All is not lost. You might need to hold on a little more tightly, but just as surely as that jury duty summons, you saw this coming. It’s CHEAT SEASON.
The truth is, we all kind of look forward to temptation, the Latin origin of which means to test, to try, to handle.
You will be tested. It will be trying. You will cheat, but you can handle it. So, even if your Thanksgiving dinner plate weighs more than your Labrador Retriever, even if after dinner you lie next to the table in a tryptophan stupor; you can still hold onto your good intentions.
Enjoy the day. It is one of my favorites, because I’m sentimental. The smell of turkey conjures up cold, Connecticut mornings, watching the Macy’s parade on a black and white TV and loved ones long gone. If you get nostalgic on this fourth Thursday in November, you are not alone. Traditional dishes connect us to our past. That’s one of the functions of food.
Many years ago, shortly after moving to California, my roommate and I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner party for the unfortunate interns, residents and nurses who would be without kin on this family-oriented day.
My roommate’s family had Southern roots. We prepared two turkeys, one with her traditional, corn bread stuffing and one with my authentic, sausage stuffing. Our guests could have chosen a variety of political, social or medical topics to discuss over dinner, but one topic dominated. Which stuffing was the real thing?
Since then, whenever I invite someone to my Thanksgiving table, I always ask ahead of time, “What single item needs to be on our menu for this to truly be Thanksgiving for you?”
What can’t you live without? For me it’s mashed potatoes, fluffy, buttery. The gravy is nice, but it’s the potatoes. Deprivation, like guilt, is the enemy of change. My advice to you is to enjoy that memory-laden food.
It makes no sense though to decide that if you overdo you have to continue to overdo. Treat yourself, but remember to savor the pleasure. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of a healthy arrival after a long voyage. Honor your individual journey. Stay on the path.
A few years ago, I was giving a talk to a women’s service club and had barely mentioned Cheat Season, when a member in her 80s called out, “pumpkin pie.” I could tell by the look on her face that she loved it.
While doing pumpkin research I ran across an interesting fact. For the pilgrims, the round orange thing became a stewed vegetable, side dish. Are you tempted? The pilgrims didn’t have sugar, so the pie variety did not show up on the original menu? Nor did cranberry sauce. The bogs of Cape Cod were filled with sour, low-calorie cranberries. Yum! The pilgrims hadn’t thought to put cows on the Mayflower, so there was no cream or butter either. Potatoes, both sweet and regular were rare, as were, I guess, the marshmallows that frequently top the latter.
When you sit down next to your favorite Aunt Esperanza, be thankful that dinner table protocol has changed since that first feast. Then, the choicest food was placed next to the most socially prominent person. The rest of the guests ate what happened to be next to them. Imagine if you were really into eagle or swan, and you were sitting by the serving plate with seal on it. Yes, those were actual items at the original table!
The pilgrims didn’t use forks either. They ate with spoons, knives and their fingers and wiped their hands on large cloth napkins, which they also used to pick up hot morsels. Those conventions might make it easier not to overeat. The finger thing would definitely slow green pea and gravy consumption.
At the first Thanksgiving there were no hors d’oeuvre or dessert courses either. All the food was put out at the same time.
Research also tells us that the Wampanoags who shared the harvest had different eating habits than the colonists, whose set pattern was breakfast, dinner and supper. (Incidentally, breakfast was leftovers from supper, which was leftovers from the noonday dinner.) The Native Americans tended to eat only when they were hungry!
Did you know that on this one day about 690 million pounds of turkey finds its way to our tables? That’s about two pounds per person. A lot of people don’t even like turkey. So if the gobbler is your obsession, have at it. Things could have been different if Benjamin Franklin had had his way.
In a letter to his daughter in 1784, Mr. Franklin suggested that the wild turkey would be a more appropriate national symbol for the newly independent United States than the bald eagle. The turkey is “a much more respectable bird, a true original Native of America, and though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage.”
As you approach this holiday table, here’s more of my sage advice:
· Sage is good in stuffing.
· Make sure you sit close by your favorite dish.
· Savor every bite.
· In honor of the Wampanoags, try to get a bit hungry before you start, and consider if not the dancing that they engaged in, a post-feast stroll around the block, before the non-traditional pie course.
· Unlike the pilgrim’s event, our Thanksgiving doesn’t go on for three days. Thanksgiving dinner is one meal, one chance to cheat.
· Being a little vain isn’t silly. You do want to fit into your outfit for the upcoming Holiday parties.
· Savor your time with family and friends.
· Celebrate your healthful voyage.
· Your struggles to change are respectable. Be a Bird of Courage.