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The hardest thing about writing -- well, the hardest thing about writing is getting one's act together to sit down and do it. Or, as the old joke goes, the hardest part of writing is application -- applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair. And now that we all write on internet-connected computers instead of typewriters (Children, a typewriter was an abysmally stupid word processor with no cut-and-paste, no "undo," no delete, and no multiple copy capability. I learned to type on one.), there is also the challenge of forcing one's self to actually write, rather than check Facebook, or read the latest advice columns.
But the second hardest thing about writing, at least in the old-fashioned dead-tree format that so much of my stuff has been published in, is that whatever you've said is there, out in the world, like a child you've raised, but whose behavior you can no longer control. What you said, you said, and the fact that you've learned a few things in the intervening decade or so doesn't change it. Your thoughts from all that time past are out there, still telling people you think this when you now actually think that. Every single time I have sent out a manuscript for publication, I have had the the thought, "Geez, what part of this am I going to regret later on?" Because it is inevitable. This is one of the reasons for revised editions.
Many years ago, in my first book How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds, I stated that we all knew it was inevitable that we were going to deviate from our diets -- something I prefer to call an Indulgence, rather than "cheating" -- and that the main thing was to do it infrequently, and plan for it.
I still think that if you are going to have an Indulgence, you should indeed do so very infrequently, and that it is imperative to plan for it. It's the question of whether it's actually a good idea to accept this and build it into one's dietary life that I now question.
In my first few years of low carbing, I had an Indulgence maybe three to five times per year, but they have grown rarer and rarer over the years. I just care less about carbs. I don't miss them. I'm happy with how I eat. I also, of course, have developed a whole lot of recipes that provide me with wonderful alternatives. That said, I have demonstrated to myself that a handful or two of potato chips at a party will not send me into a tailspin.
My email, and personal encounters with low carbers, tell me that for many people this is not true. Over and over I have heard stories from folks who were doing great on their low carb diets, had lost weight, sometimes a great deal of weight, had improved their health, and were happy with the whole thing -- until they listened to that little voice in the back of their heads that said, "I can have just a couple of cookies. It's Christmas," or "I'm on vacation! I can have a treat." And they crash and burn. I hear from them months or even years later, having gained back their weight, not to mention their health problems, and starting all over again.
So tread cautiously, very, very cautiously. If you have been low carbing for a long time, you likely know your own strength. If you have a history of "just this once" turning into "Oh, geez, I've gained 15 pounds this month," you need to accept that even on holidays Indulgences aren't for you, any more than a sober alcoholic can have a glass of wine with Christmas dinner. Instead, you need to start planning a truly special holiday menu that also happens to be low carb -- it may have more carbs than your average dinner; my Thanksgiving dinner will, but it should have no sugar, no bread, no potatoes.
Here are some suggestions for those of you who do plan to Indulge for Thanksgiving:
* Get it through your head that your Indulgence is for Thanksgiving Dinner only -- not for all of Thanksgiving Day, not, Atkins forbid, for all of Thanksgiving weekend. If you can't do this, you'd best not Indulge at all. A weekend of watching video movies with the family while eating Hot Browns and leftover pie will leave you very, very unhappy come Monday, not to mention up five or six pounds as you go into the Christmas season.
* In the interests of not eating carbs all weekend, give away the leftover pie, stuffing, whatever. "Here, Grandma! Take this along, and then you won't have to cook this weekend." (Do not do this to people who are low carbing!) If you're having Thanksgiving at someone else's house, refuse all offers to take leftover pie home. You might, if you're close to the hostess or host, ask if you might take home a little leftover turkey instead.
* Plan something to do after dinner other than sit around the house picking at the leftovers. If the weather's nice, a stroll around the neighborhood is great. If it's wretched, brave the crowds and go to a movie, or start a Wii Just Dance tournament, or get out the board games. Pull out the Christmas decorations and start decking the halls. Pull out the old photos and ask the elderly relatives who all those people are. Staring at the television is conducive to eating, and you know it.
* Eat breakfast on Thanksgiving Day, your usual protein-and-fat combo. Do not figure you'll make up for dinner by skipping breakfast. Hitting the feast table starving will shred every last vestige of self-control and good intention that you possess.
* If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner, make sure there are plenty of low carb side dishes that you love along with stuff that you plan to Indulge in. If you are going elsewhere, you could offer to bring something, then bring something low carb and wonderful.
* Assuming you know the Thanksgiving menu in advance -- my mother served exactly the same dishes every single year -- give some thought to which carbs you really, really care about, and which you've eaten over the years just because they're tradition. For illustration, let me run through the carbs in my mother's Thanksgiving menu, back the day:
Mashed potatoes. I liked 'em, but wasn't wasn't head-over-heels about them. I would have a small spoonful.
Stuffing. Love the stuff, so I'd have one full-sized portion.
Creamed onions. These had a flour-thickened white sauce. I never cared much about them, so I'd skip them entirely.
Candied sweet potatoes. Ditto, just never a favorite of mine, and all that sugar! I passed on these, too.
