Learning to be a Joyous Hostess
Just as a compulsive shopper cuts up her credit cards and vows never to step foot in Nordstrom, so the binge eater hides from food triggers, avoiding parties or establishing strict rules around acceptable foods and acceptable quantities that can be eaten – and doing penance when she fails. It is difficult to hide from Thanksgiving. My heart goes out to all who find this celebration of gluttony to be a struggle. No matter how many years go by, I remember the struggle (and struggle still).
Yes, phew! I survived another Thanksgiving. And even enjoyed much of it. Now that is something to be thankful for! Each year it is better. As I check in politely with acquaintances this week the general response is: “Ah, Thanksgiving was wonderful, so relaxing! Lots of food and wine and family!” Really? REALLY? Does anyone ever answer, “NO! I hate Thanksgiving! It’s a lot of work and I eat too much and I feel horrible after it’s all over! Thank God it’s over!”? A holiday centered on an abundance of food that encourages binge eating. That’s a landmine for those of us with eating issues. Consider:
I, the competitive, ambitious, my-meal-is-better-than-your-meal over-achiever emerges in full regalia. Thankfully, this trait has been tempered by time and parenthood. (I am not a joyous hostess.)
Then: I compulsively reviewed recipes, looking for the perfect one that would make the most delicious turkey and the most amazing dessert. No shortcuts allowed. Time was not a consideration. Neither was effort. Neither was expense. I would design an elaborate menu, shop at multiple stores to find the best ingredients, cook for days until there was no way I was going to enjoy eating the food. I am not sure my guests enjoyed it either because it was too obviously a performance and not about comfort and generosity.
Now: After having children, I have found I cannot afford the luxury of time to devote to an elaborate meal, nor do I want to. Moreover, my family is not interested in some new-fangled dessert or trendy turkey-cooking technique. They want the same old menu year after year. It was me who wanted to prove what a great cook I was. Hmmm. I suppose I can forego gourmet-dom and do the same old menu.
My kids now want to cook and have ownership of some of the dishes. Hmmm. I suppose I can give up some control over the meal. My son now owns mashed potatoes and I “assisted” him (wink wink) with the stuffing and the gravy. My daughter now owns pumpkin muffins for breakfast as well as sweet potatoes and pecan pie. My sister-in-law brings pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. I make the turkey. (Alton Brown’s recipe for brining and roasting the turkey has been the best method yielding the most delicious results, for me.) Plus a salad and roasted radicchio rounded out the meal this year. Everything was delicious. I even allowed myself to enjoy the super-sweet marshmallow-y sweet potatoes, a dish I have scorned in the past. Indeed, I think they were my favorite dish this year! In spite of a twinge of guilt, I coach myself to not mind that I am not attempting some new complicated dish this year.
I, the obsessive-compulsive calorie-counting nutritionivore – with disordered eating patterns a constant backdrop eager to raise its ugly head at a moment’s notice – enjoy an abundant Thanksgiving dinner? YIKES!
Then: As a child, before I took over the kitchen, I remember a quiet boring day with my mother cooking and my father and grandfather watching football. It was just the four of us. (My parents were not joyous hosts – and thus I never learned how to be one either. Perhaps there is still time.) The turkey was a production, with everyone fussing over whether or not it was done. My grandfather brought a bittertart traditional cranberry sauce and some pies. My mother made stuffing. I waited impatiently all day – so bored and lonely – until it was time to eat. Finally it was time to eat and I basked in that activity, gorging on all the delicious food. Everything about the food was pleasurable after a boring, lonely day as a young only child. When I was old enough to cook, I took control over dessert, perfecting piecrust and elaborate renditions of traditional pies. But by the time I was old enough to cook, I had become self-conscious of my body. Gorging on an abundance of food to pass the time or fill the loneliness had led to a normal and normally curvy adolescent body that generated unwanted attention. Better control that appetite – channel that food appetite into cooking not eating. Like whack-a-mole, though, appetite cannot be suppressed permanently and will rise up again and again until dealt with. I remember my first Thanksgiving home from college. Depressed, I just ate and ate and ate, picking at the turkey, picking at the pie. It was so delicious and so much more delicious than the cafeteria food. Trying to fill up with comfort and looking for love that was only available through food – or some achievement.
[Note to all parents, aunts/uncles, teachers and friends of adolescents: Please help young people stay young and to respect their normal bodies and to be confident no-sayers. It is painful to be a child with a woman’s body lusted after by older boys and men.]
Now: My hyper-discipline goes into overdrive. I take one normal sized portion of everything I like, leaving what is not important to me (mashed potatoes and gravy). I drink one glass of wine with the meal, not before. Then when everyone goes back for seconds, I take some salad. For dessert, I have a miniscule sliver of each pie. After all, the first bite is the most delicious bite. The day after, I revert immediately to my regular eating, refraining from the dessert leftovers. No guilt from over-indulgence, no penance required. (And limited joy derived from the meal.)
I, the martyr shows up. No, No, I don’t need any help. Don’t mind me. I’m exhausted from cooking all day, but no matter – go have fun! I’ll just stand here for another hour by myself doing the dishes – a chore from my childhood that I hate – seething with rage. Don’t mind me. (I am not a joyous hostess.)
Then and Now: Yowza, I am still struggling with this one. I asked for help from my children and my nephew kept me company, curious and appreciative of his aunt. It’s an improving process, but the rage remains. What is that rage? Childhood disappointment in an unsatisfying meal where “children are to be seen and not heard.” Oh, and then do the dishes.
The Week After
When politely asked how my thanksgiving was, I can now answer: “I loved the time with my family. My children are becoming wonderful cooks and kitchen companions. And I am learning to be a more joyous hostess.”
Kiera’s Pumpkin Muffins
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 1 14 oz can pure pumpkin
- 1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably Greek-style)
- 1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1 cup golden raisins
Preheat over to 325°F. Sift or stir together the dry ingredients. Using electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, eggs. Beat in the pumpkin, lemon zest, vanilla, and yogurt. Gradually add in the dry ingredients. Gently stir in the nuts and raisins. Spoon batter into muffin tin. (We use foil liners.) Bake approximately 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.
Makes 15 muffins. Delicious with cranberry sauce. (Muffins freeze well.)
Grandpa’s Bittertart Cranberry Sauce (the recipe is from the package – so easy)
- 1 cup water (or orange juice)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups fresh, whole cranberries – a 12 oz package
Bring liquid to a simmer. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add in the cranberries. Simmer gently until the cranberries begin to pop, about 10 minutes. Sauce thickens as it cools.
Delicious on muffins and toast (as well as the thanksgiving turkey).