Boston College senior Adam Isaacs-Falbel typically celebrates Thanksgiving with his extended family at his grandparents’ house in Maryland. But in the throes of an escalating coronavirus pandemic, that was out. He then considered visiting his best friend in Oklahoma for the holiday. But that too seemed unwise.
So, Isaacs-Falbel, 21, a political science and philosophy major from Montpelier, Vt., decided to observe the holiday on campus with a friend in similar straits.
Across the country, thousands of college students have decamped for Thanksgiving, despite warnings from public health officials, fearing their travels will accelerate the pace of contagion and cause more outbreaks upon their return. Others, like Isaacs-Falbel, have stayed put. That means either mass-produced mashed potatoes for dinner in the dining hall, formidable forays into home-cooking, or more time to study for midterms.
Boston College is only allowing students to come back to campus after Thanksgiving if they stayed in Massachusetts. Otherwise, they’ll have to finish the semester remotely. For Isaacs-Falbel, a trip home to Vermont wasn’t worth risking his parents’ health.
“I know people who went home for fall break, but I wasn’t going to try and do that because it just would have been too complicated to try and arrange to stay away from my parents while also seeing them,” he explained. All three of his roommates, for example, went home for the break.
So on Thursday, Isaacs-Falbel and his friend, Scott Baker, a senior from Cupertino, Calif., who lives in the dorm room next door, cooked up a feast big enough to comfortably fuel a family of eight with leftovers to spare. On the menu: the smallest turkey they could buy from Whole Foods, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, Brussels sprouts, green beans, peas, cranberry sauce, stuffing, seven-layer dip, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. Whew.
“I’m definitely really bummed about missing my family Thanksgiving. It’s something I’ve been doing for literally as long as I can remember,” Isaacs-Falbel said. “But even in the planning of this meal together, I’ve kind of been getting more and more excited about it. For me, it’s somewhat of a test of ‘can I do this by myself?’ ”
Matthew Velazquez, 20, a junior at Northeastern University, hasn’t gone home to Houston, Texas, for Thanksgiving since attending college. The flights are just too expensive and Velazquez, a first-generation college student, can’t afford it. Normally, he’d celebrate the holiday with dozens of his Boston-area friends from EMERGE, a Houston-based college readiness program for high-achieving low-income students.
This Thanksgiving, he still gathered at an off-campus apartment with EMERGE friends, but in a much smaller group limited to Northeastern students. They all had to test negative for coronavirus before coming. Like Velazquez, most of the students he celebrated with are Latino. To honor his heritage, Velazquez made arroz con leche, Mexican rice pudding, for dessert.
Velazquez said it was important to maintain the tradition, despite the pandemic, for the sake of the first-year students in their flock.
“A lot of us are first-generation students so it’s a lot harder transition and a lot more, that I feel personally, we have to take on, especially being minorities at a predominantly white institution,” he said. “This tradition is kind of important because it shows we have that family here that supports them.”
For Northeastern freshman Adri Lanza, Thanksgiving was an excuse to stay in and study. In lieu of traveling home to Philadelphia, the mechanical engineering major spent the holiday doing homework and preparing for midterms.
Northeastern is allowing students who travel to attend in-person classes after the break, but only if they quarantine first and test negative for the virus. With cases mounting, Lanza said staying in Massachusetts “seemed like a better idea.”
“We were thinking about trying to cook, but it just hasn’t really panned out too well, so it looks like we’re just going to be going to the dining hall and grabbing food from there,” Lanza said, with a hint of disappointment, of her Thanksgiving plans with her roommate. “I heard people say they have special desserts today like apple crisp or pumpkin pie so I’m looking forward to that if it’s true.”
Until Thursday, neither Isaacs-Falbel nor Baker had ever roasted a whole bird. Isaacs-Falbel watched videos on YouTube to prepare. For advice, he called his father, who suggested spatchcoking the turkey and using a meat thermometer. (He didn’t.) Baker queried his mother who told him to buy turkey baster. (He didn’t.)
Instead, they dry-brined the turkey, bathed it in oil, and plopped it on a heap of root vegetables. Baker borrowed a technique from his middle-school cooking class and cut small slits into the bird’s skin, which he stuffed with rosemary. They eased the 12-pound fowl into the oven and hoped for best.
The results? Golden brown perfection.
“Definitely really proud of how it turned out,” Issacs-Falbel said.