5 Things I Love About Thanksgiving… The “Other” Holiday

White twinkle lights, evergreen boughs, colorful bulbs and bright, shiny paper parcels wrapped in red satin ribbon are all appealing to me. They truly are. But as I grow older, the gilded pageantry of Christmas has taken a backseat to the November holiday that I love even more.

“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.” Ann Curry proclaimed from inside of my television years ago when she was still on The Today Show. And I remember thinking how odd that statement was. How could anyone enjoy any holiday MORE than Christmas? Isn’t that something akin to blasphemy? Though as she explained her reasoning, I began to understand. And since that moment, I have looked at Thanksgiving in a whole new light.

You see Thanksgiving, to me, is everything that’s wonderful about Christmas without all of the crappings trappings of the Big Day. It is food and family and time off from work without all the shopping, running, spending and decorating. It is like a Christmas dress rehearsal without the pressure of ticket sales, a live audience, props and costume changes.

I don’t know if everyone else can say the same. Perhaps you’re Turkey Day is a real pressure cooker. But for this gal, I find it particularly blissful for the following, five reasons:

  1. It is a day for sleeping in because I am NEVER trusted to cook the meal. I usually bring the rolls… and believe you, me, it is best for everyone that way.
  2. It is a day for laughing with and corrupting my seven nieces and nephews without having to compete with various new iThings, Star Wars Legos or the latest CD by One Direction.
  3. It is the annual celebration of Carb Fest USA… a.k.a. the typical American Thanksgiving meal. Seriously, when else can you get away with serving at LEAST four starches in one sitting? A culinary scenario that includes stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, buttered rolls, cranberry sauce, fruit salad, pumpkin, pecan and cherry pie ALL chillin’ atop the SAME table at the SAME time = a Carboholic’s fantasy!
  4. There are no gifts required. And I am not listing this one as some stingy, selfish, shopping-hater (even though at times I can be). I mean that no money—other than that which was spent to prepare or provide the meal—was spent on more “stuff” that we probably don’t even need. No expectations were set other than that of gathering together, giving thanks and (hopefully) enjoying the company of those we hold dear.
  5. It is usually the day that ends with my family breaking out a copy of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and we all smoosh together in one room to watch and recite the entire thing — from Counsin Eddie’s dog named Snot and his infamous Crime of Fashion in the form of a black dickie… to fried felines, squirrels on the loose and Jelly of the Month clubs.

Whatever your Day of Thanks brings to you and yours this year, hopefully it includes some thankfulness (of course), some laughter, some love and at least ONE thing with whipped cream on top.

I am not operating under any delusions that I will ever BE this woman… but I like the idea of her.

No Fat, No Carbs… No Thanks.

Like a desperate hunter setting out into the wild in search of food, I left the office desperately starving and in search of something tasty and filling. I WANTED a cheddar-roast beef sandwich from Arby’s… greasy and dripping with red ranch sauce. But there was a big deadline on Friday’s horizon and a Smoothie King just across the street from the office, so I decided to give that a try instead.

When I walked in the door I was immediately assaulted by an overwhelmingly giant and colorful menu boasting all kinds of things I could not pronounce, let alone grasp what dietary need they would fulfill. A bright-faced boy looking like he couldn’t possibly be a day over 13 leaned across the counter—beaming at me—and enthusiastically asked what I wanted. I cringed. I had no freaking idea what I wanted.

I suppose I wanted something that tasted good above ALL else and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce. But I couldn’t tell Mr. 12-year old, fresh-faced-health-food peddler that. So instead I asked for his recommendation… Which was, indeed, a colossal mistake.

Here is what he SAID: “Well, the ‘Lean One’ is great because it has protein so it helps keep you full, trims the waistline and contains no fat or carbs.”

But here is what I HEARD: “You are fat.”

Here is what I SAID: “Is it going to taste like a diet drink or like an actual fruit smoothie?”

