Creative Connecting

As Omicron looms, we may need creative connecting for Christmas. Some of us had a chance to reconnect with friends and family this year as COVID numbers diminished and vaccinations promised protection. Others were planning reunions this week. But in many areas, experts are now advising the cancellation of in-person gatherings.

Last year, my family set up Zoom calls for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Without access to vaccines, we all agreed that was the safest way to share the holidays. We scheduled around that plan and while it was different, it didn’t feel like any bigger adjustment than those we’d been making most of 2020. This year, we’ve been caught in an environment that is swiftly changing…again.

Keeping elderly, medically fragile, under 5, and other high risk family members safe may mean canceling travel and indoor dinners last minute. It may mean limiting indoor gatherings to short events with high-quality masks that are never removed. As things change daily, it can help to have some creative connecting ideas ready.

Pick-Up Progressive Porch Dinner

Our weather forecast predicts 70-degree temps on Christmas day. That means we can move dinner outdoors. But if some are not comfortable even removing their mask outside, there’s the option of a Pick-Up Progressive Porch Dinner.

This works great when everyone lives close together. If your family events get canceled, get the neighbors together to participate.

For a progressive dinner, assign appetizers to one household, entrée to the second, vegetables to the next two, bread to another, and dessert to one or two. Package portions individually and place them on the porch with a ribbon and nametag. If you were planning to use paper place cards, they’ll easily convert to nametags.

Each household travels from porch to porch collecting portions of dinner to be put together at home. Presents can be collected at the same time. Video calls will allow everyone to eat together.

Another option is to have a single stop at a host’s porch to pick up dinner and/or presents.

Santa Visit

This is a great option when you have teenage children who can drive. Have the kids decorate your vehicle then let them drive around delivering food and gifts to the rest of the family.

Include a gift of connection for each person – a list of qualities you admire, your favorite memory with that person, a family recipe, an old photograph, or trip memorabilia with the story attached. These personal touches are great conversation starters for a video call. If you live far apart, many of these gifts of connection can be emailed, texted, or posted.

Light Gazing Parade

Get each household to decorate their cars. Meet at a specified place and then follow each other on a predetermined route to see the best Christmas light displays. Enjoy hot chocolate, eggnog, and Christmas cookies along the way.

Online Competition

For years, we played Trivial Pursuit and Boggle at Christmas. If your family loves competition, playing online games is an option for enjoying time together when apart.

You can easily find scavenger hunts, BINGO, Jeopardy, Pictionary, and Scattergories. There are even online escape rooms, murder mysteries, and charades as well as card games and jigsaw puzzles.

Genealogy Exploration

If any of you have submitted DNA to a website, it can be fun to see how many relatives you can identify. Be prepared, second cousins are just as confusing online as they are in person.

My son and I play this game off and on. The exploration often brings up unexpected family memories that are fun to share.

This week may end up looking a lot different than you had hoped. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to connect, it just means you may need some creative connecting.

Hopefully, these ideas will help!

Happy holidays!

Let the Food do the Work

chicken spaghettiWhen you’re tired and overwhelmed, don’t do more shopping, let the food do the work! The past few weeks have held multiple family gatherings. I decided to make chicken spaghetti for one of them. That was always my mom’s go-to for a dinner party when I was small and I’ve been wanting to make it for a while.

Most chicken spaghetti recipes contain cream of mushroom soup and most readily available cream of mushroom soups contain wheat flour. That may work for most of the family, but there are several of us who can’t tolerate gluten. Rather than driving from store to store in search of an acceptable soup brand or taking the extra step of making soup, I simply let the chicken make soup for me!

To make chicken spaghetti, I needed to cook some chicken to cube up. I decided it would be easy to make soup while I cooked the chicken. I started by spraying an extra large roasting pan with olive oil spray. I then covered the bottom of the pan with rough chopped white button mushrooms and topped the mushrooms with 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 6 thighs liberally seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

The next addition was a 32 oz box of gluten-free chicken broth that I always keep in the pantry. I poured it around the chicken. I did the same with a pint of heavy whipping cream and enough milk to reach the top of all but the largest chicken breasts. I dotted any exposed chicken with butter.

From that point, all I had to do was bake the chicken for 50 minutes at 350º. While the chicken baked, a delicious cream of mushroom soup formed in the bottom of the pan. After the cooked chicken cooled, I removed each piece, scraped the mushrooms may have that stuck to them back into the broth and then placed the mushroom soup into a sauce pan. Before simmering the soup to reduce it a bit while I assembled the spaghetti, I gave it a quick taste test and added a bit more salt, pepper, and garlic.

The resulting soup was rich from the cream, full of flavor from the chicken and mushrooms, and the only additional time required was the time it took to chop the mushrooms. That’s much less time than it would have taken to drive to the store and I’ve never had packaged cream of mushroom soup that I couldn’t stop eating because it was so delicious.

Another bonus to this approach was that I had more than enough soup for the chicken spaghetti. I added some cubed potatoes to the left-overs for a hearty lunch the next day.

The idea for this cream of mushroom soup may have come from a desire to let the food do the work, but the result convinced me there’s no reason to make it any other way. And knowing I don’t have to travel from store to store gathering ingredients makes it more likely that I’ll make chicken spaghetti again soon!