Adult Children and Family Holidays

I’ve never “hosted” Thanksgiving – it seems like quite the undertaking, from the outside. There’s food to prepare, spaces to clean, and all the many little things to account for about the guests you have – these are family members, and you know their quirks, and you want them to feel comfortable and at ease. I would probably be preparing for ages before hosting Thanksgiving, and who knows? Someday I might. The closest I’ve come was hosting a pretty family-filled New Years Eve party, and even that comes with very few expectations, food-wise. For Thanksgiving, there are so many iconic foods that folks expect to see!

My husband’s family… so, you know, my family too… is in an interesting spot. All the children are grown, with the youngest in their 20s and married, with parents in their 50s and the grandparents “generation” in their 70s; it’s an entirely adult family. Sure, most of us 20-somethings have friends with babies, but the family itself doesn’t have any yet, and it makes the role of being the “youngest” generation a bit surreal: I’m old enough to be hosting but instead, I’m being hosted by the older generations again.

I want to contribute, though, in a way that I haven’t before: last year, I was in such a tizzy about the wedding (which was the Saturday after Thanksgiving) that I was extremely grateful to leave everything about Thanksgiving to them. However, this year, I’m thankful that I have the space, time, and ability to be (at least a little) helpful. To that end, here are my ways of trying to be a useful daughter/granddaughter-in-law in the yearly Thanksgiving celebrations.

  1. Bring some desserts/breakfast stuff: People don’t love having other people hone in when they are making a dinner masterpiece, but it never hurts for there to be more dessert/breakfast food for the many additional people in the house. It’s also nice for hosts not to have to get up early and figure out some kind of breakfast plan; instead, guests can fend for themselves and everything is more restful for us all.
  2. Bring a game or a fun new activity: This is Husband’s realm; when he and I find out about a cool game or a fun activity to share with family, we try to save it for the next time a ton of us are in the same house. We’ve spent hours in tournaments of backgammon (not a new game, but one that had a heyday with us), downloaded the same trivia app on our phones just to play against people in the same room, and written up our own versions of charades. It keeps everyone who isn’t thrilled about football busy and happy and making memories together.
  3. Bring what you’ll need and make time for yourselves: I try to pack well in general, but I tend to forget things and need to borrow or buy them – I try harder to make sure I’m well-packed when I’m staying as a guest in someone’s home, because it’s one way to make my stay with them less of a burden. I also like to plan, if I’m going to stay for a while, for Husband and I to take a little time for ourselves somewhere in there, just to get out of the hosts’ hair. In this case, our anniversary will always fall around Thanksgiving from here out, and so we’ve got reservations for a nice dinner Saturday night; by then, we’ll have had lots of family time but still have time to reconvene on Sunday morning.

Most of all, noticing when there are opportunities to spend time with someone while helping them out – doing dishes, carrying chairs, setting out silverware. These aren’t fancy and it doesn’t make the work of hosting much easier, but it does give you a time to connect while spending time together.

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The How-Many-Vegetables Game and the Vegetarian Conundrum

IMG_3581I have a decent self-image, but I recognize that I eat in what can only be described as a lopsided food pyramid. Cheese, fried foods, and avocado top my list whenever choosing a meal, and leafy greens, whole grains, and fruits tend to fall by the wayside. This year, I’d love for that to be a little different, so I’m bringing back a game I started playing with myself years ago.

When I first started cooking for myself after a few years of college-cafeteria food, I would wager against myself: how many vegetables and other good-for-me foods can I slip into the chosen dish (read: usually pasta) without deeming the dish gross. This was far from an exact science, and more often than not, the dishes went from delish to gross because of a mismatched proportion rather than because I had too many vegetables in them. Whatever; it was all part of the challenge (can you sense a theme in my adversarial relationship with food?). I was the person trying to substitute pureed cauliflower in her cheese sauces, which I know has worked for some people, but not for imprecise folks like me.

This year, though, I’m hoping to have a more moderate view. At some point, as a modification to the how-many-vegetables game, I started making exactly what the recipe called for but subbed out some of the meat or grain for things like eggplant, onions, or broccoli. These sturdy veggies absorb flavor like champs, make a meal feel like a lot of food but are also lower in calories. Sure, nothing beats a real chicken parm sandwich, but when eggplant parm still tastes like cheese and marinara, I consider it a success.

So that may be a part of my modifications during this year of comfort-food recipes – if it seems appropriate for the recipe, I may sub a sturdy, flavor absorbing veggie for some of whatever meat or grain is called for in my recipes. I won’t make cheese sauce out of cauliflower (that was really a losing battle; I hate cauliflower. It was just so tempting: getting to eat alfredo and call it a vegetable is basically the dream of my entire life).

All these veggie subtitutes might make you think: is this girl a vegetarian? (She sure ain’t a vegan, am I right?) The truth is: no. I’ve never been a vegetarian, never gone a substantial amount of time without eating meat… at least not on purpose.

I would call myself a vegetarian sympathizer. I appreciate all the stats about how much more energy it takes to raise meat than to raise an equal amount of plant protein. I appreciate that there are many healthy plant proteins that don’t contain the marbled striations of fat found in my favorite meat products like bacon. I have actually gone for probably a week and a half without eating meat a few times because of one other fact, which is that I generally find cooking meat icky and requiring of higher precision than I care to exert. Thus, by accident of lazyness, I have indeed started to eat meatless entrees.

The main reason I will never consider the leap from veggie sympathizer to whole-hog vegetarian (hahaha) is that Husband is a carnivore. If he needed to eat meat at every meal, I’d probably be having some words with him, but he’s great: he is willing to try my meatless experiments and is a whiz at making enough food for leftovers and actually eating them – he’s more sustainable than I am and without all the bluster. Still, in exchange for his all-around reasonable attitude toward eating, I see no reason to become the person who has to cook totally separate dishes for each meal – that cannot be saving many dishes or plastic packages. The only exception I make to the we-eat-our-meals-together plan is when he wants something “spicy:” What is reasonably flavored and mouth-tingly to me is bland to him, so I always have him cook the whole dish at my spice level, remove my portion, and go nuts with the red pepper flakes once my portion is out of harm’s way.

So there you have a few important things to know about my cooking style: I am not yet a true convert to the idea of eating mostly veggies but I know it is better for me and (someday) for my family; it just won’t do for me to one day raise a child on pretty much just cheese. I also like the challenge of making something taste like the kind of food I want to be eating, while secretly sneaking nutrients into me. Finally, I’m aiming at more meatlessness in my life, but not sweating a few meaty delicacies. I just really hate getting my hands all chickeny.