But here is what I THOUGHT about saying as I envisioned myself wagging my index finger in his face and then proceeding to draw an imaginary circle in the air around my mid-section: “You think I am FAT!?! Listen here, String Bean, I may weigh more than you do on your heaviest day, and I certainly won’t be doing any runway modeling, ever… but I am a HEALTHY weight! You don’t know what’s under here. This is a baggy top. I might have a six-pack under here for all you know!”  (I don’t. But he doesn’t KNOW that.)

So now I am stuck. I’ve asked this zygote’s opinion and he’s pointed out that I am fat and in need of some nutritional intervention so out of sheer shame and compliance I ordered the stupid “Lean One” and hoped for the best.

When he triumphantly handed over the cup, certain that he had done a tremendous service in saving me from myself that day, I noticed that the CUP read: “The Lean One enhances fat loss, promotes lean muscle, helps suppress appetite and promotes a healthy heart.”

Now, I’m sure these features and benefits are important to many, many people. But as earlier stated in this entry… I wanted something that tasted good ABOVE ALL ELSE—nutritional value be damned—and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce.

So here is what I THOUGHT as I shuffled out of the store in my baggy top, bitterly sipping my sad little smoothie that definitely seemed like it cut ALL of the culinary corners when it came to taste: “If this doesn’t satisfy me, I’m scarfing down a bag of Doritos. I knew I should have gone to Arby’s.”

NYC: I Heart New York or The Post Vacation Funk, Part 2

On July 1, 2011 I wrote an entry called The Post Vacation Funk after returning to real life from an 8-day trip up and down the New England Coast with my then-boyfriend. It turns out it was a popular post and actually garnered me a spot on the WordPress home page, in the Freshly Pressed section… which ending up catapulting me OUT of my funk because I was getting almost 3,000 hits a day for 5 days!

Unfortunately while the Freshly Pressed lightning has yet to strike again… The Post Vacation Funk has struck full force leaving me void of words and cursing the cursor on my computer as I struggle to cobble together an entry for you faithful readers to (hopefully) enjoy.

Therefore… I have decided to compromise by borrowing my previous post and tailoring it to the city that never sleeps

I just returned from a 4-day get-a-way to New York City with my fiance… and it was A-MAZ-ING. However… it is now official. I am in the midst of a full-fledged, hard-core, post-vacation funk. And I am here to tell you that the fabled funk is very real and I would argue that it is an inevitable occurrence in the life of any vacationer.

All the fun you’ve been planning for, saving for and laid awake with great night-before-Christmas anticipation for … is over. The photos are now in your camera instead of the brochure and the t-shirt is hanging in the closet.

Mind you, the funk does not occur overnight. Rather it seeps into your conscience slowly and before you know it you are completely mired in it. Suddenly you find yourself knee-deep in the reality that you are neither: A. Independently wealthy, or B. Free from the obscenity that is Responsibility … with a capital “R.”

When you first arrive home—a weary traveler surrounded by the familiar sights, scents and sounds of your “stuff”—you can’t help but experience Dorothy’s “There’s No Place Like Home”  feeling and sleeping in your own bed (on the memory foam that still remembers you) is blissful.

The next day comes and whether at home or the office, it is a flurry of activity. You’re answering emails, returning calls and taking care of household chores with that rested, happy glow that only a true getaway can provide. You’re still sportin’ the amped-up attitude that comes from spending 4 invigorating days in a lively, noisy, pulsing city, surrounded by millions of people and you are recounting the details of your adventure to anyone who will listen.

People expect that you will not exactly be “at the top of your game” since your head is most likely still in the clouds (or on top of the Empire State Building, or on a sunny bench in Central Park, or at the comedy club or that really cool pizzeria you found and are determined is owned and operated by one of the Five Families) and minor errors and gaffs are swiftly forgiven.

Day three brings with it the bi!@# that is reality. The alarm sounds for the second time since you’ve been back and you suddenly remember that this was why you went on vacation in the first place … to escape that d@mn alarm and the daily grind that follows it.

