Normally, fall is my favorite season. I love the sunny days, cool evenings, changing leaves, and the incredible abundance of produce at the farmers’ market. I adore how Rosh Hashanah coincides with the beginning of the school year — a time rife with possibility — and how the combination of Sukkot and soccer season means my family and I will spend a ton of time outdoors.
Probably my favorite things about autumn, however, are the non-Jewish holidays. I love Halloween because I’m crazy about candy (give me allll the gummies!), costumes, and just about any excuse to go out at night. And I love Thanksgiving, too — how everyone stuffs their plates and bellies with delicious dishes that generally taste the same from year to year. More than anything, I love the “all-Americanness” of Thanksgiving: In my diverse Queens neighborhood, I’m always moved by how people from all over the world jostle side-by-side at the supermarket, all preparing to make similar-yet-different Thanksgiving feasts for their families.
This year, of course, Thanksgiving will be drastically different. Like every holiday we’ve had since Passover, our celebration will be limited to my nuclear family. This means, unlike previous Thanksgivings, there will be no magnums of wine carried across state lines by my father; there will be no intergenerational attempts at playing Twister; there will be no cranberry sauce made by my sister (who makes two variations: a sweet, orange-y one, and the NPR-famous Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish).
Still, even though my family won’t be gathering en masse, I’m committed to having some semblance of a normal Thanksgiving for the four of us. I’ll be making a simplified dinner, a Thanksgiving’s “greatest hits,” if you will. I’m skipping turkey — which is simply just a vessel for stuffing, IMO — and I’ll roast a chicken instead.
Speaking of stuffing, there will be an abundance, as this is my absolute favorite. Ever since I was a little kid, my grandmother’s recipe — consisting mostly of corn flakes, onions, carrots, and little else — has been the stuff of dreams for my cousins and me. My kids, however, couldn’t care less about it. For them, sweet potato casserole, the old-school one with mini marshmallows on top, is a must, though it’s something my husband would happily never eat again.
In fact, there’s only one Thanksgiving dish that all four of us love equally — so much so, that it wouldn’t be a proper Thanksgiving in my family if we didn’t have it. It’s a side dish that’s absurdly known as “Tori Spelling’s Green Bean Bundles” — though, in my extended family, we simply call it “Tori.”
Yes, this recipe is not kosher, but it is highly adaptable. And yes, it is apparently from the iconic Beverly Hills 90210 actress-turned-reality star. Whether or not this Jewish mama of five actually eats this stuff is beyond me — Spelling is notoriously thin, after all, which makes me wonder if she would ever let a stack of green beans wrapped in bacon, and basted with a sweet-and-salty buttery sauce, pass her lips. But I’m not here to judge!
I first discovered this recipe in the New York Times Magazine in 2001, and I still vividly recall the essay by Joyce Chang that accompanied it. Like myself at the time, Chang was a young woman, just beginning to make her way in New York City and the world, and the essay was about hosting her first-ever grown-up dinner party. (Eventually, Chang went on to be the top editor at Self; and, hey, now I’m the editor of Kveller!)
I don’t know if Chang continued to make this recipe after the piece was published, but it quickly became something I was “famous” for. As a 20-something, I proudly brought these beans to Christmas potlucks and Friendsgiving celebrations — but never, ever, to any Jewish holiday gathering. (I may not keep kosher, but as a fiercely proud Jew, I understand there’s a time and place for pork.)
And now, in true “Sunrise, Sunset” fashion, Tori Spelling’s Green Bean Bundles are a Thanksgiving highlight for my family and me. My kids, of course, being the Fortnite and TikTok-obsessed tweens that they are, have zero clue who Spelling is, nor does the zip code 90210 mean anything to them. But the word “bacon” can whip them into a tizzy like few other things can: “Ooohhh… you’re making the beans wrapped in bacon? I love that!” exclaimed my younger son as we discussed our pared-down Thanksgiving plans. (And if you don’t eat pork, there are options! You can make “Tori” using beef or turkey bacon; or try this similar recipe. You can also swap the butter for a vegan option; in my family we use Earth Balance.)
It’s true that Thanksgiving 2020 will be unlike any other. After nine months of limited interactions with others, my family and I may have to dig a bit deeper to remember just how fortunate we are — after all, we have our home, our health, our high-speed internet, and, of course, each other. My kids may be driving each other (and us) crazy, but, despite Covid, they are growing up and generally making the best of a truly crappy situation. And should our gratitude falter over the course of yet another pandemic holiday, we’ll have Tori Spelling to remind us that, like her green beans, we are bundled together, warm and snug.