Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Who Tries New Thanksgiving Recipes?

This post originally appeared on The Famished Freelancer on November 28, 2013.

Seriously, who? More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is about food traditions. People want the same stuffing recipe they've been eating since childhood. As much as I like making cranberry sauce from scratch, even I want the stuff out of a can on the big day because thus it has ever been and thus it shall ever be. (On the Thanksgiving episode of The Michael J. Fox Show, two characters set off on a quest to buy a can of cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving because they couldn't possibly just have homemade. "The ridges hold the flavor in!")

So many magazines, websites and blogs come put with wonderful, delectable Thanksgiving recipes, every year. And I wonder - besides people hosting their first Thanksgiving dinner - who's making these recipes? Are all these chefs just talking to themselves?

Thanksgiving in my family is so ruled by tradition that many years ago when my Aunt Bea went into labor on Thanksgiving Eve, she made the stuffing before going to the hospital. Because it wouldn't be the same if anyone else made it. (And possibly because she wanted a badass labor story. My mom scrubbed the kitchen floor on her hands and knees while she was in labor with me. Because they hadn't invented mops in the 1970s, I guess.)

We're so bound by tradition that dishes don't get kicked off the menu even when only two people actually eat them. Pumpkin pie? For years, it was only me and my Uncle Brian eating it. But it had to be there, alongside the apple pie and other desserts that people just happen to bring over. The past couple of years, I've been bringing turnips because I get them from my CSA and my mom and cousin Tricia like them (and everyone else (including me) hates them). This year, no turnips from the CSA, but since they've been added to the menu, my mom is going out and buying turnips because the six other side dishes aren't enough. Turnips are tradition now!

In my family, sweet potatoes get baked and eaten. They are never served under a layer of marshmallows because we don't roll that way. But you know that any in-laws or guests coming to dinner might be mightily disappointed by the lack of marshmallowy goodness. Yet the first time I saw them made like that, I thought they were an abomination.

For the longest time, we always had rolls from a can with every big family meal. Then one holiday - Easter, maybe - the rolls tasted slightly different. There were fine, so no one said anything. Until my uncle, host of the meal, asked everyone if the rolls were OK. Apparently, there were cornbread instead of plain and my aunt had been worried that they were the wrong rolls. 

We survived. But we went right back to the usual rolls the next time.

This year, I'll be making rolls from scratch with the help of my bread machine. I've done it once before, and everyone rolled with the change. [Pause while I work through the self-loathing that comes with that pun and my refusal to change it.] But I didn't just spring this on people - I brought rye bread to the annual Corned Beef Fest for a few years so everyone was used to the idea that I could make bread. 

The thing is that you've got to play to your audience, no matter how much you want to switch things up with the side dishes. You can add to the menu (aside from the turnips, we've added green bean casserole lately), but you can't take anything away. Because someone would ask, "where's the…" whatever dish they were expecting. 

Which means that the table gets more and more crowded every year, which I guess is appropriate for a holiday that celebrates abundance.

Does your family ever make changes to their Thanksgiving menu? What dishes can't you live without on Turkey Day?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Marital Discussion: Spirit Cheese

Do you have any idea how hard it is
 to find a compelling picture of cheese?
The Scene: I've been binge watching How I Met Your Mother during migraines that have been so painful that I can't bear to watch anything I haven't seen before. (I like to have something to distract me from the pain. Hiding in a quiet, darkened room leads to begging for death.)  The other day, I had a doozy of a migraine and decided to take a nap in the hopes of waking up all better (which totally didn't happen, but whatevs.) As is our custom, His Awesomeness tucked me in.

Me: Tell me a story.

Him: Once upon a time, there was a Jen and she went down to MacLaren's Pub to hang out with 5 people in their 20s who were learning life lessons. Ted was saying that "Barney Stinson" sounded like "Stilton" and that they all had a spirit cheese. [like a spirit animal, but cheese]

Me: Was Ted Mosby's spirit cheese Colby?

Him: No, Colby is Robin's spirit cheese because she looks so much like that actress Cobie Smulders. Ted's was blue cheese.

Me: Because he's an acquired taste?

Him: Yes. (Also, according to a post on Bustle about what your fave cheese says about your love life, liking blue cheese means you're marriage crazy.) Marshalls' was Wisconsin Cheddar, of course, and Lily's was cream cheese.

Me: Not New York Cheddar?

Him: No. She's the schmear that holds the group's bagel together.

For the record, HA says that my spirit cheese is brie because I like it so much and his is Wensleydale (which he's maybe eaten once because he heard about it in Wallace and Gromit).

My nap lasted 2 whole hours, which proves the power of cheese-based bedtime stories.

What's your spirit cheese?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Am I So Famished?

A version of this post appeared on The Famished Freelancer, my defunct food writing blog. I decided to kill it because a) maintaining 2 blogs is more than I can possibly be expected to deal with and b) it was supposed to be a work sample, but I ended up writing different stuff that I do for clients so it just didn't make sense anymore. I'll be re-posting over here about once a week in the interest of consolidation (and in actually having more stuff to post here).

I'm a freelance writer, and I work from home. In theory this means that I'm eating really well since I don't have to rush through breakfast and I have time to make my lunch from scratch. In practice, I eat breakfast in front of my computer and don't think about lunch until I'm hungry and need to eat NOW. 

But that doesn't mean that I don't love food. Or that I don't think about it a lot. Though I don't think about it as much as I did during my dieting days. Between the meal planning, the algebra of counting points and the hunger, food was on my mind a lot. Not that I was enjoying what I ate. I remember wishing once that I didn't have to eat at all.

Can you imagine that? Food is love. Even healthy, low cal food. Food is tasty. Food is life. Who would want to give it up? 

Someone with a fraught, miserable relationship with food. That's who. Someone who went on their first diet at the age of five because the pediatrician had concerns about where she fit into the height and weight charts. Someone deep into the disordered thinking and eating patterns that come with dieting. But don't call it an eating disorder, because you're still fat.

It took a lot of years, but I swore off dieting forever. For my health. The stress was bad for me. 

Now I believe that skim milk tastes like self loathing. Have you ever poured skim milk into iced coffee? In a clear cup, so you can see it all blend together? It's depressing. Milk is supposed to make coffee lighter, but skim milk just can't pull it off.

This isn't a fat-acceptance blog, but it will be a diet talk-free zone. (Seriously, can I go an entire day without hearing about how someone feels they have to punish themselves with exercise because they ate something delicious? Apparently not, even though I rarely leave the house.)

I'm done hating food.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marital Discussion: Darth Vader

Picture a lightsaber here instead of a kitchen torch.
The scene: His Awesomeness is making a special weekend breakfast (scrambled eggs & toast) while his iPod plays the Star Wars soundtrack (because…it's on shuffle, my husband is weird, I dunno). I'm just trying to get my eyes open enough to get my contacts lenses in.

Me: Isn't it a little early for stormtroopers? It sounds like Darth Vader is coming to dinner. [in a silly voice] "No Darth Vader, you're not invited to dinner."

Him: Maybe Darth Vader is bringing a bottle of wine or a nice desert. Maybe Darth Vader is brining creme brûlée.

Me: That doesn't sound like Darth Vader at all. He's the kind of guy who'd just show up empty-handed.

Him: I'd tell him, "What are you doing, Darth Vader? We had a bargain. I make dinner and you bring the dessert." And he's all, "I'm altering the bargain." And now I'm sorry I invited Darth Vader to dinner.

And here I thought it was common knowledge that you should never invite Darth Vader to dinner.