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Walks of life: Walking Turkey

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The countdown has begun -- only 15 days before Thanksgiving… 40 days before Christmas…. 48 days before the New Year… Aargh!

These days, the “holiday” season kicks into full gear even before Halloween pumpkins start to rot. Stress levels and calorie counts spike exponentially. Did the calendar gods enjoy cramming shopping, card writing and feeding frenzies into this 40-day window? Jesus fought off temptation in the wilderness for 40 days, so why can’t I make it to the New Year without gaining 40 pounds and spending $40,000?

Butterball’s evil enemies at the Calorie Counting Institute have estimated that the average person gains 10 pounds in a 2-month period from mid-November through early January. At the pinnacle of pigging out, Thanksgiving poundage gets laden on as thick as cranberry sauce if the estimate of 2500-4500 calories per meal per person is accurate. What’s a healthy person to do? Get thee to France, where “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” I must admit my own skepticism at this ridiculous title, having gained 10 lbs on our last trip to Provence. Almost every dinner was an 8-course extravaganza, with a cheese course to top it off that would rival the exotic nibbles shared at our monthly book club.

French women smoke, get more exercise in bed, and drink at the age of 12 so are likely sick of wine by the time they are 40. French women also are part of a culture that touts the worst delicacy known to man (next to haggis, a Scottish treat) – sweetbreads. You have to give credit to the branding around these innards – I can just see the French chefs sitting around a table brainstorming around a palatable name for brains, tripe and other inedible body parts.

Thanksgiving is replete with these strange organs. Take the gizzard (please). For our first homemade Thanksgiving feast as a married couple, I went out and got a Butterball (which took 3 weeks to thaw, just in time for the Greek Orthodox Calendar Thanksgiving celebration). When we finally sawed into the center of the bird post cremation, I found a little bag. Hmmm, did drug smugglers use Tom for their latest drop? Alas, I did not realize that the gizzard and other Turkey Parts must be removed in order to play their part in the gravy making. No worries – I had also forgotten about making gravy. 12 hours of cooking and sawing and finding fowl foreign objects, we had a nice chewy gobbler – a workout for our jaws with an unexpected benefit -- calorie reduction!

That first Thanksgiving, I learned that that “sides” are essential, and that even if the turkey is lousy (why else do we have it once or twice a year?), the side dishes are insurance, especially for any invited guests. I mastered the art of mashed potatoes – a culinary inheritance from my Mawmaw in North Carolina – and can rely on my homegrown Cranberry Relish, thanks to Main Street’s Cookbook, as a staple doubling as the annual holiday gift for our neighbors. It’s difficult to ruin veggies, and stuffing can be outsourced along with the annual pumpkin and apple pies from Terhune Orchards. Grab a good bottle of Zin or Cab and we are set.

As the turkey roasts and David or my mother bastes, I head out for my annual Turkey Walk. In the wilds of Central NJ, wild turkeys (the birds not the bourbon) can be spotted gobbling and gawking at seasonal hunters. Leaves have fallen, fall soccer is over, and there is a brief calm before the storm of Christmas parcels, parties and pageants. We opt to wait a few days before the torture of the annual Christmas Card Photo Session – I gave up long ago on having our two dogs join our three girls all smiling in their holiday finery and settle for no tears and eyes open… even T shirts will do. Better yet, we'll see if I can download the token tubing trio picture from our summer at the lake….

Tucker, our Aussie/Lab, walks me around the block and up the hill of the neighboring country road for a bit more exercise than usual in anticipation of bursting bellies and naps post-feast. Houses are quiet, with walkers like me out for their last jaunt before their own food frenzies. I am thankful for this walk among our many Thanksgiving traditions and look forward to our family, sitting at our table, each sharing what they are thankful for – each other. Amen.

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