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.
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
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
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.