I’m thinking about my “perfect” Thanksgiving dinner for years and years, famous (at least according to my family) and anticipated every year.
I got the menu and all the recipes from my mother. I like to think that I polished it to perfection. Oven roasted turkey. It had to be oven roasted so that the drippings could be used for broth. The broth then was used in the cornbread dressing and the gravy. Broth out of a can? Don't be ridiculous!
And let's not forget the enormous pile of mashed potatoes. For years I made a green bean casserole as a nod to "healthy". I should point out that by the time I added cream of mushroom soup (out of a can) bread crumbs and French fried onions on top, the green beans were hardly noticeable.
Oh, and rolls. I did buy those. One more thing to drown in gravy.
Every year I made a cranberry jello salad because my husband absolutely loved it. It was a pain in the neck to make because you just couldn't trust it to set. I blamed my mother for the inconsistency although I suspect it was “cockpit” trouble on my part.
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No one but my husband really liked it and when we lost him, we lost the salad as well.
The good news was this meal would be flaming delicious. The bad news is that cooking took FOREVER because everything had to happen in stages. Yes, I could cook the cornbread the day before. But everything else had to happen the day of the meal. There is just so much room in/on the refrigerator, oven, and stovetop,
In retrospect here is what I know about this meal. After excluding the cranberry sauce and the turkey it's all starch. All starch. All sugar, which is what starch is.
This helps explain why dinner was followed by snoring. And yet two hours later everyone was ready to fix another plate of leftovers. Leftovers weren't refrigerated, just left sitting on the stove or table waiting for round two. Tasted just as good the second time around.
We have never been a family of sweets. The pie I would buy frozen and it might not be eaten. I baked it as a matter of principle. By the way, pie is actually starch in the crust AND sugar in the filling but who cares because we didn’t eat it.
Notice that my interest in making things from scratch did not extend to sweets. Why in the world would we waste stomach space (and kitchen time) on pie when there was still dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and rolls to eat?
Back then I didn't know about sugar from starch. I didn’t even know what starch was. I shared the story of my “starch” discovery in my book.
I thought I was being good not eating pie. I didn't know about blood sugar. Now I know that the blood sugar spike from that meal was ENORMOUS. Our insulin (hopefully) brought the blood sugar back down and then we did it AGAIN in round two.
So did that one meal, once a year, make me diabetic? Of course not. The problem for me was I ate that kind of starch in every meal and in snacks between meals all the time. Just like most Americans.
Spaghetti (starch) with tomato sauce and garlic bread (starch). Potato soup (starch) with tons of butter. Big pots of beans (starch) and cornbread (starch). Chili piled high with Fritos (starch) and sacks of Fritos dipped into Rotel cheese dip. Potato chips (starch). Cheez-Its (starch). Macaroni (starch) and cheese. A quick lunch was a sandwich (2 slices of starch) plus the previously mentioned chips. Pancakes and waffles (starch).
Oh my, I forgot French fries, hash Browns, American fries. , Anytime I could wedge fried potatoes into my meal, the happier I was. So at my favorite fast food restaurant I had a deep fried chicken sandwich (starch battered) and FRENCH FRIES (starch).
Notice something important. My addiction was salty, oily, and crunchy. The starch was just a delivery system.
I wasn't exactly opposed to vegetables but they definitely took second place to starch. And they usually had a nice bread crumb (starch) topping or included for thickening. You find these all over your typical church buffet. Even my salads were covered with croutons (do I need to say "starch"?).
Do you get the picture? I pushed it really hard for years and now I'm paying the price.
These days Thanksgiving meals are very different except I still make the dressing. My grandchildren think it’s mandatory.
I find I can satisfy my oily/ salty/crunchy interest without the starch. It's that simple. And vegetables are actually really good and just fine without bread crumbs or croutons. Flavor through seasonings is the key. But I have to admit I miss the dressing.
I thank my lucky stars that I don't have a sugar addiction. That one can be harder because you have to learn to be satisfied without the perpetual taste of sweet. It is very much doable but requires commitment.
So if you haven't already pushed too hard, now would be a really good time to take control of your diet before it takes control of you.
Pat Smith is the author of "It's All About the Food," a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry), chairman of the Tasty Acre project, and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her website is http://allaboutthefood.org/