Read this cookbook: “Friendsgiving: Celebrate Your Family of Friends” by Alexandra Shytsman (William Morrow, $16.99)
By Wendell Brock
Alexandra Shytsman moved to Brooklyn from the Ukraine when she was 9. At Thanksgiving, her parents would enjoy their time off by hanging out with fellow expats, leaving Shytsman and her sister alone at home.
As a result, the girls threw parties.
But these were not the kinds of free-for-alls you expect American teens to cook up. Rather, they presented an opportunity for Shytsman to try her hand at turkey and dressing, and invite her chosen family of friends.
Thus was born an annual tradition known as Friendsgiving, which the New York blogger celebrates now with this compact little volume of recipes, menus and ideas for throwing a perfect feast without all the family drama.
If only this guide had been around back in the day, when I invited colleagues and friends to Thanksgiving at my first home without having any idea what the hell I was doing!
With tips on decorating, tableware and wine, along with a two-week game plan aimed at heading off the night-before meltdown that has wrecked the nerves of many a holiday host (including yours truly), Shytsman lays out a thoughtful and methodical game plan.
Considering many guests might have already had an indulgent a big meal before they set foot at your abode, she designs five menus (including Cuban, Southern, Italian and a modern vegan/gluten free spread). No worries, if you plan to stick to tradition, she covers the basics: roasted turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, Brussels sprouts with feta and pomegranate seeds.
There are lots of easy-to-fix appetizer ideas such as Sweet Potato-Tahini Dip with Za’atar and a make-your-own costini bar, plus aperitifs, punch and sweets.
Well, my dear Alexandra, this Southern guy gives a big seal of approval to your Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Spicy Honey, Purple Cabbage Slaw with Lemon-Dill Yogurt Dressing, Southern Tomato Pudding (from Charleston’s Hominy Grill, no less) and Buttermilk Biscuits with Lemon Zest-Black Pepper Compound Butter. There’s just thing missing–pecan pie.
Though the section on desserts includes a lovely Pear-Thyme Whole Wheat Galette; Vegan Autumn Spice Panna Cotta; and Spicy Dark Chocolate Bar with Cranberries, Hazlenuts, and Sea Salt, I think that’s a little skimpy. Where are the caramel cake, the trays of cookies and candy, the pie?
There’s only one solution. Write a book of Friendsgiving sweets.
For now, this endearing cookbook offers tons of sage advice on how to take off the white gloves and do Thanksgiving your way, without the “nagging family” and “heated political discussions” that make you wonder what planet your family came from.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta-based food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).