You’re Making What for Thanksgiving?

Starting a healthy tradition within a family isn't always easy but, with a little persistence, it can be done

Jenna Bergen

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Every year, my entire family gathers at my aunt’s house in Berwyn and, for about five or six hours, I am surrounded by loud, boisterous, wine-laced conversation; lots of little kids who love to be entertained; good-natured banter as my cousins rib one another about the annual two-hand-touch football game that takes place in the backyard; and, of course, lots and lots of food. There are, give or take, usually about 30 to 35 of us. Though my aunt and uncle graciously provide the bird, everyone contributes a side dish, dessert, wine, or some combination of the three.

For the last few years, one of my contributions has been mashed cauliflower. To me, heaven. To my family, diet food.

“You’re making what?” one of my three sisters asked me pointedly the first time that I showed up at my aunt’s house for our annual night-before cookfest with about five heads of cauliflower in tow.

“Mashed cauliflower. It’s like mashed potatoes. … Only a little better for you.”

She raises her eyebrows as if I just announced I would be putting a bottle of penicillin on the table next to the turkey.

It was, of course,  only the first bit of ridicule I received while cooking, blending and seasoning the white cruciferous vegetable that night.

“What’s she making?” my aunt asks my sisters, who have all taken seats at the kitchen counter to watch me work, as she breezes into the kitchen with a last-minute load of laundry.

“Mashed cauliflower.”

“Oh … well I’m sure someone will eat it, ” she says over her shoulder before moving on. My sisters try not to smile.

I shake my cauliflower-covered spoon at them sternly. “Cut it out. Besides,” I shrug, doing my best to pretend I’m not suddenly questioning my choice. “There will just be more leftovers for me.”

The next afternoon, as I fight my relatives for elbow room at the stove to reheat my creation, my brother, a sous chef—and self-proclaimed Head Chef for the last few Thanksgivings—asks me what I’m doing.

“Jen, there are going to be mashed potatoes,” he says when I tell him, as if  I had forgotten that his famous, perfectly whipped, butter-laden starch wasn’t about to  make an appearance. “Nobody is going to eat those.” He puts his arm around me good-naturedly.  “You’re taking up one of my burners.”

That first Thanksgiving, about one-third of my cauliflower made it on to peoples’ plates. Later that evening, my mother, a little too obviously, remarked that she had tried it, and that it was “actually good.” The only other kudos came from the two vegetarians, who bore no relation to myself, at the party.

However, as the years have gone by, I’ve continued to bring my mashed cauliflower. Though it has, of course, undertaken some “loving” suggestions—”Maybe a little less milk, it was a little watery last year,” “You know what might help it? Adding some sauteed onions.”—little by little, the bowl of cauliflower has gotten consistently less full by the end of our feast, and those in my family watching their carbohydrate intake have actually started to look forward to it.

“Is there anything specific I can bring to Thanksgiving?” I asked my aunt last weekend.

“Oh, honey, anything is good.  How about the mashed cauliflower? It’s become a tradition.”

Yes, it has. And a healthier one at that.

Are you making a healthier version of a traditional dish for Thanksgiving? Has your family been resistant to healthier foods at the holidays or is there a dish you and your family love?  Tell us about it in the comments below!