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Family food traditions can carry pandemic holiday celebrations
Marshamallow salad
EVEN WHEN NOT gathered in the same room, diving into time-honored family food traditions can create that sense of connection that everyone craves during the holidays. For Driftless Café owner, Luke Zahm, one of those food traditions is the marshmallow salad.

DRIFTLESS - Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and for many it may look different than ever before. 

As with most things in 2020, the pandemic has slowed down the grand plans we may have had in previous years. Although this may be the case, through food, a comforting celebration can still be had. 

PBS ‘Wisconsin Foodie’ host and owner of Driftless Cafe in Viroqua Luke Zahm shared his ideas about the comfort food can bring during times like these. 

“Food is that magical elixir that can allow for people to come together in many ways,” Zahm shared. When you break bread with someone, you can feel that connection  and right now, breaking bread takes on a greater significance.” 

The CDC currently recommends that individuals choose to celebrate with those in their household. But as Zahm points out, just because we may be unable to gather physically, it doesn’t mean that we have to be apart in the holiday spirit. 

Be together virtually

“We live in such a connected world right now with technology where we are able to be together virtually all the time,” Zahm explained “But, we all want a hug, we want to be held in that light and love. And food is one of the safest ways to hold each other and experience each other. This year more than ever, people can mine for those food traditions that remind them of who they love the most.” 

For Zahm, one of his favorite holiday treats is a take on the marshmallow salad his mother and grandmother used to make. 

“I like to play on riffs of traditional stuff, and when I sit down and eat this (the marshmallow salad) I know we are celebrating the stuff my family always made, and those food memories. One of the things I’m always asking of young cooks is for them to recreate food memories. And right now, we all may have a little more time to dig deep and find those food memories that comfort us the most. Dishes our families always made and we look forward to each year. Even things that maybe aren’t the best, it’s one of the fun things about the holidays.  And if they aren’t there, we can create new things to inspire those memories. Whatever this year means to you can translate into food and develop those rich and flavorful memories for the future.” 

Many individuals have been altering their plans in other ways to fit the changing landscape of life. 

“We’re keeping Thanksgiving small this year, just our local family,” shared local resident Joan Rohlf. “But we’re trying to organize an exchange/pot luck of sorts with our neighbors. Different homes will make different dishes and then we deliver and pick up from each other so we get to share food and see each other, briefly.” 

“We will be having dinner with one other family in our ‘Pandemic Pod’ because we see them more than our families that live hours away,” shared another local woman Rebecca Eby. “Because of childcare during virtual school days, we see them regularly. But otherwise, I don’t believe we’ll see other families for Thanksgiving.” 

If you do choose to celebrate with people outside of your household or ‘Pandemic Pod’ the CDC recommends a few tips for staying safe. In addition to wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing, they suggest bringing your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils, avoid going in and out of areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen. And using single-use options like salad dressing and condiment packets and disposable food containers, plates and utensils. 

Furthermore, the CDC also recommends having a small outdoor meal with your family and friends, limiting the number of guests, having conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use,  if celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows, limit the number of people in food preparation areas, and have guests bring their own food and drinks. 

Other creative ways suggested by the CDC in lieu of gathering include scheduling a time to share a meal together virtually, have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing or other dishes they prepared, virtually, share a movie with your household or plan fun games to play or participate in a gratitude activity, like writing down things you are grateful for and sharing with your friends and family.