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How South Floridians Are Celebrating Thanksgiving From A Distance

Marla Oxenhandler and her Thanksgiving Day crew in 2019.
Courtesy of Marla Oxenhandler
Marla Oxenhandler and her Thanksgiving Day crew in 2019.

Many families in South Florida are facing the same problem as the rest of America: how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely with the coronavirus still spreading.

Last year, 16 people sat around Marla Oxenhandler's dining room table for Thanksgiving.

This year, it'll just be her and husband Scott at their home in Cooper City.

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“I’m sad to not be with everyone,” Oxenhandler said, “but I see how important it is for our safety to not be together.”

Her daughter and son will be together, though, and she and her husband will see them, and her 17-month-old granddaughter, over Zoom.

The Oxenhandlers are facing the same problem as the rest of America: how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely with the coronavirus still spreading. Florida is closing in on one million recorded cases as the holiday season kicks off.

One thing that’s different for a lot of us this year: There will be lots of screen time but probably, still, lots of food.

Even though Oxenhandlers' dinner will be intimate, Marla will be baking for a crowd. She's making dozens of treats for some of her neighborhood friends. Her recipes include lemon bars, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter brownies with fudge frosting and chocolate oatmeal bars.

After every bar, brownie and cookie is parsed out in her home, she will drive them to each of her friends’ houses. Then she’ll text them to arrange a socially distanced handoff.

“I figured it would be a nice way for me to feel like I’m celebrating and to share a little bit of sweetness to know I’m thankful for them as friends,” Oxenhandler said.

Her family’s traditional two-tiered banana cake that’s been on the books for her son’s birthday, which falls the day before Thanksgiving this year, won’t be on the menu this year, either.

Since he won’t be there, she’s not making the cake. Although she’s pretty sure it’ll be on the table where her children and their families are celebrating this year courtesy of her daughter’s cookery.

A meal for one, but not alone

Thom McLeod is thankful for "Gail’s Saturday Salon." That’s a video call with his friend Gail and about a dozen others who live in Boston, which started after the pandemic began. They're mostly friends he went to college with 50 years ago.

McLeod, 71, says it’s a great source of support and friendship.

“I think it’s been as close a break to isolation as one can have without actually being present with someone in the same room,” McLeod said. "It's been something we all looking forward to on Saturday night."

Thom McLeod celebrates Thansgiving with his family in Venice, Florida, in 2019.
Courtesy of Thom McLeod
Thom McLeod usually spends Thanksgiving with relatives, but not this year.

He, like a lot of other people this Thanksgiving, will be making the rounds with phone calls. One call to his son and daughter-in-law in Richmond, another out to his brother on Florida’s west coast and a third to his other brother in Limerick, Ireland.

"Usually I go to the west coast of Florida to be with relatives there. But with what's going on, especially in the state of Florida, [with the] lack of any particularly good management or direction with what's going on with COVID, I've decided just to stay home."

This year, he’ll be preparing a meal for one. He calls it a “simplified” menu: turkey thighs roasted with dressing, green beans and mashed potatoes. "Nothing too fancy but dressed up for holiday fare," he said.

And he’s not skimping on dessert. He's making a whole sweet potato pie, for himself, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. It’s a family recipe that dates back over 100 years (just the pie, not the ice cream).

"Above all else, I could say, I am grateful to be alive, having multiple complicating conditions relative to COVID virus," he said. He reports he hasn't had the coronavirus.

A very Miami meal

Bianca Marcof, 22, will be celebrating at home with her parents and grandfather, who is 93. She lives with them in Miami.

Her Thanksgiving holiday has traditionally always been just them, even though she has a big Cuban family. Her other relatives mostly live in Tampa and Texas.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that’s the best way to celebrate, with just the people in your household.

The food her dad will order for Thursday will be typical for her household — pork rather than turkey, with yuca, black beans and rice. Sometimes, though, her dad will get a honey-baked ham.

And for dessert, she said, they have to have turrón de yema. That’s made with eggs, sugar, nuts and honey.

Courtesy of Bianca Marcof
From left, Bianca Marcof, Rodolfo Garcia, Ana Marcof, Cristina Garcia and Oscar Marcof celebrating Rodolfo's birthday in 2017.

Marcof normally goes to a "friendsgiving" dinner around this time of year. But she decided against it because earlier in the pandemic, she had a COVID scare.

“After that happened, I did kind of tell myself, ‘OK, I was being careful before, but now I need to be a helluva lot more careful,’” Marcof said.

She was afraid of bringing something home. So she set new rules for herself: no visiting friends or anyone else, even if they’re having a socially distanced picnic at the park. She does go to work (she's a Miami Times journalist) and the grocery store when it's a necessity.

Eating outside, at a distance

While the CDC announced staying home is the best option, there are steps you can take to stay safe if you host people or are planning to go to someone else’s home.

Eat outside, stay six feet apart and wear masks. And make sure everyone's on the same page before they come over.

Cricket Desmarais with her two daughters earlier this month.

Cricket Desmarais is following those guidelines. She’s doing a potluck with her two daughters, Taavi, 10, and Seava, 12, in her friend Elisa’s backyard in Key West.

That's been the tradition, celebrating with close friends. Except this year, they’ll sit by the pool outside, far apart from each other and will wear masks (except for when they're eating) and there will be only be seven of them.

“We are very conscientious about not spreading germs,” Desmarais, 50, said. "We're a huggy bunch of people and we have not been able to do that since COVID started and it really stinks."

There won’t be self serving like usual. Desmarais' friend will have all the food arranged inside her home and will bring everyone’s plates to them outside.

Although Desmarais will be bringing food for her to serve — cardamom-spiced sweet potatoes, green beans with sesame seeds and garlic, a kale salad and something chocolate for dessert.

She said it will be weird to not help set the table or clear it after the meal or wash the dishes.

"We all have to find our own version of handling this beast of 2020."

This piece originally spelled Cricket's friend Elisa's name incorrectly. We apologize for the error.