I was watching the so-called "Food Network Live" event this morning, only to find out that it wasn't "live" but had been pre-taped the day before. The special is usually entertaining to watch because it's one of the few times you get to see some of these food experts interacting in the same room in real time. This year's main four were especially entertaining because Giada DeLaurentiis and Ina Garten come to the table (figuratively and literally) from very different places than Bobby Flay and Alton Brown (who could turn a piece of lint into something entertaining). After a while, though, I found the level of enthusiasm over the Thanksgiving food really annoying, and I had to turn it off.
Every year we Americans get bombarded by all kinds of media pushing upon us this particular banquet of weird foods that we don't eat the rest of the year. The menu usually contains something along the lines of:
- roasted turkey
- stuffing or "dressing" (the same thing, but not stuck inside the bird)
- cranberry sauce
- string bean casserole
- mashed potatoes
- sweet potato casserole
- dinner rolls
- pumpkin pie
I never understood why we had to eat this food on this day. First of all, every piece of information we have suggests that the first Thanksgiving dinner had none
of these at the table. Second, if these foods were all so wonderful, we'd eat them all the time.
The only one of the "dinner" foods that I like is the stuffing, but that is not
a meal. I am okay with pumpkin pie, but it's not my favorite food. I have never been a big fan of pie crust and would happily eat pie fillings without it. When I was little I loathed
pie because it involved this fatty, starchy, flavorless stuff. If someone had put streusel crumbs on top instead of pie crust underneath, I'd have eaten the stuff in a heartbeat. I have always loathed turkey. It has a nasty taste that chicken doesn't have. It's not the size of the bird, either; capon doesn't taste nasty. I will only eat turkey if my taste buds can't tell that it's turkey. I'll eat turkey bologna (the stuff with all the nasty-ass chemicals in it), for example, because it tastes like regular bologna but without the indigestion or the calories. (I can't stand the Whole Foods version because it tastes like turkey with bologna flavoring added.)
Then there are all the foods that mess with my reactive hypoglycemia. I never liked sweet potato casserole. For years I thought I didn't like sweet potatoes. Nope. It's all the sugar and marshmallows that's added to the potatoes that I dislike. Sweet potatoes border on cloyingly sweet to my tastebuds in the first place. Adding marhsmallows is...disgusting. I've never been big on marhsmallows by themselves; it's like eating a mixture of flour-covered gelatin and sugar. I never liked the mouth-feel of Jell-o in the first place. Adding sugar to something that's already sweet is at best, redundant and at worst, painful.
Cranberry sauce is one of the more pointless items on the table. It has three things going against it:
- It's sickeningly sweet.
- It's bitter.
- It has the consistency of Jell-o or jelly.
Why on earth would someone want to eat a foul-tasting piece of fowl with bitter jelly?
Then there's the string bean casserole. How many ways can one dish land me in the emergency room? In this case, at least two:
- I'm allergic to string beans/green beans. At best I get really nauseous. At worst I barf. Big time.
- I am even more allergic to mushrooms. That Cream of Mushroom soup will land me in the emergency room in no time flat. While it would get me out of the rest of the meal, hospitals aren't my idea of a fun place to hang out.
Then there's the mashed potatoes. I loathe the gooey, pasty texture of mashed potatoes. I like potatoes. I don't like eating paste. I like my potatoes to have texture
. I like to bite into them. When Mom would swap out the mashed potatoes for twice-baked, that would add one item I could eat besides stuffing. Granted, stuffing and potatoes do not make a meal, but at least the twice-baked ones had skins.
The stuffing itself could even pose a problem. Mom used to put ground-up mushrooms in her stuffing. When my mushroom allergy manifested itself, I couldn't even eat that
until she finally started making a batch without the damned fungi. I couldn't taste the difference without the mushrooms anyway.
As for the dinner rolls, they were nothing to get excited about. I've never been a big bread eater. Mom made bread nearly every day anyway, and the stuff she made was way more exciting than dinner rolls. Again, bread and butter by themselves are no meal -- especially white bread.
Then there's the pumpkin pie. I have nothing against pumpkin. I like pumpkin cake, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, and so forth. I like pumpkin pie filling. I could do without the crust. When I was little I wouldn't eat pie at all because I disliked the crust so much. I'm still not fond of pie crust, but I'll eat it. (I feel the same way about burgers.)