Day four is the same as the third only worse. The alarm clock hits you like a punch in the face reminding you that yesterday was not a fluke or a joke or a drill or even a bad dream. YOU. ARE. NOW. HOME. And it is only Wednesday. This is when you begin to play a sadistic little game with yourself that I like to call: “Where Were You Exactly One Week Ago (or Two in this case) Today?” And a word to the wise about playing this game: The non-vacation version of you will always wind up the loser.

By the way… exactly TWO weeks ago today… we were having authentic New York bagels in Brooklyn (complete with lox) … but whatever. I’m not playing.

By day five you understand your fate, but you do not necessarily like it. Anger builds. You can’t stop playing the “Where Were You Exactly One Week Ago (or Two in this case) Today?” game every time you open the empty refrigerator, notice a heaping pile of laundry, encounter a pair of tall, sad, suede boots lying lifeless on the floor or reach into your purse in search of a pen only to grab your NY Metrocard instead.

It is at this point that you begin to entertain wild imaginings about how you might achieve the life of a full-time vacationer. What if I just disappeared?  What might be the consequences of that?  How much DO those people who serve over-priced cocktails, take tickets for the boat ride to the Statue of Liberty or sell I Heart NY t-shirts on the sidewalk actually make? Is it hard to learn how to make hand-rolled bagels like the guy behind the counter at that quaint little bakery on the Lower East Side? Is it too late to get a degree in Recreation or Hospitality and Tourism Management? Am I too old to become a bike messenger?

They say that there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. They are not necessarily experienced in order. The bereaved might vacillate between the five for several weeks or months languishing for a time at one stage or another. So far I think I have experienced all of them and it has yet to be two full weeks.

Hopefully by the time I post this, I will have quietly accepted my life just the way it is. It’s either that or you will likely find me behind a counter in a hairnet and apron, serving kosher pickles to tourists.

NYC: Does This Pizza Make Me Look Fat?

Remember the good old days when cameras used film? You took all of your vacation pictures home with you in little black canisters — their contents largely unknown. And when you got around to it, you would drop them off at the nearest photo developing place and get them back within one to three business days.

Ahh yes, the good old days of blissful ignorance when your vacation could not possibly become clouded by some random image of you frozen in time. The picture was snapped and everyone moved merrily on their way.

But now that we live in the digital age and have the opportunity to SEE that random image of ourselves almost frozen in time—that is before we hit the SAVE button—we often recoil at what we see and wish for a do-over. We reposition ourselves in an attempt to look happier, taller, thinner or ironically… more natural than we did in the previous snapshot.

During our trip to New York we took a lot of pictures. After all, New York is a magnificent city with so much worth seeing and remembering and Lee is a wonderful photographer who artistically and diligently documents the events of our travels by taking numerous fun and interesting pics.

Occasionally when he would snap one I would ask to see it before we moved on to the next destination on our “must-see” list. And occasionally I would ask him for a do-over… particularly if I felt that said photograph made my face look fat.

<<< As a side note, other than the scale and my clothing, photos are very revealing to me when it comes to a change in my weight. Oftentimes they are even MORE telling than clothing and if I so much as suspect that the scale is inching in an upward direction I refuse to get on it. So photos can sometimes provide me with that slap-in-the-face “AH-HA moment” (as Oprah would say) … and inspire me to get off my butt and do something about my upward mobility. >>>

OK… back to the story. Lee put up with my requests for do-overs for about a day. But then, in the early part of the second day when I pouted and complained about my ginormous moon face he sighed, put the camera down, looked at me and said something kind of like this: “Joanna. You know you are not fat. And we are in New York. One of the greatest cities in the world not to mention one of the greatest cities to EAT in the world… and you are complaining about your weight. I don’t want you to TALK about or even THINK about your weight until we get home. If you want to worry about it then, that’s your prerogative. But for now… Just enjoy.”

And he was right. I knew he was 100% right. I knew that I was being ridiculous and shallow and that if I really am unhappy with my current weight… Well… Sitting down in front of a gorgeous, large, authentic, New York-style pizza pie from Lombardi’s—the very first and oldest pizzeria in America—was most certainly NOT the time nor place to start worrying about it.

Hummus: The New French Onion?