Banana bread. Didn't like it; never been a banana fan. Pass.
Mom's oatmeal-molasses bread. This is the bread that won Mom first prize at the county fair, and part of my childhood. I'd have a half a slice, with plenty of butter.
Cranberry sauce. Crazy about it, and it's super-easy to decarb; I'd take ten minutes and make sugar-free cranberry in Mom's kitchen, as often as not.
Gravy. Flour-thickened. I love gravy, and making the gravy has been my job since I had to stand on a step-stool to reach the stove. I'd have gravy on my potatoes, stuffing, and of course my turkey.
The rest of the meal was low carb, and I'd fill up on that -- turkey, of course, but also Green Beans Almandine (or as That Nice Boy I Married and I call them "green almond beans"), rutabaga, celery and olives. These would take up most of my plate, and if I wanted seconds, these would be what I'd choose.
The other carb, of course, would be pie -- apple pie at Mom's, not pumpkin. Sometimes I'd have a half a piece, sometimes not.
You get the idea: Don't ever Indulge in anything that is not exactly, precisely what you want.
"But, Dana," I hear you cry, "My mother/mother-in-law/grandma always pushes me to eat everything! She gets upset if I don't!" (You'll notice that it's always a woman doing this. Does anyone's father push them to eat the sweet potato casserole?) I wrote about this last year, and I still think it's good advice.
What if you have decided that you really don't want to or can't afford to have an Indulgence for Thanksgiving? This is where I am; I just don't do it. For this, it very much helps if you are hosting the meal yourself, or if you are visiting a sympathetic, supportive relative or friend. If you're visiting the passive-aggressive, always taking potshots, takes refusal-as-an-insult, wants-to-see-you-fail relatives, well, it's probably too late to change plans now, but consider making this the last year you sit at their table. Yes, you can refuse to have Thanksgiving dinner with the family.
If you're hosting the feast, here are some menu ideas that shouldn't put anybody's nose out of joint:
* Thicken your gravy with guar or xanthan instead of flour. I'm guessing nobody even notices.
* Ditto sweetening cranberry sauce with Splenda, erythritol, xylitol, or another sweetener of choice. Won't help if your family is devoted to the jellied stuff, put on a plate still in the shape of the can, but whole-berry cranberry sauce is, as I mentioned, a snap to make. Buy a bag of cranberries, the instructions are on the bag. Follow them, subbing for the sugar. Takes ten minutes.
* Those green beans almandine are way easier than the gooey, sticky casserole made with the cream of mushroom soup, and way tastier, to my mind.
* How about roasted brussels sprouts? So good, and you can do 'em while the turkey is "resting" and you're making the (guar or xanthan-thickened)gravy. Trim the bottoms of the stems and any bruised leaves, and halve them. You can do this ahead of time, even the day before. When the turkey comes out, crank the oven up to 500, and put your brussels in a roasting pan along with a few tablespoons of the fat of your choice -- I've done this with coconut oil, but bacon grease would be fantastic. Butter will burn, and olive oil might be unhappy. Toss the brussels with the fat. Slide 'em into the ove, and let them roast, stirring (carefully!) every five minutes until they're spotted brown all over. Salt, pepper, and serve.
* Pumpkin pie works wonderfully with sugar-free sweeteners, because the texture comes from the pumpkin, eggs, and cream. I make mine with a crust of chopped pecans.
* I've served Fauxtatoes to guests, only to have them take two or three bites before realizing they're not mashed potatoes. At any rate, be sure to have Fauxtatoes for you.
* Here's the dressing I'll be serving this year; you'll find it in 300 15 Minute Low-Carb Recipes.
Apple Walnut Dressing
This dressing has no grain of any kind in it, and still tastes great. Serve with a simple poultry or pork dish.
4 tablespoons butter
1 crisp, tart apple (I use a Granny Smith because I like the flavor, but one with a red skin would look prettier)
2 large stalks celery
1 medium onion
1 cup shelled walnuts
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
3/4 teaspoon salt or Vege-Sal
1 ½ teaspoons poultry seasoning
Start the butter melting in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.
Quarter the apple and trim out the core, whack each quarter into two pieces (making eighths), and drop them in your food processor with the S-blade in place. Whack each stalk of celery into 4-5 big chunks, and throw them in, too. Quarter the onion, peel, and throw it in, and then dump in the walnuts. Pulse the food processor until everything’s a medium consistency.
Dump this mixture, along with the mushrooms (which we’re assuming you bought already sliced – if not, just chop ‘em with everything else), into the butter in the skillet, turn the heat up to medium-high, and saute everything for a minute or two, stirring. Then cover it, and let it cook for 10 minutes, uncovering every 3 minutes or so to stir the whole thing again.
Stir in the salt and poultry seasoning, let it cook for another minute or two, and serve.
6-8 servings. Assuming 6, each will have 9 grams of carbohydrate and 3 grams of fiber, for a usable carb count of 6 grams.
And Happy Thanksgiving!