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How To Throw A Memorable And Affordable Friendsgiving Dinner

Culture

Perfection for your real friends

Holiday excitement strikes the second a yellow streak hits a green leaf. It signals that a season of tables fitted like catwalks for once-a-year dishes lies straight ahead. (Welcome back, turkey dripping gravy, we missed you.) Even when you dread being dragged to a family holiday function, there is solace found in cheese sticks on the snack table. But what if a holiday full of food and absent of any familial dread existed? It does. It’s what you’re most looking forward to when that foliage starts to shrivel. It’s called Friendsgiving.

Friendsgiving is the holiday in which we show gratitude toward our most cherished social circles. It’s the preferred alternative to Thanksgiving dinner, in which we celebrate the fam we constructed, but are not biologically tethered to. Even though Thanksgiving is essentially a potluck for which we get two days of vacation, Friendsgiving doesn’t involve shoveling artichoke dip into your face just to escape awkward conversation with your dad’s cousin. Your friends are the people you've consciously chosen to be around all the time; the people you actively seek conversations with and opinions from. These are the people who nourish you and, because of that, these are the people who you would like to nourish—with pounds of maple roasted brussels sprouts.

Friends pick up your phone call at 5am, even though nobody answers their phone anymore. Friends snipe the ripe fig from the neighbor's garden for you when they know you’ve been craving a fresh one. Friends push the pile of last weekend’s outfit attempts to the foot of the bed to make room for you when you don’t want to sleep alone. These are the people who deserve a bucket of gravy at their feet. These are the people who will bob their heads with enthusiasm at each spoonful of gravy, even if this was your first attempt at the sauce and not the best they’ve ever had.

Gratitude, according to science, sparks production of the happy chemicals dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Sharing your appreciation with those you really love and showing gratitude through platters of food is a way to make this world a better place.

And don't worry: Throwing a party doesn’t mean you must become doused in anxiety. Perfection is having all of your friends gathered around the table, not sequencing a playlist so it syncs with your courses. No need to call a caterer. Maybe just call your mom for that pie recipe.

With that in mind, here are simple, stress-free ways to throw the perfect Friendsgiving—all without breaking the bank.

Send the invite 
Not that your friends don’t already know you’re planning this. Hell, you might even all be coordinating together. But in case you want an invite to feel official, look into using digital companies that value design, like Paperless Post, to make it feel a little more formal than your usual group text.

Set the table 
You can whip out the best of your mismatched ceramic plates and the silverware you’ve collected over the years through changing apartments and rotating roommates. You’ll have to do dishes, but dish duty with your best friends can turn into a full-throttle sing-along. If you aren’t the kitchen karaoke-ing type, try out Bambu plates. They’re disposable but biodegradable. All that is required of you is to dispose of them sustainably so that you can indulge in post-potluck couch naps without running the water.

But remember: A bountiful table isn’t all about the plating 
Fill out that turkey catwalk with accessorizing decor. Forage for leaves and twigs and pine cones. Make your floral arrangements from what you find outside. Invite friends over pre-dining and get crafty. It’s a sure way to keep your wallet tucked in your pocket while also capturing the essence of the season genuinely. On that note, consider the outdoors altogether. My friends once threw a successful feast at a local nature reserve that allowed us to outfit a camping plot with lacy tablecloths and golden leaves. We built a campfire and gathered around with mulled wine, and the whole late November foggy air made for a powerfully memorable witchy vibe.

Have a little party favor
Ever since the birthday parties of our youth, goodie bags have become a token of appreciation. You don’t need to go all-out at the dollar store to fill a baggie. Send your friends back to their abodes with something simple, like a honeynut squash and a recipe card (see here!). They’ll remember the evening long after they leave and finally decide to roast that squash for dinner.

Create the menu 
This is, like, the biggest deal. But it’s not worth engaging in grocery cart bumper cars over. Don’t work yourself into a frenzy. Remember, you have friends. Tons of them. And they want to bring something to the table. In order to calm your hosting nerves, make sure everyone calls dibs on a dish to prepare. Google Docs become your best friend here. If spreadsheets give you anxiety, remember, you’re not calculating expenses. Create sections like “appetizers,” “main courses,” “vegetables,” and “dessert.” Have your friends claim a dish under these categories. It’s a sure way to know who is coming and what they’re bringing and is an opportunity to gather information about allergies and dietary restrictions. Friends know this kind of stuff.

