family-recipe eggnog while catching up with a favorite cousin, or to act as a wine-drunk sous to the home-chef sibling that’s trying to follow Alton Brown’s turkey trussing video – these specific joys come but once a year. Some of us relish planning the neighborhood cookie exchange, baking with mom, or sitting down to a post-meal chat with an aging relative that we don’t see enough of.
The delights of the season will look very different this year. But one element of holiday cheer remains constant, whether we’re gathered around a boisterous family table or sequestered in our apartment with naught but pets for company: holiday food – that is, comfort food. And while the term “comfort food” typically references simple nostalgia and a general lack of concern for calorie intake per serving, holiday comfort food in 2020 means a little bit more. Comfort food, this year, means anything edible (or drinkable) that assuages our spirits as we navigate through the last few months of an absurdly stormy year – from the familiar old casseroles to more intrepid takes on the season’s eatings.
Thanks to the endless recipe repository that is the internet, it’s well within the home-bound chef’s reach to concoct the holiday meal of their dreams – even if Grandma still won’t cough up her special oyster dressing recipe. A few quick searches through the bursting recipe banks of popular sites like Epicurious, Serious Eats, or Milk Street (to name a very few) will yield any concoction the holiday-hungry heart could hope for. Sure, you’ll miss your aunt’s famous challah, but attempting the family classics on your own can be a rewarding exercise – and great practice for the year that auntie’s arthritis is simply acting up too much for her to deliver.
Another bright spot among the disrupted holiday season of 2020 is the culinary creative licence that solitary festivities afford. Want to put sriracha in everything from the cranberry sauce to the cornbread? Want to finally cook an entirely-vegan Christmas brunch? Want to make an array of elaborate dim sum instead of the same old standards? The world is your Oyster Rockefeller. And for those that would rather spend their holidays watching all of the Home Alones instead of sweating over a stove, COVID has ushered in an increasingly streamlined new era of food takeaway and delivery options. So, non-chefs can order a full, gut-busting spread from one of Charleston’s many lauded BBQ joints, or hand-pick a dazzling menu of items from Goldbelly. If a Peking duck from Tao in Manhattan, Regiis Ova Caviar from Napa, Cajun Crawfish Pies from Natchitoches, and a Texas Rum Cake from Houston sounds like your idea of a culinary holiday in paradise, you can make it a reality this year (with the requisite cash, of course).
In a season where we often find comfort in the familiar, the silver lining of this very unfamiliar year is that we’re given a rare opportunity to think outside of the Stove Top Stuffing box. Free of constraints or judgement from well-meaning loved ones, we can make this year’s holiday meals something that’s truly our own. We’ll miss our hilarious stepdad and his awful-genius puns, but not having to cook around his gluten allergy? Think of the pastry. We’ll miss chatting with our sister while she spends ten straight hours captive in the kitchen, taking internal turkey temps and proofing yeast rolls, but we’ve gotten really close with our Instant Pot lately, and we’re pretty excited about making only our faves (garlic mashed potatoes) in the time it takes sis to pick out a bread flour. If nothing else, a holiday season apart means an opportunity to rest, recharge, and eat whatever brings us the most comfort, as we look forward with happy anticipation to a less-uncomfortable year.
If you’ve nixed your extended family holiday plans, but want something special to do with your at-home pod, consider booking our Small Group Private Culinary Tour! With a private guide to show you some of Charleston’s best dishes, you can make a new holiday tradition that’s tailored to your group’s tastes!