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Real Family Dinner Projects: The Wansleben Family

Posted on: October 30th, 2020 by Bri DeRosa

Cooking instructor Christine Wansleben and her two kids will be cooking up new ideas for the holidays this year. Here, Christine shares how they’re handling Thanksgiving during COVID. She’ll also be helping families with at-home holiday fun during a December 4th virtual event for The Fountain Bookstore. Christine will showcase ideas from our book, and we’ll be on hand as well to help with fun and conversation for the whole family!

The Family:

Christine Wansleben of Henrico, VA, and her kids Laith and Dia, both 13.

The Holiday Dinner Goal:

Usually, Christine and her kids are able to spend holidays with family members — many of whom live far away. This year, the family is taking precautions due to COVID-19, and no one will be traveling to spend Thanksgiving (or possibly even the winter holidays) together. Rather than trying to recreate all the usual traditions under unusual circumstances, Christine says their goal will be to create a new kind of Thanksgiving — blending traditional holiday dishes with other favorite foods for a unique dinner.

The Challenge:

Thanksgiving dinners in the Wansleben household have always been a big affair. This year, Christine says the real challenge is scaling down the holiday for just three people. “Not only do we make a lot of food in our house, but we also order dishes from some of our favorite restaurants and bakeries.  That way we don’t have to make everything, but we can enjoy it all!” With fewer people to feed, but a desire to support local businesses during the ongoing pandemic crisis, figuring out the best way to celebrate has been a balancing act.

The Strategies:

Christine and the kids decided to focus on what was most important to them in planning this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. They’re letting go of the traditions that don’t serve them, like dressing up for the holiday. And they’ve decided that the theme for their dinner menu is “favorites,” so they’ll support their favorite local restaurant by ordering Peking Duck — served with their best-loved homemade desserts!

Even though the three of them will stay home, they still plan to connect with family. Christine notes that they’ll be joining everyone via Zoom on Thanksgiving Day. They’ll also keep a shared experience by carrying on with the family tradition of baking and gifting eggnog cakes.

The Food:

Speaking of those eggnog cakes, they’re a must-have handed down from Christine’s late uncle Mike. “When he was alive he and my aunt would make up to 40 cakes and hand them out to friends.  But there is a caveat.  Not only do we ask that you enjoy the cake, but we give you the recipe and ask that you make one for yourself and one to give.” Christine prints the recipe on gift tags and says friends can’t wait until a cake comes to their doors. In addition to the much-loved cake, she plans to make her mother’s sour cream apple pie, another traditional favorite.

But not all the Wansleben holiday foods are so traditional. “Since my children are half Bangladeshi, we’ve always had a very international Thanksgiving.  From roasted fish, to plum pudding …even a delicious dish of lamb’s brains….yes, I said lamb’s brains.  My ex husband made this and the kids, not really knowing what it was, ate almost the entire thing.”

The Takeaway:

Family dinners have taken on a  new meaning during the pandemic, Christine says, calling dinner a time to disconnect from virtual school and virtual work. The holidays will also have new importance, even if the celebrations are different. “We have always gone around the table and said what we are thankful for…no matter how silly. Sometimes it was on a placemat or place card.  Sometimes we just put notes in a jar. I want my children to be thankful for what they have and learn how to help others, not only during the holidays, but always.” Christine notes that this year, part of what the family will be thankful for is their health and safety. They’ll also focus on looking forward with hope to a time when everyone can gather again.

The Best Part:

Christine says the best part of the holiday will be, as always, enjoying any opportunity to connect with friends and family – even if virtually. “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.” Her kids are more practical: “They agreed the best part is the all-day snacking on their favorite foods!” And they add one very important highlight: “Dessert!”

Do you have your own family dinner project to share with us, or would you like to tell us how your family is sharing meals and navigating the holidays during COVID-19? We’d love to hear from you! Contact Us.