Favorite Thanksgiving Foods

Thanksgiving is a holiday centered entirely around gluttony. I used to think it was THE holiday centered around gluttony, but I think if you extend gluttony to the full sense of the word, then Christmas takes the cake (no pun intended). Thanksgiving is more relaxed. Thanksgiving is kind of a simpler, gentler form of gluttony, giving you a nice, warm tryptophan haze through which to view football, rather than a manic, anxiety ridden, grin-plastered-to-your-face-bolt-it-down-so-we-can-get-to-the-next-hedonistic-present-fest, Christmas-style gluttony. Thanksgiving lets you push all that rampant consumerism to another day (specifically the next day, on Black Friday).

As you most likely know, I have a very large extended family. Both sides. And in either case, no one person could ever possibly feed them all. Because of this, all major functions tend to be potlucks.

I’m a big fan of potlucks. They simply cannot be improved upon. I would much rather have a lot of little bits of many dishes, and get a chance to try out everything, than one big helping of even my favorite foods. However, because of this, I’m not sure I’ve really developed certain dishes that are a “must have” for Thanksgiving.

Turkey, of course, and I always like mashed potatoes when I can get them. Stuffing is kind of hit or miss; when it’s good, I really like it, but there’s a good chance I won’t. I usually try for a piece of pumpkin pie because I don’t often have it, but honestly, I prefer apple. Other than that, I have three family-specific dishes that come to mind: grandma’s pickles, grandma’s buns, and Aunt Kris’ brown sugar bacon wrapped weenies. However, I do get those last three at multiple family events throughout the year, so I’m not sure they count.

How about you, gentle reader? Anything in particular that says, “Thanksgiving” to you? What’s your favorite dish?

Sheltering our kids from future weight issues

Something that Sara and I have always been extremely conscious about, is the way that we address food with the kids. Our goal is to be nonchalant about food and try to set a good example with our own choices. You would think that this would be easy, but it is extremely difficult. So often we have to walk a tightrope between making sure the kids get enough to eat and not scolding them about food. Between encouraging them to try new things and not praising them for overeating. Between wanting them to enjoy food and not using food as a reward.

Many years ago, we made two key, inter-linked (and apparently controversial) decisions regarding food; our kids are not required to clean their plates, and we have dessert with dinner every night (even for those who don’t clean their plates). To be fair, dessert is mostly healthy (usually fruit), and skipping dinner to get more fruit isn’t exactly beating the system, but still. These were not light decisions, and they evolved over time. The important tenant we try to hold to is, “Listen to your body. You’re done eating when you’re full.” You can’t argue with that, right? But again, food is such a charged topic in our society and there are pitfalls almost no matter which way you turn.

Good intentions aside, right away we started taking flack for these decisions. People absolutely feel that they need to get kids to eat, and that it is somehow un-American to not clean your plate (apparently it is un-American…have you seen America lately?) The dessert thing is mostly okay now, but at first people were pretty upset about that too. However, now that we have been observing this rule essentially all of their lives, the kids don’t know anything different. They think cake and cookies are special occasion only (and someone coming to visit or going to someone’s house is not a special occasion, because that’s basically every weekend for us).

In fact, because Sara and I are being so conscious of this issue, we can’t help but notice how food-obsessed society in general is. I’m guessing it was always this way but I never noticed it until I had kids. However, because I’m trying so hard to protect my kids from it, it makes me very uncomfortable. Almost every minute of the day, we are surrounded by an avalanche of food and body image comments.

I’m not kidding. You probably have no idea how many of these fly by you a day. Pay attention some time and you’ll see. People talking about diets, about losing weight, about how many calories this or that is. When people see you they say, “Did you lose weight? You look good!” or they say, “Come on Shane, clean this up, there’s just a little left!” And I’m positively struck dumb when people come up to the kids right before dinner starts and say, “Guess what? After dinner we’re going to have cake and ice cream!” as if the kids will just be able to forget that and eat something wholesome first.

Everybody rails against “society” and the “bad body image” it puts out there, but I don’t think anybody realizes how much we’re all a part of that. It’s not Hollywood. It’s all of us, all of the time.

Each of our kids has their own food issue. As many of you are well aware, Evie is extremely picky and eats like a bird. Ollie is the photo-negative; he eats and eats until there is nothing left in sight, like a plague of locusts. These are their natural inclinations, and it is very difficult to not play into them. With Evie, food is very much about control, and for Ollie it’s not hard to imagine a lifetime of struggling with weight issues.

And yet, how many times has Sara or I repeated, “Evie won’t eat anything, but Ollie will eat everything!” Enough that Evie says it now too. How many times has someone commented at dinner, “Wow, Ollie really does eat everything!” or cajoles Evie by saying, “Is that all you’re going to eat? You’ve got to eat more than that!” How damaging is that to her, to hear how great her brother is because he eats so much? As if that makes him better somehow. How damaging is it to Ollie to be praised for overeating, rather than for stopping when he was full, like his sister?

Sara and I are some of the worst offenders as far as comments go. However, we’re pretty good at pointing it out to each other and trying to make an effort. Unfortunately, there’s just so much of it out there, that I worry even if we were perfect it wouldn’t be enough. And we’re certainly not perfect. Thank god the kids don’t watch tv, or we’d have the endless food and weight commercials to go with it.

I’ve struggled with my own weight issues, which is probably why I feel like I’m seeing into Ollie’s future. First off, I was always an obsessive plate cleaner, and portion control is something I don’t think I got the hang of until my 30’s. Even now I tend to clean everybody else’s leftovers like some kind of human garbage disposal. I also spent most of my life being very proud of my ability to eat, since it was something I was tremendously good at, and always won me a lot of praise. Even now, when I know in my head there are many things I would rather be known for, I still feel proud on some level when someone comments on how fast I ate something. What an awful thing to admit.