My mother used to make and host The Family Dinner. She'd start preparations of the "appetizers" (the foods folks ingested all day before the official "dinner" started), side dishes, and desserts for days in advance. These were okay. Mom could tell I was "growing up" when I started asserting my own culinary viewpoint on some of those, such as the time she and I made different versions of guacamole and let my aunt and cousins "vote" on which was better (mine won; Mom's contained mayonnaise
!). My grandmom (Mom's mother) was sensitive enough to my dislike of the foods at the table that she started making at least one "alternative" dish a year. Sometimes it was lasagna. Sometimes it was spanakopita. At least once it was quiche. I was always grateful for that dish because it made the actual meal palatable for me.
Every year, the extended family would trek for miles to Mom's house for this. For me, that
was the part that made this dinner tolerable. Yes, I don't just love
my relatives, I like
them. I tried to "like" football because I noticed that if you were watching football, you didn't have to do any of the "housework." As much as I loathe housework, I strongly preferred (and still do) conversing with people I cared about to yelling at a bunch of strangers doing stuff I don't care about. My brother somehow managed to disappear so he wouldn't have to watch football or hang out with us. The football watchers interacted with the TV instead of each other.
Eventually it came time to set the tables. Yes, tables
. I did
family, didn't I? The typical crowd was anywhere from 20-40 people. As the dinners got bigger, Mom started putting the food in one place and the seating in another. When the "kids" started having kids, we had to merge the "kids" table with the "grownup" table. The "good" china and "good" silverware were used. After the main course, the non-football-watchers cleared the table. The part that forever tainted this nasty-ass banquet for me came next: Cleanup.
Mom would fill the sink with what I can only describe as "hot, soapy yick
." The "yick" was a mixture of the hot water, all the dirty dishes and flatware (all of which had to be washed by hand
), and the assorted detritus that came off them. As if being subjected to a meal full of foods I mostly either couldn't eat (such as the string bean casserole) or couldn't stand (everything but the stuffing) wasn't bad enough, I had to deal with The Slimy Tub of Yick. One or both of my grandmothers would take pity on me and take over, and then Mom would snarl at me to go "push them away" and go back to it, and we'd usually "strike a compromise" where they washed and I dried.
Grandmom passed away when I was 21. Nanny (my paternal grandmother) passed away when I was 31. The month after Nanny died, Mom was diagnosed with cancer two days before Thanksgiving and was in no emotional shape to do The Dinner, so Dad took the entire extended family out to dinner. We all got stuck eating The Nasty-Ass Thanksgiving Food at its most traditional (that meant I had stuffing for dinner), but at least there was no Slimy Tub of Yick afterwards, so it was an even trade-off.
The year after that, Dad was dying and couldn't eat. It was really hard watching him watch everyone else eat when he was stuck with his NG tube and ice chips. He wanted to be with the rest of us, so he hung out at the table anyway. When it came time to deal with the Slimy Tub of Yick, there was no one to spell me, but my Aunt Charlotte came over to help dry the dishes. My only "respite" was when my dog whined in a way that made it obvious to everyone that I "had" to "take [her] outside." Good Doggie.
The year after that there was no Dad and there were no grandmothers. Mom had passed off parts of the dinner to other relatives, which meant that the food was more "traditional." There was a little bit of non-mushroomed stuffing for me. There was dessert, but since my hypoglycemia was not fully under control, I had to forego most of it. I had to clean up, but there was nobody to relieve me from the Slimy Tub of Yick. Even Fuzzball couldn't help me because Mom realized that all I had to do was open the back door, shove her out, and close it. The day after Thanksgiving was Dad's (gravestone) unveiling, which meant that there were fewer relatives at the dinner because they were instead coming down for that. We had all this food I loathed sitting around the house. I was so miserable that visit that I swore I wouldn't put myself through that again -- and I haven't.
Until the last few years, I've worked broadcasting jobs on Thanksgiving, and then celebrated pilgrims and Indians by leading a pilgrimage to an Indian buffet. I like
it that way. I get to do what I
like to do, I enable other folks to do what they
like to do, I get to eat foods I actually like
, and there's no Slimy Tub of Yick. I've put in for a couple of broadcasting jobs this year, but it's probably too late this year for me to get anything even for Christmas. I would have applied sooner, but given my ankle and the surgeries, I wanted to be sure I was in good enough shape to work before applying for it. Oh well.