When holiday coping creates holiday traditions

A family visits a home in Brentwood whose residents go all out with Hollywood-caliber Halloween decorations.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Even during a pandemic, Halloween is a big deal in Southern California. Need proof? Go for a drive around your neighborhood and count the plastic skeletons and the bushes draped with fake spiderwebs. Check out the nearest Party City or your grocery store’s candy displays. Kids might not be trick-or-treating, and adults might be taking a hard pass on parties — but Los Angeles will find other ways to celebrate today.

Same goes for the rest of the holidays this year. They’re fast approaching — as is our annual Los Angeles Times restaurant guide, which Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega are devoting every waking moment to assembling. Expect it to be published in December, and expect them to return to this newsletter in a few weeks.

And as for the holidays? Freelance writer Bonnie McCarthy has written about the upcoming season and how to achieve successful, socially distanced gatherings for The Times’ Food section. Here she answers a few questions about her reporting.

You spent a lot of time researching social distancing during the holidays, a time when people traditionally gather together. What are some of the biggest takeaways for people who hope to have a meal with family and friends in person?

First of all, although there are relatively safe ways to gather in small groups, there will always be risk, inside or out. The idea is to reduce that risk as much as possible, not just for yourself but for the people you care about.

If done correctly, setting up socially distanced “bubbles” of family and friends and dining outside can be just as much fun as it’s always been. Because it was never about whether we were three feet apart or six feet apart. It was just about being together.


In addition, it’s best to plate and serve each guest. Skip the buffets and family-style platters and bowls. Keep the hand sanitizer front and center. Mask up.

We can have our traditions — the favorite stuffing, the pie — but the presentation and the gathering will be different.

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There will be minefields for many people attempting to plan a holiday meal. Can you name a few?

One of the biggest minefields when it comes to observing COVID-19 safety protocols while preparing and presenting a holiday meal is going to be keeping people out of the kitchen. In almost every party I’ve ever had or been to, it’s the place that everybody ends up hanging out — and this year, that’s a bad idea.

I also think people are going to miss the buffets and family-style serving setups.

What are health officials most worried about?

Ultimately, I think the concern is that people will expand their social circles and social engagements during the holidays beyond the small pandemic bubbles they have created and the virus will spread exponentially.

Did you learn anything that surprised you?

For a story I wrote on the increasing need at local food banks, it was sobering to learn this time has left so many families without enough to eat. There is a tremendous amount of work being done to help but more is needed.

Are there things we must do during this pandemic era, changes we have to make to stay safe, that could become permanent traditions?

I hope the creativity surrounding video chats — whether it’s family or friends — is something that continues, especially when you can’t be physically together for the holidays for whatever reason.

Have a question for the critics?

Email us.

L.A. Times Dinner Series

The series returns Nov. 8 with Phil Rosenthal (“Somebody Feed Phil”) and a takeout dinner designed by chef Dave Beran (Pasjoli, Dialogue). The multicourse meal will include a market salad, fennel gratin and duck leg confit with braised beans. Dessert will be a seasonally appropriate pumpkin spice macaron. And guests can tune in to a live conversation with Rosenthal and Beran, hosted by Times television editor Matt Brennan. Tickets are $95 per person, and dinners will be available for pickup on the day of the event.

Next up? A Nov. 22 takeout dinner from chef Jeremy Fox (Rustic Canyon, Birdie G’s), featuring stars of “Fargo’s” fourth season. Showrunner Noah Hawley and actors Jason Schwartzman, Timothy Olyphant and Glynn Turman are scheduled to participate in a live conversation while diners enjoy their meals. Get more info here, and get tickets here.

Our stories

— Lucas Kwan Peterson is mixing it up this year with his Official Halloween Candy Power Rankings, judging by taste as well as what he calls the spirit of Halloween and trade value. (“Everyone knows that a big part of trick-or-treating is swapping candy with your friends and siblings when the evening is over. Certain pieces are worth more than others.”) Some of his findings might surprise you.

— If you’re in the mood to make candy, cooking columnist Ben Mims will tell you how to make PayDays and Butterfingers — and there might be no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon, especially this one.

— Times restaurant critic Bill Addison talks to Minh Phan, the chef and owner of Porridge + Puffs and the creator of Phenakite, once a pop-up and now a recurring series at Second Home in Hollywood. Phan “named the event after the rare crystal,” Addison writes, “appropriate for a project, as she said later over the phone, ‘born out of destruction and pressure.’”

— The pandemic, Garrett Snyder writes, “has turned the intimacy and immediacy of the omakase experience into a liability rather than a luxury.” So how do L.A.’s most serious sushi chefs pivot? Often with chirashi, “a colorful layering of sliced fish over vinegar-seasoned rice that in some circles has become the official takeout splurge of 2020.” He introduces us to four excellent newcomers.

Chirashi from Sushi ii.
(Garrett Snyder / Los Angeles Times)