Half measures for the holidays | AspenTimes.com

Half measures for the holidays

Alison Berkley Margo
The Princess’s Palate

"I don't really like Thanksgiving dinner," my mom said the other day.

Mom's idea of a "meal" is half of a Kind Bar, half of a banana or half of a piece of cinnamon raisin toast with cottage cheese, which is what she's eaten for breakfast every morning for as long as I can remember.

If you're picking up on the "half" theme, it's because she's trained herself to eat exactly half of whatever is on her plate, in the wrapper, in the banana skin or whatever the case may be. For those of you who think this gluten-free craze is the solution to all your problems (first it was fat, then it was carbs, and now this), you're missing out. All you have to do is half it. My mom's been halfing it her entire adult life, and the woman is so small the wind could knock her down. If you want to be super-skinny, go for half. This is especially effective if you only eat one meal a day.

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner for a woman who also does not really eat fat, carbs, anything with more than 100 calories per serving or salty food (she could care less about gluten because in her generation wheat was considered, like, healthy) does pose a bit of a challenge. Oh, and did I mention she also hates pie? I do realize that saying you don't like Thanksgiving dinner is kind of like saying you don't like children or animals, but what can I tell you?

Mom's idea of a meal is something grilled and something steamed, so you're still starving at the end. She'll also make a big salad, but that's mostly for my benefit. There's such a thing as eating too much salad?

"Think that's enough salad for you, Alison?" she'll say, brandishing a giant wooden bowl filled with my favorite greens. "I mean, if you can finish all that, I'll be amazed."

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"Hand it over," I say, pretending that this is really a compliment, that I have a talent for salad eating, that I am the best salad eater in all the land.

While the rest of you were eliminating the latest "now this is bad for you" food group from your diet, I was eating salads. While Mom has done well with the half-it diet, I have not done so well on the call-it-a-salad diet. I mean, the lettuce is good; it's fiber and low-calorie and nutrient-dense, especially if you use power greens like kale or chard or spinach or any of the other ones that taste kind of funky. Of course the veggies are fine, though I am aware that the best-tasting ones, like carrots and beets and tomatoes, are loaded with sugar and high in acidity because, at the end of the day, there's nothing that won't kill you in this world. Here's the thing: We're all going to die eventually, so you might as well drink beer and eat all the other awesome stuff that's got gluten in it.

Of course I add protein to my salads because I am definitely someone who needs that in my diet, kind of like the cavemen. Of course I go lean with chicken breast or whatever; that is, unless I'm in the mood for steak or bacon. And everyone knows cheese is pretty much straight protein — hello. And let's not forget avocado. I would rub it all over my body if I could. I love it that much. Yes, I know it has, like, 800 grams of fat per serving, but it's good fat. Everyone knows that.

If I do go with a high-calorie dressing like ranch, I do the thing my mom taught me and don't put it right on the salad but "on the side." You do not grow up in a Jewish family without ordering everything "on the side." It's practically genetic. The idea is you dab your fork into the dressing and onto your salad with each bite so you don't end up with an over-sauced salad. Just because you consume more dressing than you would have otherwise is of no matter. It's about manners.

We have these giant ceramic bowls at our house, and by the time I'm done creating the perfect salad, it's so heavy I need two hands to carry it to the table. I don't know why no one ever did the straight math and said, "Hey, if the actual plate of food you plan to eat weighs more than 5 pounds, then where do you think that 5 pounds you just gained comes from?" It's simple math.

Imagine when my parents, who weigh about 100 pounds between the two of them, come for Thanksgiving and I try to feed them a 15-pound turkey. Forget about eating it — God forbid I accidentally dropped it and it landed on top of one of them; it would kill them for sure. Last year I spent two whole days cooking, and they each ate, like, five bites of food, and that's including one of my famous salads.

I do know there are a few items my mom can't resist: She loves anything fried in tempura batter, onion rings, vanilla ice cream and pancakes. I couldn't figure out a way to work tempura or onion rings into the meal, so I'm making pumpkin pancakes with vanilla ice cream, maple syrup and chocolate bacon sprinkles for dessert. If she doesn't like that, then we'll just go ahead and start tube-feeding her now. Why wait for the nursing home?

If there's one thing I am thankful for, it's that I have a mom who's cool enough to let me pick on her for column fodder week after week. Love you, Mom!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Princess wants to live at the Hotel Jerome. Email your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.

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