Insights by Goldie: Savoring and surviving the season

by Goldie Caughlan

This article was originally published in November 2003

Like many of you, this is my favorite season. I treasure the late harvest produce, all the hard squashes, winter roots and sturdy greens, along with the special seasonal fruits, dried fruits and newly harvested nuts. Anticipation is nearly as pleasurable as ultimately enjoying our favorite seasonal foods with friends and family.

A big part of the fun for me is to set the scene. In November there’ll be golden candles, pots of chrysanthemums and multicolored leaves that my grandkids and I have gathered on our walks, to be scattered amidst the gnarly gourds and speckled and striped squashes in the hallway. Fragrantly spiced fresh cider frequently calls us to gather in November.

In December the scene changes, replaced by a spray of blood-red berries and prickly green of holly or an evergreen wreath on the door. There’ll be red and white poinsettias and the candles tend toward maroon or green.

Extra holiday calories? Calories
90-proof whiskey, bourbon, brandy, vodka, gin; 2 shots 140
Liqueurs such as triple sec, 2 shots 220 to 380
White or red wine, 2 six-oz glasses 240 to 260
2 servings beer, 12 oz each 300
2 servings soda pop, 12 oz each 300
2 tablespoons cream cheese 100
12 1-inch snack crackers 100 to 150
6 pieces hard cheese (1-inch cubes) 420
4 tablespoons roasted nut mix 200 to 220
6 almond-stuffed olives 100
2 tablespoons blue cheese dressing 150
2 tablespoons vinaigrette 140
1 cup mashed potatoes 180 to 250
1/3 cup turkey gravy 50 to 80
6-oz roast turkey, white and dark meat 350 to 450
3/4 cup cooked bread stuffing 270 to 350
1/2 cup candied yams 130 to 180
1/2 cup creamed onions 100
1 cup buttered green beans with toasted almonds 100
1 large dinner roll butter/margarine 250
1/8 of 9-inch pecan pie 500
1/8 of 9-inch apple pie 410
1/8 of 9-inch pumpkin pie 320
1/3 cup premium vanilla ice cream 150
4 tablespoons unsweetened whipped cream 100
4 tablespoons pressurized canned whipped cream 40

I like to set out baskets of red pomegranates, orange satsumas and bowls of whole nuts, nutcrackers and picks, with an empty bowl alongside for shells. This invites slow cracking and careful picking of nutmeats. Seeing shells pile up helps pace the eating far better than tempting eaters with fast-disappearing, salty-oily-roasted “cocktail” nuts, which are nearly addictive; you really can’t “eat just one.” Mulled wines or chilled sparkling cranberry juice make easy sipping as the season turns.

A very special part of all holidays is the sharing of favorite family recipes and treats that shape our personal traditions and remind us of past pleasures. Your traditions and my traditions may vary greatly, but a common theme is that these foods may appear only once or twice during the year, brought out reverently, to be savored like the treasured memories they evoke.

I even enjoy the chaotic and frenzied activities or the season — mostly. Yet, there are sobering sub-texts connected to our celebratory indulgences. We’re reminded that for each of us fortunate enough to be among the “haves,” there are many sharing this small orb, including swelling numbers right in our own communities, who are the “have nots.” Most of us will reach as deeply as we feel we can and share generously.

But there’s another unpleasant and not unrelated aspect of the full spectrum between plenty and want. Over-consumption begins with our fork.

Practice being grateful
Between early November and the first of January, we among the haves will typically be faced with extraordinary opportunities to overeat richer, sweeter, fatter foods in any one week than we usually face in a month. The shocking fact is that a typical eater among us may gain six to 12 pounds, just during the November-December feasting season! Seem improbable?

Consider that each added pound contains 3,500 calories, so in this short nine-week holiday period, by having just 200 to 450 calories a day more than our typical or “normal” eating pattern, any of us could find ourselves packing around that extra six to twelve pounds by January 1. And this assumes that we otherwise would have maintained a stable, normal, healthy weight already — which is statistically not likely in this country today.

That’s not exactly the way most of us want to enter our new year in 2004. It’s easier to keep excess pounds off than to face the typical “New Year’s Resolution Blues.” Starting now, we can resolve to take the path of more rather than least resistance to over-consumption — starting with food. This certainly does not mean we must deprive ourselves of fully enjoying holiday fare! It does mean we can choose consciously to approach each indulgence, practicing gratefulness as we pace ourselves.

Savor slowly
We can start with the plan that each bite we take should be really worthwhile. We can practice being aware, deliberate and slower in our chewing and our timing between bites (or sips), and we can be fully alert to the exquisitely pleasurable experience of the moment.

These are desirable traits for all eating but especially for rich foods and drinks. Slowing our eating, of course, has the practical, healthful effect of permitting the pleasant sense of being satisfied, or satiated, to physiologically signal our brain. There is no need ever to feel “stuffed” after a winter holiday meal — better to leave that to the turkey (or Tofurky!).

Mindfully, we can avoid unconscious munching or nervous nibbling, noshing ceaselessly on the endless stream of treats that seem to appear daily in worksites or meetings, all through this season.

As guests, we can take a small serving of buffet foods and then purposefully walk away. It’s just as easy to stand or sit and chat with friends several feet away from the buffet table (savoring each bite — remember?) as it is to “hover and graze.” As hosts, we can refrain from urging extra portions on our guests. Such well-intentioned generosity is not necessarily a kindness.

The common idea of “saving room” by skipping breakfast and other meals on feast days is not advisable and generally doesn’t work. Dips in blood sugar levels will induce us to eat more, not less. There’s also a psychological tendency to reward ourselves after fasting by eating larger portions of sweeter, fatter, richer foods rather than healthier, fiber-filled nutritious nibbles such as raw vegetables. And it’s always good to savor slowly the delectable sauces, dips and spreads, lest we, too, “spread!”

At right are common sources of 200 to 450 extra calories that can sneak in this season. Make every morsel worth it — a moment for thanks. And remember, it’s the quality that counts as much as the quantity. To your health!

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