As a society, we place a massive amount of significance on singular holidays as a space and place for hope and change and also familial resentment and dysfunction. Never mind connecting with the impetus for establishing these holidays — we are often blind to the absences and erasures on which our celebrations are built. Holidays are complicated, to say the least.

Each Thanksgiving, we swallow the lie that the past was full of peace and harmony and gratitude. Illinois is a forced removal state. Just this week some citizens in our country elected the first two Native American women to Congress, which is wonderful, but also 200+ years since the United States gained independence from the crown. 

But this is a food article, Jess!

You’re right. I ask that you keep in mind the origins of Thanksgiving and the foods we tend to eat on this day as you make your preparations, and if you can, do consider donating to a cause that supports humans who do not have the luxury of stressing where to buy the items I list below. 

Do enjoy your time with friends and family! Happy Thanksgiving!

Turkey

I recommend two local options for turkey: ordering one from Common Ground Food Co-op (by November 16th) and cooking it yourself, or ordering a smoked (and fully cooked) turkey from Black Dog

photo by Seth Fein

I have ordered the Black Dog turkey several times, and each time it is the single best Thanksgiving decision I’ve made ($75). It’s already cooked, so you don’t need to get up early to start roasting a bird, or worry that you don’t have room in the oven, or serve your guests a limp-skinned, undercooked piece of poultry. The birds are usually 14 to 16 pounds, so if you have a massive crowd, you’ll need two. As someone who can take or leave smoked meats, I’m actually excited to eat this turkey. It’s not overpoweringly smoky; it’s tender; it still pairs well with gravy and/or cranberry sauce.

Black Dog turkey, deconstructed; photo by Jessica Hammie

Starches

photo by Sam Logan

You’ll definitely need some bread (especially for Friday Thanksgiving sandwiches). Central Illinois Bakehouse makes the best bread locally; you can source that at both Pekara locations and at Common Ground Food Co-op, but you should order it ahead of time.

I cannot wholeheartedly recommend a place to get a large quantity of mac and cheese. Sure, there are places in town that make a nice dish, and if you like them, you should inquire within to see about ordering a pan, or several dishes. Mac and cheese isn’t actually all that hard to make, and you can make it ahead of time. For beginners, start with this simple recipe. The key is to not overcook your pasta, so drain it when it’s still a little hard. 

The same goes for mashed potatoes — you can’t order those and reheat them. But you can order Black Dog’s twice baked potato or sweet potato casserole.

Vegetables

Like the mac and cheese, veggie preferences are very personal. Pick up some local produce from Urbana’s Market in the Square, Harvest Market, or Common Ground Food Co-op. You can also order some pans of veggie sides from Black Dog.

photo by Jessica Hammie

Or, you could bypass the veggies and double up on the starch. It’s a holiday, after all, and I heard this rumor that holiday calories don’t count. 

Dessert

Hopscotch pies; photo by Jessica Hammie

My suggestion for you as it relates to Thanksgiving pies is to cheat on the dough, and make your own. If you want to make it “fancy-ish,” purchase pie dough from The New Sweet Indulgence (fresh or frozen, $10). Get a can of Libby’s pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix, gross), a can of evaporated milk, and follow the instructions on the Libby’s can. Your pumpkin pie will be pretty great.

Or, if you’d rather purchase some pie, consider these options:

I’m all for a good pie, but sometimes you need Thanksgiving cake, or Thanksgiving ice cream, or Thanksgiving cookies. Don’t feel so wed to tradition — live a little!

The Full Monty

Common Ground offers a full-on Thanksgiving buffet on Wednesday, November 21st. The salad bar is transformed into a Thanksgiving food buffet, with everything from veggies and starches to meat and pie. It’s $9.99/lb, and definitely worth it if you’re hosting/visiting people who are gluten free, vegetarian, or vegan (and you’re not). Bring your own containers, and your meal is basically all done. It’s the easiest way to shop and prep.

In preparation for this buffet, Common Ground will host three sampling events, in which you can get a taste for what will be available (and whether or not you like it).

Other stuff

photo by Jessica Hammie

Prairie Fruits Farm is the spot to get those yummy as cheeses and fun crackers and little hosting gifts. You can also take a class to learn how to pair cheese and wine (it’ll be worth it). 

photo from Page Roasting Company Instagram

Stop by your favorite brewery or Art Mart for local beer and wine. Columbia Street Roastery and Page Roasting Company have fantastic coffee options sure to impress your houseguests.