“Excuse me,” Lee asked the weary Wal-Mart worker, “where can we find the hummus?” She gave him a blank stare and then squished up her face like he’d just asked for pickled pig’s feet and exclaimed that she did not know. A quick survey of the store and a few more fruitless inquiries later and we gave up on Wally-World as a potential place in which to find the dip that’s sweeping the nation.

“Maybe Meijer will have it.” Lee said while secretly nursing a new hatred for the en-vogue, Middle-Eastern staple since it was now interfering with his ability to watch the Big Ten Championship game. “Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned French Onion? Why, now does it have to be hummus? What the hell IS hummus anyway but a bunch of shitty, random, ground-up vegetables that ‘we’ as a culture have branded as the ‘thing’ to eat now?” he grumbled aloud while pointing the car in the direction of the next big box grocer.

“That’s a good question!” I exclaimed, laughing at his colorful outburst. “What DID ever happen to a good old tub of French Onion dip and a bag of Ruffles to take to a party?” I took off on a rant of my own… “Now it’s hummus this and hummus that… and hummus here and hummus there… Have you tried the HUMMUS? Oh you’ve GOT to try this hummus it is TO DIE FOR. And these are the BEST pita chips around, by the way. Have you TRIED them yet?”

All of the sudden the world around me seems to have fallen in love with hummus. For me, my awareness of this seemingly new love affair started at the office this past summer when my boss began bringing in pita bread and hummus from a local farmer’s market. Everyone tried it and almost everyone liked it (myself included.) Then while visiting a friend in Cleveland this fall, she offered me a snack of what else but pita chips and hummus. Two months later at a tailgate party before the Ohio State / Indiana game, pita chips and hummus sat on the table between the burgers and buns and the cheese plate… right smack dab in the spot where the French Onion used to be.

Now, here I was preparing for our office Christmas party by volunteering to bring pita chips and hummus. That’s right, folks, I have boldly and unabashedly jumped on board the hummus bus. But being on board does not negate the fact that the sudden surge of hummus’s popularity still puzzles me. How did this chickpea, lemon juice and garlic concoction from the Middle East dethrone a long-standing, all-American party favorite? When exactly did this happen?

In 1998, a season 9 episode of Seinfeld was my first exposure to the word. George is troubled by the fact that Kramer and Elaine think his new girlfriend looks exactly like Jerry. Thus indicating that George is “secretly in love” with his best friend by dating a “Lady Jerry.” Kramer even refers to Janet (the girlfriend) as a “Femme Jerry” and a “She-Jerry” further antagonizing an already-tormented George. Seeking some solace that there truly was some chemistry that brought them together, George questions Janet about the genesis of their relationship:

  • GEORGE: You know what’s great about our relationship?… It’s not about looks.
  • JANET: It’s not?
  • GEORGE: No, Can’t be… For instance I remember when we first met, we had a great conversation.
  • JANET: I remember you said I was the prettiest girl at the party.
  • GEORGE: … But after that we really talked didn’t we?
  • JANET: Well, you told me how familiar I looked and that you must have seen me somewhere before.
  • GEORGE: NO! … This relationship has… has got to be about something and fast or I’m in very serious and weird trouble… hmmmm… What else happened?
  • JANET: You asked for a piece of gum because you thought your breath smelled like hummus.

So there is was. And like many a word before it, hummus came to be known by me (and probably many others) simply because of that show. It would not be until much, MUCH later that I would actually try (much less like and embrace) hummus on a personal level.

A Google search on hummus’s skyrocketing fame in America revealed some very recent and fun headlines such as: U.S. Dips Into Hummus and There’s a Hummus Among Us. (Titles, I for one, wish hadn’t already been taken prior to this writing.) The presence of the articles proving the point that some things are definitely shifting in our culinary culture… even going as far as to infiltrate a famed spot on the tailgate table.

So, I guess there’s nothing left to say but: French Onion, you had quite a reign there for a while and damn if we didn’t have some good times in the 80’s and 90’s. Welcome hummus! Enjoy your 15 minutes of fare fame before you get bumped by something even more exotic of which we’ve yet to hear.