WARWICK, R.I. — It was meant to be funny, but it was really a cry for help.
“First time shopper here; what aisle is Thanksgiving dinner in?” Katherine Hypolite-MacMannis tweeted Monday, adding, “My poor immediate family”
No, she wasn’t actually standing with an empty shopping cart inside Dave’s Marketplace — her husband was going to do that later. Hypolite-MacMannis had simply realized that, for the first time in her 34 years, she was responsible for cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
Normally, she would be at her mother’s house just outside of Hartford, Connecticut, with 20 to 30 relatives and friends bringing trays of food. But with the COVID-19 pandemic surging, her 65-year-old mother — a breast cancer survivor — and the family made the hard call to cancel any gatherings.
Hypolite-MacMannis will instead be home in Warwick for the holiday, with her husband, Andrew MacMannis, and their 2-year-old son, Walker. “I’m very nervous,” she admitted. “My mom is one of seven, and I’m the baby in the family, so nobody lets me in the kitchen. I have an older sister and a million cousins, so everybody does everything. My job is just to show up.”
Thanks a lot, COVID-19.
All across the country, people are opting to stay home and downsize Thanksgiving, heeding warnings about infection. “It is no exaggeration to say you’re saving lives” by staying home, Governor Gina M. Raimondo said Wednesday. “Next year, you can have twice as big a Thanksgiving.”
Now, though, people who have arrived at feasts for years with just a bottle of wine or an appetizer are suddenly thrust into the leading role — and they are clueless.
Local restaurants have stepped up, with many offering take-out Thanksgiving meals for the first time — and greater demand for take-out meals than for dine-in reservations.
Sai Viswanath, the executive chef and co-owner of DeWolf Tavern in Bristol, said they saw the signs back in April, when family dinners for Easter were scaled down under the early COVID-19 restrictions. “We learned what people are wanting,” he said.
Usually, DeWolf Tavern hosts about 500 people on Thanksgiving Day. This year, the dine-in reservations are down by 60 percent, Viswanath said. The take-out orders are sold out — the dinners for two were especially popular — but it’s not enough to offset the loss of in-person dining, he said.
Still, “we are just adapting to it,” Viswanath said. “We are moving as fast as we can as an individual restaurant.”
Some novice cooks say they are going to risk making the turkey themselves. Butterball, which has had its finger on the pulse of Thanksgiving chefs since the debut of its Turkey Talk Line in 1981, has about 50 food experts, dieticians, home economists, and food scientists standing by at (800) BUTTERBALL for calls and at (844) 877-3456 for texts from panicking cooks. The company also launched its online Turkey Talk Line, with step-by-step photos and videos and tips about everything from shopping to carving.
Butterball says it assists more than 100,000 people each year and fields nearly 15,000 inquiries on Thanksgiving Day.
Supervisor Carol Millerhas talked people through turkey dilemmas for 37 years, her soothing voice like melting butter. On Wednesday, she said, a woman texted her pictures of a packaged turkey and asked which was “breast side up.”
“Thawing is our number one question,” Miller said. “We calm them down, and tell them everything is going to be all right. If they call about thawing on Thanksgiving, I say, ‘Well, dinner is going to be a little bit later.’”
If the turkey isn’t ready, but the desserts are, and everyone is hungry, “Just say you’re going by a new tradition,” Miller said. “Have pie first, and work Thanksgiving backward. And you’ll all remember it.”
This year will be memorable, no matter what. “We think of how people are doing Zoom with families,” Miller said. “You could have a contest and collect the funniest things that happen on Thanksgiving. You eat for a while, and then you start telling ‘remember when’ stories. Or, maybe take a picture of a turkey and everyone has a zoom contest about the turkeys.”
At the Zompa household in Warwick, Thanksgiving is usually an all-day-and-evening feast for generations. Claudia Zompa had always hosted Thanksgiving for friends and family, but she learned new traditions when she married into this Italian family a decade ago — antipasto, meatballs, pasta and red sauce, stuffed peppers, stuffed shells. Oh yes, and turkey.
The bird has landed! It occurred to me that this is the first time in a quarter of a century that I have not cooked #Thanksgiving for someone & a decade of celebrations with my #RhodeIsland family. #SadFace #HomeCook #TeamZ #COVID19 #CoronaVirus #love pic.twitter.com/ea5622fA7R— Claudia Zompa (@ClaudiaZompa) November 21, 2020
“Nobody told me when you marry into an Italian family that lots of Italian meals show up at the table,” she said, laughing.
This year, it will be just Zompa and her husband, James, making a 14-pound turkey, a few sides, and her pumpkin cheesecake. No Italian dishes. No guests.
A big reason for their Thanksgiving lockdown is Josephine Zompa, the sharp and sassy 96-year-old matriarch of the family, who lives in the other apartment of their two-family home. They want to keep her safe.
So, they will bring her a plate of food and talk to her from the doorway of her apartment. “We’re going to roll with it,” Claudia Zompa said. “Hopefully, next Mother’s Day we can celebrate and hopefully by her birthday in August, we can have a bash for her 97th. And, for Thanksgiving.”
It’s important to put it into perspective, she said. It’s one day. Her husband, James, was in the Army for 20 years and missed many Thanksgivings. Staying safe during a pandemic is a priority.
“It’s sad, but we want to be around for 2021,” she added. “You either do this, or you could potentially be dead. I just wish everybody else was smart about this.”
After Googling recipes online, Hypolite-MacMannis sent her husband out with a shopping list, including, “WINE.”
She’s a pescatarian, so they’re having salmon instead of turkey. Vegetable dishes, store bought ravioli, and of course, store-bought pie. If all fails, she says, there’s Chinese food.
“I think we’re all feeling the same way. It’s been a long, long, long, long couple of months,” Hypolite-MacMannis said. “I feel for everyone. I feel for people who’ve lost people. I feel for people who haven’t been able to see people daily. I feel for people who live alone and are spending Thanksgiving alone. … We just have to hold out a little bit longer.”