Food, People

Something extra to look forward to

Friendsgiving celebrations provide alternative traditions, food options

By Francesca Olsen

NORTH ADAMS, Mass.

It started as a housewarming party held the day before Thanksgiving, in a spacious apartment above Dottie’s Coffee House in Pittsfield.

Autumn Bragan, a food blogger and passionate host, no longer lives in that apartment but she’s continued to host a Friendsgiving celebration with 20-ish friends every year since, always on the day before Turkey Day.

“It turned into this event where everyone got to have a sit-down dinner before spending time with their families,” she said.

You’ve probably heard of, or even attended, a Friendsgiving — an opportunity for friends to come together for a more informal (and perhaps more fun) gathering around Thanksgiving. Some hosts take advantage of the holiday by inviting friends whose families are too far away to visit regularly; some hold raucous potlocks that go well into the evening; some labor over expansive dinners because they don’t get the opportunity to cook for family.

Makayla McGeeney, a digital marketing consultant and the main taproom supervisor at Bright Ideas Brewing in North Adams, attends an annual Friendsgiving as a member of the Common Folk Artist Collective, usually the day after the official holiday. Though attendance varies, 25 to 30 people usually show up with side dishes or Thanksgiving leftovers in hand.

“You get to taste what other people’s idea of Thanksgiving is,” McGeeney said. “It’s the most fun dinner out of the weekend — it allows you to experiment with a traditional meal you wouldn’t normally be able to.”

POTLUCKS SHARE THE COOKING

Bragan’s Friendsgiving is also a potluck, though she originally volunteered to do all the cooking.

“I love hosting anything with food,” she said. “I’m like, just come over, we’ll have a nice dinner. I love all kinds of dinner parties. I was sending people this list of food that was taken care of, and they were like, ‘No! You focus on hors d’oeuvres and the turkey, we’ll bring the rest.’ It’s worked out really well. Friends have even donated turkeys in the past, and always bring plenty of sides.”

McGeeney’s Friendsgiving usually employs a group chat to coordinate potluck contributions, with staple meals and alternative takes on traditional Thanksgiving fare, like a bacon-wrapped turkey cranberry salad instead of cranberry sauce, and nostalgic favorites like Rice Krispies Treats. (Bright Ideas crowlers, of course, are also among the offerings.)

Both Bragan and McGeeney’s celebrations count guests with dietary restrictions, particularly vegans and gluten-free folks. Since these are potlucks, it’s not difficult to include plenty of applicable dishes in their Friendsgiving spreads.

“Whenever we do anything together, the first question is, ‘Is there anyone who can’t eat this, this, or this?’” said Bragan. Usually, she’ll adapt a main course so it is gluten-free (fairly easyto do with a turkey), but also really likes making gluten-free appetizers, including crostini topped with butternut squash and different cheeses, which she said were extremely popular last year, and that most people couldn’t tell the difference.

FRIENDSGIVING 2020

This year’s Friendsgivings will likely look different than those past.

Bragan is planning a treat drop-off.

“I’m bad when it comes to video-calling,” she said. “I was thinking, just me personally making baskets and bringing them to everyone, being able to see everyone for a few minutes. I like to see people!”

She’s planning pastries (including the gluten-free variety) and will create a Facebook event and invite friends to sign up for deliveries. She blogs about food on Instagram @thefoodiackiller, and will probably post some of her creations there leading up to the holiday.

It’s hard to gather 25-30 people for any event at the moment, but the Common Folk group may decide to have smaller gatherings simultaneously, McGeeney said. Many regular attendees live on the same street in North Adams or within walking distance, making this easy to coordinate.

“I’m definitely going home to my family,” McGeeney said. “There may be more, smaller gatherings. Friendsgiving has really made me appreciate friend groups like this, who think about each other as family. It’s something extra to look forward to.”

FRIENDSGIVING FOOD IDEAS

WRAPPING FOOD IN BACON

Not a recipe, per say, but who better to pilot a bacon-wrapped dish with than good friends?
Hors d’oeuvres wrapped in bacon

Use standard bacon for this, not thick cut, and wrap one slice (or a half-slice, depending on the size of your item) tightly around your food of choice, using a toothpick to keep things nicely packaged. Works great with dates, asparagus, apple slices, shrimp, scallops, water chestnuts, mini hot dogs, mushrooms, etc.

Larger foods wrapped in bacon

A chicken, turkey/turkey breast or meatloaf is an ideal candidate for this treatment.
Bacon will stick to your meat of choice, but go for a nice lattice pattern on top since it’s a holiday. You probably don’t need toothpicks to hold bacon on, because the natural fats will act as a kind of adhesive, creating a crispy coating for your dish. Cook your meal in the same way you would if it wasn’t bacon-wrapped. For a chicken or turkey, remember to baste regularly — the bacon is not going to stop your poultry from drying out.

SENSITIVE SNACKS

GLUTEN-FREE CROSTINIS

(Recipe provided by Autumn Bragan)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 to 2 gluten-free baguettes (can be found in the frozen section of your grocery store if not in the regular bread sections)
  • For the goat cheese and onion topping:
  • 1 smoked pepper jelly chèvre log
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 1/4 cup of water

DIRECTIONS:

Warm the butter in a pan and caramelize the onions; do this slow and low so that you don’t burn them. In another pan, combine the jam and water and simmer until a sauce forms. Cut the baguette into slices and toast at 475 F for about 10 minutes.

Smear the crostinis, first with the goat cheese; then top with onions and drizzle with the sauce.

CINNAMON HONEY BUTTER MASHED SWEET POTATOES

(Recipe courtesy of Autumn Bragan)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 medium to large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • Cinnamon, to taste (up to 1 teaspoon)
  • Milk, up to 1/3 cup

DIRECTIONS:

Boil the sweet potatoes until tender, then drain. In a bowl, add the cooked sweet potatoes, butter, and honey and mash together. As you mash, add in some milk to create a creamy texture. Add in 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, stir and taste. If you want, add more cinnamon to your liking, but don’t use more than a full teaspoon!

Francesca Olsen is a writer and communications consultant who lives in North Adams. She writes a regular monthly food column for the Berkshire Eagle in addition to regular feature stories for New England Newspapers. She is a quilter/textile artist and is part of MASS MoCA’s Assets for Artists 2020 North Adams Project cohort. Learn more about Francesca at http://www.francescaolsen.com.

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