Please don’t try to force Evie to eat more. Please don’t praise Ollie for eating so much. And on a larger level, please try to be aware of how you talk about food, and how that subconsciously affects the world around you.

In Chicago, cupcakes come to you

I like cupcakes. Me and cupcakes go way back. However, like a lot of cupcake lovers, I’m pretty lazy. I don’t want to have to go track down the cupcakes; I want them to come to me. Finally, my dream is realized.

Flirty Cupcakes is a new company in Chicago that actually sells cupcakes out of an old ice cream truck. I declare this brilliant!

I like ice cream as much as the next guy, but if that cupcake truck has a unique song, I’m running twice as fast to get me some cupcakes.

Unfortunately, for the time being you have to check their twitter and chase them around the city, but they plan to expand. So here’s hoping for a cupcake delivery truck near you!

Cupcake Traitor

As readers of this blog are well aware, I am a fan of Molly’s Cupcakes.  Well, over the weekend, my loyalty was tested by another Chicago cupcake joint, Sweet Mandy B’s. (Sorry, I couldn’t find an actual website for them)

I was a little nervous that the place would actually be good and then it would test my loyalty.  As we were walking in I said, “Best case for me, this place totally sucks.”  Unfortunately (or fortunately) the place did not in fact totally suck.  Quite the opposite actually, it was quite delicious!

It is really hard to compare the two places though.  They had slightly different vibes.  Sweet Mandy B’s was busier, with less seating and with a lot of other options besides cupcakes (like cookies for example).  I don’t think you can make your own cupcakes like you can at Molly’s.  They didn’t have swings either.  As far as I could tell they don’t really put any frosting or filling inside the cupcake the way they do at Molly’s.  It did seem to be a little cheaper, which isn’t anything to scoff at.  The strangest thing that made it hard to compare the two was that there was actually very little overlap in the cupcakes they offered!  Both places have maybe 10 types of cupcakes so you would think they would overlap significantly, but they really didn’t.

The first cupcake I tried was the Turtle because it looked the most similar to the Ron Bennington.  But in actuality they were nothing alike because the Turtle doesn’t have any peanut butter, which is the main ingredient in the Ron Bennington.  However, I have to say, I may have preferred the Turtle!  That is only due to the fact that I am not as much of a peanut butter fan as some people may be.  So I’m not saying the Turtle is a better cupcake, I’m only saying that I personally (may) prefer it.

You know, this brings up another point.  It is hard to compare cupcakes because whatever cupcake you are currently eating is automatically the most delicious cupcake ever.  So the reality of the current cupcake competes with the faded memory of the past cupcake, which isn’t really a fair comparison.  That is why I can’t say whether the only cupcake I tried that is actually found at both places (Red Velvet) was better or worse at Sweet Mandy B’s.  It was delicious, but so was the one at Molly’s.

Anyway, I also really liked the Snickerdoodle and Sara declared that the Cherry Almond cupcake was the greatest cupcake EVAR.  It was extremely tasty.  The only disappointment was the regular vanilla cupcake. With all the other choices you have, I’d say don’t bother.

So, unfortunately, I now no longer have a go-to cupcake place.  I still have a special place in my heart for Molly’s; you never forget your first love.  Choosing between delicious cupcake places…my life is hard. 😦

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In addition to Sweet Molly B’s, we went to another Chicago restaurant, Minnies.  Their gimmick is that they have tiny sandwichs.  So instead of ordering one sandwich, you order maybe three.  My favorite was the Pesto Chicken.  I also tried the Reuben and the Club.  The Club was pretty good, but about what you would expect.  The Reuben was decidedly blah.  The BBQ Pulled Pork was actually really good.  It was sweeter than I expected, but still good.  

While there I saw on the menu that they had Dublin Dr. Pepper.  For those not in the know, that is the only Dr. Pepper bottling plant that still uses the original Dr. Pepper recipe with real sugar. Being a Dr. Pepper fan, of course I had to try that.  At first I was worried that it would just taste the same and be lame.  When I drank it I thought it tasted different, but only later did I realize it was probably because it was regular and I am used to diet!  So maybe there is no difference, I don’t know.

So, all in all, the restaurant was okay, but it was kind of expensive for what you got (that Dr. Pepper was $5). 

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Contrast that with the May Street Cafe where I had I think the best prepared fish I have ever tasted in my entire life.  Salmon, delicious and perfectly cooked.  I would absolutely recommend this place to anybody.  We got there right when they opened so nobody was around at all.  In fact, we were the only customers the entire time we were there.  I hope they get busy later because it would be sad if a great little place like that closed down because they never got any customers.  Out around the parking lot they grow flowers to put on the tables and they even have a little herb garden to grow some of the ingredients.  The one knock against the place was that they didn’t have a highchair (it was kind of a fancy place).  However, it turns out they had something better!

Keep in mind this is not the first time this has happened.  Whenever we go to a Mexican restaurant, everybody is quick to fall in love with Evie.  (Okay, whenever we go anywhere)  Because it is a very family oriented culture, they just love to make a big deal over babies.  So what you have to do is go really early when the restaurant first opens so that there are no other customers.  Then the staff is happy to take your baby and carry her all around the restaurant and introduce her to people and show her all the pictures, etc. leaving you to eat in peace!  I’m telling you, the first time it happened it kind of freaked me out, but now I love it.  They are so nice and they kept her occupied the entire time, even though that meant showing her the picture of the fishy like 20 times and giving her little boxes of Chiclets to use as maracas.

So, two thumbs up to the May Street Cafe, one for food and one for service!

Quite the foodie weekend!