You’re a turkey dinner.
You’re the time
Of a derby winner.”
– “You’re the Top,” Cole Porter
I can’t begin to list the myriad things for which I’m grateful this year. So many blessings fall under the categories of family, friends, health and general welfare that I’m constantly humbled by the magnitude of them.
That may strike some of my friends as odd. They know that the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is not one of my favorites. All that brown food. The narcoleptic bloat that comes from overeating. I didn’t get it.
Well, maybe my body got it. When I was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago, I noticed that the Thanksgiving dishes I most avoided, such as dressing, were the ones that were the most laden with carbohydrates.
So, this year, I decided to make a more diabetic-friendly Thanksgiving meal, one with plenty of fall flavor but without all the harm.
It’s doubly important in my family since my father also lives with diabetes, and my nephew is a carb-addict who limits his meals largely to mashed potatoes, bread and a tiny bit of meat.
Diabetes is different in each person. In me, the carb content, no matter the fiber content, causes my blood sugar to skyrocket. So, no pasta, no rice, no potatoes. Bread has to be limited and kept to certain kinds. Sugar actually affects my blood sugar level less than these other foods.
So, how do you translate that kind of limitation into dressing, which was created as a means of finding a new use for stale, old bread? That was the hardest challenge. Friends told me they had had breadless stuffings before, but that didn’t seem right. I thought about what I did like in some dressings: sausage, onions, celery. A great start. I sautéed them up and added apple and just a little cornbread.
Mashed potatoes in my parents’ home is a staple, and my mom made up a large pot, largely for my nephew. But I also did mashed cauliflower, which tastes enough like mashed potatoes to make believers out of my dad, a cauliflower hater. Adding a little bacon helped.
Bacon was also featured in the sautéed cabbage, made bright with a touch of ground coriander. Asparagus, no longer limited to spring time, was roasted under the broiler at the last-minute.
The menu was easy, but could I get everything done on time? That’s the challenge all of us face on Thanksgiving. I made a time line and faced the drawback I generally face when I’m cooking for others: I couldn’t wait to get started.
The day before, I made the cran-raspberry sauce, the only sugar to be included in the meal and an item I would have to ration wisely, though the flavor and freshness of this dish makes it tremendously appealing. I also had to rinse the turkey in cold water for a long while because it wasn’t thawing quickly enough in a too-cold refrigerator.
The day we got together, I started with the turkey. Rinsing and drying it is always the way to start. Then I borrowed a technique from my colleague, Bonnie Walker, who made her turkey last year as if she were roasting a chicken. That meant cranking the oven up to 450 degrees and roasting the turkey, breast side up, at that high heat until the tips of the wings started to get dark, maybe 30 minutes. The heat was then lowered to 350 degrees where it roasted until finished.
The end result was a turkey with an ultra-crisp skin (perhaps my favorite part) and juicy meat inside. I was roasting a Butterball, so basting was not needed; but the bird did cook more quickly than it would have had it been roasted only at 350 degrees. It was ready about 20 minutes before the rest of the dinner was, which is fine, because you want it to rest before serving.
While the turkey was roasting, I started preparing the cauliflower, followed by the dressing, which went together too quickly. It ended up staying warm in the oven for more than an hour. The cabbage followed, with the asparagus going in the oven after we said our prayers, so it could cook while the rest of the food was served.
The last touch was to strain the pan drippings, rather than stirring in carb-heavy flour for gravy.
It was Thanksgiving all right. Too much food to fit on the plate. Seconds and thirds and even fourths. But there was a difference. No one curled up into a ball after dinner or begged for a little down time.
Yes, there was a dessert served later that evening. And, no, it wasn’t diabetic-friendly. It was my sister’s birthday, and Mom made her favorite: coconut-cream pie. But by avoiding all those carbs earlier in the meal, I enjoyed my slice without too much guilt. And that’s something else for which I’m grateful.