Set the scent 
On the day of the gathering, refresh your space with an inviting scent. It could be as easy as lighting candles around the house before friends come over. Or, you can have onions constantly caramelizing on your stovetop. Is there an aroma warmer than home cooking? Come fall, I try to bake a pie every weekend, so that I inhale the kind of bliss no candle can capture.

Music sets the mood 
But cutting the perfect playlist together could have you waking up in night sweats. What if people judge you for freckling Top 40 in there? What if nobody jams to Ratatat anymore? What IF nobody knows the words to that Israeli pop song you can’t get out of your head? I can assure you that probably nobody knows how to sing in Hebrew. But you don’t have to worry about this because thankfully The Gravy exists. The company pulls together the best of hip-hop and organizes tracks with food-related lyrics into their respective playlists for all your dining moves. For Thanksgiving, they curated the only playlist you’ll need; it'll last from appetizers to that post-nap surge of energy. You can find it here.

Dessert 
I got your back in this department. Check out the upside-down delicata squash recipe, below. While it’s sweet, its rich robust winter squash flavors will satisfy both the sweet tooth blessed and impaired. Have some freshly whipped cream nearby or an array of ice cream pints to top off the cake.

Upside-Down Delicata Squash Pumpkin Cake

Ingredients

3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 small delicata squash, sliced and seeded
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Directions

Butter a 9-inch cake pan and scatter the dark brown sugar along the bottom. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Arrange the delicata squash slices on top of the brown sugar. If not all of the pieces fit, store for future cakes or dinner. (Hot tip: Delicata squash roasts especially well with caraway seeds.)

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and spices. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs into the pumpkin puree. Add the milk followed by the melted butter, whisking together until everything is combined.

Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon. Pour the pumpkin puree mixture into the well, mixing into the dry ingredients gradually. Mix together until thoroughly combined. Once there are no spots of flour left in the bowl, pour over the delicata squash slices in the cake pan. Bake in the center rack for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out dry.

Allow the cake to cool on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes before inverting onto a plate and serving! Save leftovers (if there are any) for breakfast the following morning.

Nail polish is for novices

Fashion label The Blonds is known for its high-intensity looks that you'd only wear if you wanted to stand out (and who doesn't?). For its runway shows, wild press-on nails are the beauty step that can't be missed. So, since the brand has partnered with CND since it was founded, we thought it best to get prepped for the show with Jan Arnold, CND's co-founder.

See why you should take your nail look from a zero to a 10, in the video above.

Credits:
Shot by Charlotte Prager
Edited by Gretta Wilson
Produced by Alexandra Hsie
Production Assistant: Polina Buchak
Featuring Jan Arnold of CND Nails and The Blonds

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

It would've been nice if someone said the word "fat"

Back in November, Rebel Wilson claimed to be the first plus-sized lead in a romantic comedy when she appeared on Ellen to talk about her role in Isn't It Romantic. Wilson was not only wrong, but she was—even if inadvertently—erasing the work of Black plus-size actresses like Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique, both of whom have expansive resumes that include romantic comedies.

Wilson's comment isn't the first example of white women taking up a little too much space in the fat acceptance ethos. It's actually quite common. But there is a reason why women like Wilson—women who are blonde, pretty, successful, and white—get put front and center in calls for body positivity. In the same way that feminism—the movement from which body positivity was born—has often failed to address how gender intersects with other identities like race and class; so, too, has body positivity been championed as a cause for otherwise privileged women. And that's why it's no surprise that Isn't It Romantic, which aspires to be both a spot-on mockery of rom-coms and a celebration of body positivity, is actually a perfect example of how very white both the movie genre and the body positivity movement tend to be.

