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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Have your Thanksgiving indulgences, just don't drink them too!

Thanksgiving is a day replete with the makings of memory. Each family has its own hallowed practices and dishes. And each year as the big day approaches media outlets everywhere spin into overdrive reminding us of the evils of gluttony and inundating us with advice to survive the upcoming 'fat season.' This year I offer a less common bit of advice for Thanksgiving: Indulge intelligently. Select your favorites and enjoy them deeply and completely. Prolong the meal with lots of talk and laughter. But give yourself a break and cut down on the calories you drink. This year, why not be tres fashionable and provide your guests with a customized blend of tea to drink? I provide an easy recipe for tea that can be served iced with the main meal, but would also be delicious hot next to a slice of pumpkin pie. The subtle combination of spice and ginger cleans the palate and aids digestion.

In most American families, Thanksgiving is an important part of the family's year, a time when relatives scattered far and wide come together to break bread. Tables customarily overflow with bounty. This is a day associated with indulgence. Each year, newspapers and periodicals publish statistics showing that the average American will eat several times the daily recommended allowance for fat and calories in that single meal. For many, this meal marks the beginning of a food obstacle course that culminates with cookie-exchanges, holiday candies, and office holiday parties before it tapers out into the post-champagne, post-binge sobriety of the new year.

Each year this season also marks the beginning of intense advice-giving. Everyone has their own home remedy for avoiding over-indulgence. Wear your tightest jeans. Each off a smaller plate but give yourself permission for seconds. Drink lots of water. In this litany of advice there is always a long list of "thou shalt nots" that warn people to avoid certain foods all together. Those buttery mashed potatoes become a temptation trap. Eat one rich biscuit and you're doomed! Gravy? Have you lost your mind?!

This is no way to live. For my family, Thanksgiving is a day that marks the making of certain dishes we eat only once a year. It is the only time we will make stuffing. It is the only time my grandmother will make her gooey mashed sweet potato casserole with marshmallows and pecans. It is the only time we will have the 1950s-style green bean casserole complete with mushroom soup and crunchy onions. These once-yearly foods are beloved traditions. When I was first falling in love with my husband, when we first talked about our holiday traditions, we talked about dishes like these. What we did not mention in these discussions of beloved traditions were the calories we would drink.

Often gatherings begin before the food is ready, and people are offered beverages while they mingle. Salty food encourages thirst, and more drinking. At the end of the meal that rich slice of pie may be accompanied with milk, or coffee with cream and sugar. Few people lovingly remember the cans of soda they drink with dinner.

Yet many people have noticed the frightening impact the consumption of caloric drinks has on our diet. Recent research has helped pin point an evolutionary basis for this problem. For the vast majority of human existence the only form of liquid adults consumed was water. Anyone who has gulped down half a liter of water on a hot summer day knows that our bodies can sense the volume of liquid we consume. However, research suggests that the complex mechanisms that trigger satisfaction do not respond to the calories in liquid in the same way that they sense and respond to calories in solid foods.


For one liter of tea, combine:

2-3 tea bags. A combination of black tea and fruit tea
2 cubes of sugar
1 Liter of hot water
½ inch by ½ inch piece of peeled ginger, whole
1 inch piece of red pepper, dried, whole, seeds removed

When I made this I used one bag of Lipton’s Yellow Label (because it is widely available in Ghana) and one bag of Passion-fruit tea. If you like stronger tea I would recommend adding one additional bag.

You will likely want to make a trial run of the tea before serving it to guests to be sure you have the spice and ginger level for your tastes. This is a great way to provide yourself a tasty drink while you are running around the kitchen in the morning.

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