For many, Thanksgiving this year will be a shadow of years past. Family crowded around the table? Likely not. For others, myself included, families who have spent months in quarantine will drive to their destination with every precaution in place. For most of us, small will be the new normal.

Regardless, it's still Thanksgiving, and the day should be celebrated. With that in mind, let's go forward with masks, distancing, clean hands, and the belief that next year will be closer to "normal." A few things to consider:

Is it a turkey this year, or something smaller, like a duck, capon, maybe a turkey breast? A woman I know whose numbers were down decided to do a half-Thanksgiving, to which her son replied, "How would you like it if just half of me came?" Full dinner with trimmings ahead for that family.

Regardless of the number of people being served, take a quick inventory to make sure you have everything: celery, onions, whipping cream, sour cream, half-and-half, flour, sugar, herbs, maybe more butter (always more). Don't forget ice, paper towels and dishwashing soap. No worries if you ordered takeout from local restaurants or caterers.

More than 90% of cooks will be using Pepperidge Farm, and there's nothing wrong with that, maybe ramping it up with their own touches.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Every year, it seems there's a discussion about whether to put stuffing in the bird or in a casserole dish. Both health departments and the CDC caution against putting it inside the bird. Except I do, and I've lived to tell about it. I was told many years ago to put cold stuffing in a cold turkey and that it should register at 165 degrees. So far, so good.

It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes. For the smoothest mashed potatoes, you need to use a ricer. There will not be a single lump, I promise. If you don't have one, check with the hardware store or put it on your Christmas list.

These days, cooks are doing all sorts of fancy things with potatoes, but for this day, don't. Everyone's favorites are simple mashed potatoes, plain and buttery, with gravy. This year, it's the ultimate comfort food.

How is your wine supply? Make sure you have both white and red, and remember, too, there is no such thing as a right or wrong wine to serve. It's what you like. Normally you would count on one bottle per person, but not this year, with so few at the table. Make sure you have something like sparkling cider for non-drinkers and children.

Do what you can ahead of time. This might include pie crusts, pie fillings, a sweet potato casserole, preparing vegetables and setting the table(s). Bring out the dishes, tablecloths or placemats, candles, napkins (cloth, please), wine and water glasses. A centerpiece of flowers or fruits adds to the festive ambiance. Just because the usual crowd isn't there doesn't mean you can't set a nice holiday table.

For distancing, you can set up an extra card table or two. There are even those who have turned their garages into alternate dining/entertainment areas.

There are likely going to be a few spills and/or minor disasters — there always are. That's where the extra paper towels come in handy. Clean it up quickly and move on. As they say in driver's ed: "Steer into the skid."

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.