Saturday, November 27, 2010

Surviving the Holidays Happy, not Heavy

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. It's the kick-off to a whole season of celebrations, and a time to gather with loved ones to give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. Yet, I feel Thanksgiving's message has become distorted in our current day and age. Instead of a holiday filled with gratitude, it has become a holiday of excess. Excessive eating. Excessive shopping. Excessive complaining about Cousin Bert's tacky questions or Aunt Edna's lumpy gravy.

No surprise, it's the excessive eating that bothers me most. All too often at the end of the holiday meal, I hear "Why did I eat that?" instead of "That was wonderful." What is it about Thanksgiving that obligates us to overeat, feel bad about it, and do it all over again? Why do we drive ourselves into a frenzy of discomfort and guilt? When did the ideal holiday picture shift from Norman Rockwell's grateful bounty to the Alka-seltzer commercial?

If you woke up Friday with a turkey hangover, then now's the time to re-evaluate what the holidays mean to you. Perhaps it's time to get back to the true ideals of Thanksgiving-- being grateful for the food we have, not wasteful and excessive with it. Below are some tips to help guide you through the holidays. Not only will they help your waistline, but they may help your state of mind too.

Plan a portioned menu in advance.
If you are the cook, first consider how many people are dining with you, and be realistic about portion sizes. Can you half some recipes? If you want leftovers, plan in advance to wrap and/or freeze them before serving, not after. Studies show people tend to take larger portions from larger platters, so be mindful of how you serve.

Edit down. Next, look at your menu and see if you can eliminate one or two items. Do you really need 3 types of pie for 6 guests? If you serve stuffing, do you required mashed potatoes too? Studies also show people are more apt to overeat when given more choices. So whittle down your groaning board; no one will notice what's not there.

Refocus on friends and family, not food. Put the emphasis on spending time together and reconnecting. Before eating,go around the table and ask each guest to say a few words about thankfulness. Slow the meal down and keep everyone together by serving family style courses rather than a buffet. Hosting a cocktail hour prior to the meal? Then make it a true cocktail hour. Serve only light drinks and a few nibbles instead of heavy appetizers.

Make your goals known. When you vocalize your wishes, not only do they materialize into something more realistic and attainable, but they realign everyone's expectations and create a stronger support network. So speak up prior to the holiday. Inform guests that this year will be a little different. And while you may not convince the whole family to give up certain traditions, this technique still works well individually. For example, at the start of the meal, state out loud,"I'm only planning to eat one slice of pie instead of two this year." It will hold you accountable when dessert times rolls around.

Happy holidays. May they be filled with good stuff and not just stuffing!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Pom Blunder-full

Every fall I vow to myself I will not buy a pomegranate. They are expensive, it's hard to find a good one, and peeling those little seeds out? What a pain! Bible buffs now say the original forbidden fruit may have been a pomegranate, not an apple as was once thought. But I do not believe this. Because if Eve had taken the time and energy to cut and peel the dang thing, she would NOT have shared it with Adam. She would have eaten all those seeds herself!

I had been doing so well through pomegranate season. I ignored the supermarket sales and the POM juice commercials. I walked right past those ruby red globes at the Berkeley Bowl and the Safeway. But then last week at the Farmers Market a man beckoned to me like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. "Try my pomegranates! Fresh picked!" No, no, I resisted. I don't want the hassle. I don't want the stains. I don't want-- oh, what the heck. I did want! He picked out a beautiful, ripe fruit and $1 later, I was on my way home. I knew trouble awaited, but at that price, I didn't care. Sin now, repent later.

The next day I cut into it. And deeply regretted it. Withing 5 minutes me and everything in my kitchen was covered in dark, purple, sticky splotches. Membranes and pith flew every which way. To make matters worse, I had cut my finger earlier in the morning, and now it burned, burned, burned. Like a Ring of Fire. Or a Disco Inferno. Or Dante's Inferno, depending on your musical and religious preferences. I cursed with each seed I plopped into the bowl.

Now dear readers, I know at this point in the post many of you will want to ask the following:

Q: Why didn't she just buy the pre-shelled pomegranate seeds from Trader Joes?

A: While it's true some specialty stores and grocers do sell seeds with all the work already done for you, I don't think they are quite as tasty as the real thing. I find them kind of membrane-y and bland. I also don't want to think too much about how long they've been lying around. When it comes to fruit, fresh is better.

Q: Why didn't she peel it underwater?

A: I've tried this technique. It didn't work. It made more of a mess than the traditional dry massacre. And I lost all of the delicious (albeit burning and staining) juices that make a pomegranate so yummy.

Q: She's complained enough about the prep work. What did she finally do with her pomegranate seeds?

A: Glad you asked! These are three of my favorite ways to eat pomegranate seeds, and if you buy a fruit that is large enough, you'll have enough for each recipe, providing you do not share. Unlike Eve.

Pomegranate Salad

These sweet juicy seeds go best with dark leafy greens such as baby spinach or mache. Toss in a strong cheese such as feta or blue, add mild vegetables like celery, cucumber and lightly steamed asparagus. Then top with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

Pomegranate Yogurt

Mix seeds with a 1/2 cup of nonfat greek yogurt. Add a bit of honey for a sweet and tart treat.

Pomegranate Bruschetta

Lightly coat small slices of whole wheat baguette with olive oil; toast until crispy. Top with low fat ricotta cheese, then press in pomegranate seeds. Top with a sprinkling of crushed roasted hazelnuts.

Sinfully good. I can't wait until next year!