In the film, Wilson plays Natalie, an architect based in New York, who is single and plus-sized—the archetypal rom-com underdog. Very early on in the movie, she endures the double humiliation of both being hit by a runaway food cart and then accosted by its owner for not stopping it with her "cement truck"-like body. At work, Natalie is similarly disrespected: The office manager hands off troubleshooting tasks to Natalie; another colleague always tasks Natalie to throw out his trash; her assistant Whitney (Betty Gilpin) won't stop watching movies (rom-coms, naturally) while in the office; and Natalie is so afraid to present her ideas for more innovative parking garage designs that she isn't even widely known in the firm as an architect, and is treated like an intern.

But is Natalie just a doormat? Or is it that she isn't asking for what she wants? And isn't very nice about not getting it? If Natalie's life is any example, the bar on suffering is set pretty low for white women. In her personal life, Natalie lives alone with her dog, and seems to be pretty well-off, financially; her best friend is actually her slacker assistant, Whitney, and she's close with another coworker, Josh (Adam Devine), who gives Natalie constant emotional support. She's decidedly anti-romantic, having been told by her mother from a young age that there's no such thing as real-life fairy tales; she's level-headed and practical. But also, she's filled with self-loathing. This leads her to be crass, sarcastic, and disconnected from people. And it was this last part that was hard for me. As a fat Black woman who grew up broke, does not have an assistant, and would get fired if I didn't do my job well, it was hard, if not impossible, to root for her.

For Natalie, though, everything changes when she bangs her head while fighting off a mugger. Her mundane life is tinted through rosy rom-com glasses. Suddenly, all the things that sucked about her life are gone, and everything is beautiful and perfect. But was her life so bad before? It didn't really seem to be.

And yet, looking around the theater at the mostly white, female audience, I accepted that my feelings didn't seem to be shared. But that almost seems to be by design; this feels like a movie for a white, female audience. There is only one person of color in the movie who even has a name: It's Isabelle (Priyanka Chopra), who shows up about halfway through the film—after everything has been rom-com filtered—as a yoga ambassador and swimsuit model. But a name is all Isabella has. A supporting character at best, she doesn't have any connection to anyone other than her white boyfriend, and is sketchily drawn. We learn nothing of her familial or ethnic background, and, even when she is shown at her wedding, there is nobody from her family celebrating with her. This huge oversight is particularly bizarre, given that Natalie has already bemoaned the lack of diversity in romantic films.

Another huge oversight? The presence of the word "fat." I don't think I heard it used a single time. Natalie only references her weight indirectly, by commenting on the appearance of straight-sized women; when talking about her own body, the word "fat" is replaced with "girl like me." But by ignoring this aspect of herself, and refusing to address it head-on, Natalie is succumbing to the same fatphobia that shapes her world, whether she identifies it as being a problem or not.

Before her life becomes a rom-com, Natalie feels invisible at work and in the world. Some of this is certainly her fault, but fatphobia is also at play. Fatphobia chips away at the humanity of fat people from different angles. It means that Natalie gets used to being dehumanized; she doesn't expect others to have empathy for her when she's physically hurt, because they don't value her body. And it's no coincidence that Natalie's fantasy world includes a magically bigger apartment with unlimited clothing options, because discrimination against fat people isn't just a matter aesthetics and preferences—it affects everything from our ability to dress ourselves to our ability to make and save money, since there's a price to pay for being fat, even if it's just having to pay more to travel. Just as much as gender and race intersect with fat bodies, so, too, do economics and class.

I knew I could count on a plus-sized white comedian to take down a genre of films that prioritized thin women. But I ventured to see if Wilson could go further than that, and challenge what it means to be white and well-off and fat in the process; it isn't just about taking down rom-coms but about doing so in a way that isn't just a mouthpiece for white feminist values. But, in the end, that isn't what happened. Isn't It Romantic is fine, but it needed to do more than target an audience of girls who are 10 to 30 pounds overweight and still too jolted by the word "fat" to ever apply it to themselves, so they go for acceptable alternatives, like curvy, plus-sized—or thicc, if they're hip. But I'm not afraid to say I'm fat, I'm just disappointed I will be waiting even longer to see a realistic reflection of that experience onscreen.

Isn't It Romantic is in theaters now.