By MICHELE KAYAL
Perhaps more than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is associated with big family gatherings. But that doesn't mean you need a house full of in-laws, uncles and cousins to celebrate in a meaningful way.
Baby boomers, newlyweds, empty nesters, young adults on their own, even a couple of friends can have their turkey and eat it, too, creating a day that resonates with their new phase of life and leaves behind the muss, fuss and hassle of the ginormous family blow out.
"It really is a time for celebrating," said Martin Novell, a Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist. "It's a time for giving thanks for the dreams that have been achieved, recognizing the disappointments and refocusing on the future by creating new adventures." And none of that requires a crowd.
Here are a few expert tips for creating a festive and memorable holiday for two:
When it comes to cooking, take it down a notch. But don't skimp on taste or tradition. Roast a turkey breast instead of the whole bird, says Betty Crocker Kitchens cookbook editor Grace Wells, or even Rock Cornish game hens for a more elegant presentation.
Buy what you can - rolls, mashed potatoes, stuffing - at a gourmet shop or supermarket. And above all, don't make a mess.
"Why would you use three pans to make turkey and gravy?" said Julia Collin Davison, executive food editor of America's Test Kitchen books. "If you can do it in one, why not?"
For a delicious one-pan Thanksgiving meal, see the recipe at right.
Remember there are only two of you. Which doesn't mean you have to cut out the side dishes you love, says Davison. It just means you have to make them in smaller portions, even if you have to buy the casserole dishes to do it. Buy your vegetables in small amounts too, not in bulk bags. And perhaps most important, Davison says, prepare only what you're really going to eat.
"It's one thing to use up a leftover dish, like mashed butternut squash. But you have more options if you don't cook the whole vegetable to begin with," Davison said. "Two people don't really need a whole pureed butternut squash."
Pomegranate molasses on the turkey? Coconut milk in the gravy? Go for it. It's just the two of you, so who's going to complain? "You're not cooking for a crowd, so you can take some chances," Davison said. "You can push the limits a little bit."
Ditto for the leftovers. "I always love the leftover Thanksgiving meal the next day, the plate you shove in the microwave," she said. "But that's good for one day."
Branch out with your leftovers and make turkey curry, turkey soba noodle salad or a turkey gratin, a creamy stew topped with big hunks of leftover bread.
Go full force on the holiday trappings, says Betty Crocker's Wells. Pull out the beautiful tablecloth and matching napkins, the china and the crystal. "If you're newlyweds or baby boomers or somewhere in between, you probably have nice dishes," she said.
Create a centerpiece with candles and gourds, or buy a beautiful flower arrangement. Maybe even have a favor at each of your place settings - a favorite treat, a small book or gift of some kind. And do something special that you know the other person will love. "I love to make what people like," Wells said. "I love people to say, 'Oh you made this just for me.'"
You're not busy pleasing 15 relatives, so use that extra time for leisure, not for cooking or washing dishes. Go for a walk, take a hike, listen to some favorite music or go to a movie. Because you're not prepping a dozen side dishes and three or four pies, you can even use the days leading up to the holiday for exciting activities.
"One of the things a good marriage does is they spend a lot of together time," said Novell, who recommends, for instance, using the days before Thanksgiving to search for a great new wine to have with the meal. "So Thanksgiving isn't only the holiday that's on Nov. 22, but it's a holiday that starts way before that."
Yes, when the clan is together there's football in the yard. But there can be lots of rituals for two, as well. Consider visiting your favorite park with a bagel breakfast, taking a long hike, or collecting leaves and other flora from your neighborhood to make a centerpiece together.
"It's an easy activity that feels special to the day," Davison saids. "My parents go on a long hike with the dogs that's a little further away than they usually go. And they have a nice bottle of wine. Those two things make it feel different than your every day."