Alison’s Blog: Thanksgiving means thick gravy, butter laden potatoes, and 8 kinds of starches, or not
Most people are afraid of trying something new, especially when it bucks against traditional holiday foods. They usually set themselves up to deprive themselves, then overeat, feel guilty, and possibly ruin a wonderful family holiday. Read how Alison won’t let that happen this Thanksgiving.
When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. The day before it I would race home from school and start doing prep work: chopping up veggies, peeling potatoes. I got everything ready for when my mom got home from work and the real cooking could begin.
I grew up in an apartment in Manhattan, so if you ever watched “The Real Housewives of New York City” and saw their sprawling homes – well, you’d have no clue what my apartment looked like. It was an actual Manhattan apartment. The dining area (because there was no true dining room) sat 6 comfortably, and the kitchen fit two people as long as they were both inhaling at the same time and never moved. But Mom and I would make a dinner for at least 14 people, moving through that kitchen with the coordination of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We made turkey, enough stuffing to fill an elephant, sweet potatoes, even home baked bread whose aroma wafted into the hallway of our building and greeted our guests as they got off the elevator.
This year, I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in my “I don’t live at home anymore” life. I have a house, not the tiny apartment where Mom practically had to have people sit on laps in order to fit everyone at the table. My mom is coming over, along with 4 very dear family friends. That plus my own family makes 9 people, smaller than any Thanksgiving I ever prepared with my mom in her postage-stamp sized kitchen in Manhattan. This should be a cinch, but I am completely terrified.
I’m not worried about burning the turkey or spilling the cranberry sauce all over my cream colored table cloth. What’s got my knickers in a twist is the actual menu. Thanksgivings produced by my mom and me always consisted of thick gravy, butter laden potatoes, and 8 kinds of starches. We had one dessert choice for every two guests, meaning that dinner for 20 consisted of TEN different desserts. As I started to plan my menu for Thanksgiving, the only foods I had in my arsenal were ones where each dish had more fat than I now eat in a week. Add to that the fact that I haven’t quite recalculated my running to food ratio since the marathon ended and I’m not doing 18 mile runs any more, and I can already feel the buttons on my shirt about to pop and the seam in my pants beginning to split open. Thanksgiving is beginning to slip away as my favorite holiday.
But then I think about two tricks Peter K taught me: 1) have a plan, and 2) actually stick to it. So, I think about my menu. I can replace mom’s buttery potatoes with a sweet potato recipe with cranberries and walnuts I found on Runner’s World (in other words, it’s healthy). Instead of creamed corn or spinach, how about some steamed cauliflower and green beans, and maybe a salad that each person can dress themselves (with only low fat choices on the table)? I learn about a whole wheat stuffing that I’m ready to try, and for hors d’oeuvres I decide on a raw veggie plate with salsa and hummus for dipping.
Now that I have my dinner more under control, I am pumped up to figure out desserts. My kids and I make the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookies (it’s true, just ask the world. I’m pretty sure everyone has tried them by now), that we’ve made healthier by using whole wheat flour and dark chocolate chips (please note I said, “healthiER”. They’re still cookies, for God’s sake). I’m making a pumpkin pie whose recipe I got from Weight Watchers and is ridiculously delicious. I’ve served it several times, and as I’ve had guests tell me how great my pie is, I’ve often replied with “Fooled you all! It was Weight Watchers!” And instead of apple pie or a berry crumble, which is just a fancy way of turning fruit into crap, I’m going to serve – fruit. That’s right. Just fruit. A fruit salad with a million different kinds of fruit all cut up and put into a bowl, ready to speak for itself. Wow, what a concept!
Now for my plan. I’m going to measure my portions, and the only second servings I’m allowed is on the vegetables. For dessert I’m sharing a slice of pumpkin pie with anyone at the table who’s willing to split with me, and here’s how I’m doing it – I get the first bite and the last bite, and my partner gets all the bites in between. No cookies for me (baking cookies with the kids is a hundred times more fun than actually eating them), and I might even have a small bowl of fruit. This plan will be easy to stick to, because I’m really getting everything I want, and I’ve made it so all the foods I have to choose from are healthy.
Thanksgiving is only a few days away now. As a grown up hosting it for the first time, I can’t wait. I bet it’s still going to be my favorite holiday.