I look forward to summer holidays because they remind me of family gatherings back home in Detroit. And of course at the centerpiece of every family gathering is food.
Whether it was for a house party or a picnic in the park, summer meant aunts and uncles and cousins showcasing their special dishes, all made with love: we’d have potato salad, macaroni salad, greens, baked beans, often a seven-layer salad, a pound cake, a pie (with vanilla ice cream, of course), barbecued ribs, chicken, steak and burgers, and my favorite, hot dogs. I loved hot dogs so much that I would bypass all other meats glistening in barbecue sauce (fresh lemon juice and onions made it tangy, sweet and pungent all at the same time) and make a bee-line for the franks. I took mine smothered in sauce and topped with mustard and relish, in a soft, spongy bun. No matter what else he was “burnin’,” one of my uncles, aka the Grill Master, would make sure to throw some dogs on just for me.
Times have definitely changed – I can’t remember the last time I’ve eaten pork or beef, and haven’t had a hot dog in some years. I didn’t wake up one day and swear off meat, but over time, as I gravitated toward cleaner eating with more fruit veggies on my plate, my taste buds changed. A client asked recently, “You mean you never crave a hamburger?” “Never,” I responded. And I meant it.
But this Memorial weekend, home was calling – maybe it was knowing that my little sister was in Detroit visiting the fam while I stayed put in NYC. So I decided to inaugurate summer with an homage to home.
I’ll grill anything – I once made a shrimp-veggie stir-fry over charcoal. During a power outage some years ago, to my son’s delight, I grilled his pancakes. Yesterday I grilled chicken, turkey burgers, turkey chipotle sausage, and yes, turkey hot dogs. Once all the meat was done, I threw on some corn on the cob – after opening each ear slightly, removing some of the silk, and soaking in water about 15 minutes. Nothing says summer like fresh grilled corn. I made a potato salad, some veggie-baked beans and a green salad. I finished it all off with an apple pie.
We’re usually a super-healthy food zone. My kids (my 15-year-pld son and my 22-year-old niece who lives with us – and therefore, at least temporarily, is my kid) often tease that the foods I prepare are too healthy for their tastes. “Mom, why don’t we eat like normal people?” My son often asks. I’m known for fruit smoothies for breakfast and hearty salads with salmon or shrimp for lunch, and I’d much rather “oven-fry” my chicken than pan fry it. But the kids usually eat everything I make and even concede that it’s pretty good.
Every once in a while, though, I loosen my apron strings and reach for the foods that tug at my heart strings. It’s good to recognize how our emotions (from boredom to sadness to a longing for the good old days) often drive our cravings for some foods. Once we’re mindful of powerful mood-food connections, we can find healthy ways to go with, and not fight those cravings.
Our menu this weekend was full of forbidden stuff for many who are counting calories, sugar and fat grams. But unless you’re on a medically restrictive plan, if you eat healthy and clean at least 90 percent of the time, it’s OK to splurge the other 10 percent of the time. Just don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that 50 percent is 10 percent – your waistband will be your reality check.
This weekend we feasted (the leftovers are just as grand), and the kids were quite content. I’ll freeze some for quick and easy meals later. Soon enough the dogs will be gone and we’ll be back to 90 percent. But for the moment, we’ll enjoy this first taste of summer, and special taste of home.
Have a Healthy Day,