MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I think it's sinking in - Thanksgiving is just not going to be the same for many of us - those big family gatherings, those cross-country slogs on packed planes and buses to get there. Public health officials are urging - actually, they are begging Americans not to do it this year. And that's sad. But this reality has inspired a creative workaround for our next guests.
Erica Simon is a TV anchor and reporter in Houston, Texas. She recently tweeted out a screenshot from a Zoom presentation her grandmother organized for the family, complete with a craft board, illustrating her instructions on how to make some of her cherished Thanksgiving recipes. So we had to call them up to learn more. And Erica Simon and her grandmother Cora Whitlock are both here with us now.
Welcome. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
ERICA SIMON: Thank you.
CORA WHITLOCK: Thank you. Thank you for inviting us.
MARTIN: All right, Erica Simon, I'm going to start with you. What does Thanksgiving usually look like for your family?
SIMON: Oh, man - lots of food, lots of love, usually a chill in the air in the Dallas-Fort Worth area because that's where we gather - and, of course, the Dallas Cowboys football game. It's always a great time.
MARTIN: OK, well, no comment.
MARTIN: We're up here in Washington, so we'll just - you know, we'll just slide right by that. OK. Ms. Cora, what is Thanksgiving like for you?
WHITLOCK: Oh, a lot of cooking (laughter) - gathering all the ingredients and getting all the food prepared. And everybody brings a dish also to help out. But I do the turkey, the dressing, ham...
MARTIN: Oh, my goodness. Oh, my - what's your favorite part of it?
WHITLOCK: My favorite part of it, I think, would be making the dressing (laughter).
WHITLOCK: Yes, making that dressing - uh-huh. Oh, and playing games - we play games, too. After we eat, we play games, and I like that part.
MARTIN: What's - your favorite thing to cook is the dressing. How do you make it?
WHITLOCK: Well, I start out with cornbread - two or three, maybe four or five pans of cornbread. And then we add Pepperidge Farms breadcrumbs to that and maybe some crumbled-up biscuits into that. And then we add the onion, celery already cooked in the butter. We add that. And then we add the broth and some soups into that. I like to put onion and celery soup, and with the broth, and then pull all that into the big pan of cornbread crumbs.
MARTIN: Wow. You just go to town.
WHITLOCK: And then we put the sage in and black pepper, poultry seasoning in there. And then egg - we put some baking powder and eggs.
MARTIN: Oh, wow.
WHITLOCK: And we get all that stirred up.
WHITLOCK: Yeah, stir it up, put it in a baking pan. We usually end up with about three large pans of dressing...
WHITLOCK: ...Because there are 30 to 35 people going to eat, so - and then we bake that dressing for about an hour in each pan.
MARTIN: Wow. That sounds great. So, Erica, how was it decided that the big family get-together wasn't a good idea? Do you remember - like, how did the decision come together? Was it something that had to be kind of hashed over? Or did people pretty much know that it wasn't going to happen this year?
SIMON: I think there was a subconscious knowledge that, hey, this has been a heck of a year, and it's just not healthy and safe to get together in the large quantities like we always do. But I feel like we hashed it out via email, kind of made the group decision, like, we're just not going to get it this year. It's just not smart. We all knew it was just for the best.
My grandparents - you know, they are doing the best that they can to stay safe during this pandemic, and we wanted to help with that. We didn't want to add any extra drama about having to worry about potential exposure. So it was the best decision.
MARTIN: I know. But is sort of - it hurts, doesn't it? I mean, it kind of...
SIMON: It does.
MARTIN: Yeah. Do you...
SIMON: Yeah, it is sad for sure. This is a big tradition in our family.
MARTIN: So, Ms. Cora, how did you come up with the idea to get your craft boards together to share those recipes with the family? How'd you come up with that idea?
WHITLOCK: Well, they...
WHITLOCK: My daughter-in-laws (ph) and granddaughters, all of the female ladies in the family, said, oh, what am I going to do about the dressing? They were kind of afraid of it - like I was when I first started to cook it, you know? I had some ladies, some elderly ladies to teach me how. And I want to pass that on to my family so they will know. And when I'm too old to make it - I'm already too old to make it, but I still make it. But anyway, I wanted them to know.
So I thought I would gather pictures from the Internet and put it on the craft board so they could see it on Zoom and what ingredients they would need. So that's how I came up with that idea. OK, let's put the pictures on the board. They were - everybody was, like, oh, what are we going to do? How we're going to do it? And that would kind of get everybody's mind settled down as to when you see it's just three parts that you do, you know? And so this would make it easier for them to do it.
MARTIN: So, Erica, what did you think when your gram busted out the visuals?
SIMON: Well, I thought it was so cute. And my gram is the most generous, loving, patient person I know. And she's a natural educator. She's been an educator for years and works with students. And, you know, she's always had that nurturing spirit. So the fact that she did that for us so that, as she said, would be calm and be able to go through the process without panicking, it didn't surprise me because it's her character, and it's her nature.
But, yeah, I thought it was super-cute and a great adaptation during the pandemic for sure, because some people learn better that way, seeing it, so that there's no excuse for us to mess it up.
MARTIN: OK, OK, OK. I'm putting everybody on the spot here. Now, Ms. Cora, you weren't tempted to leave out some of the key ingredients there just to make sure everybody else's wasn't as good as yours, were you?
WHITLOCK: Well, no. I want them to have a great success with it...
WHITLOCK: So I didn't leave out anything. I added everything that I thought would have a good success.
MARTIN: OK (Laughter).
WHITLOCK: So (Laughter)...
MARTIN: All right, Erica, and I'm now going to put you on the spot. Have you ever made these recipes before? And is there something you're...
SIMON: You know, I always got a pass because working in television, we are always working on holidays. So if I was fortunate enough to even grab a plate or make it home for one of the holidays, I was just in to eat, love on folks, laugh, watch a football game, play games, and that was it.
SIMON: So I have never had to have the pressure of making my own Thanksgiving dinner or dressing or my grandma's favorite giblet gravy. But, yeah, I might help my mom this year. We'll see.
MARTIN: OK. Well, that sounds great. Well, congratulations. That just sounds - that sounds wonderful. So it's so great to talk with both of you, and it's so great we got a chance to put both of you together just for this conversation. So, you know, I know it's hard for you all not to be together, but despite all that - well, I'm going to ask you...
MARTIN: Yeah. Ms. Cora...
WHITLOCK: ...Very hard. But we're going to have a Zoom meeting the night...
WHITLOCK: ...Before, so while they're making the dressing - one more meeting with the dressing...
MARTIN: (Laughter) OK.
WHITLOCK: ...The night before also.
MARTIN: To make sure it's tight. To make sure it is tight.
WHITLOCK: Yeah, to make sure it's tight and right.
WHITLOCK: Tight and right.
MARTIN: Oh, gosh. That was Erica Simon and her gram Cora Whitlock, who shared her famous Thanksgiving recipes with the family via a very crafty Zoom presentation.
Erica Simon, Ms. Whitlock, thank you both so much for joining us. And I hope you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
SIMON: Our pleasure. Same to you.
WHITLOCK: Thank you, Michel. And you, too.
(SOUNDBITE OF VINCE GUARALDI TRIO'S "THANKSGIVING THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.