"You think you know me well, well you don't know me…"

by Katie Pizzuto on November 16, 2009

in food/drink myths,Thanksgiving,Uncategorized

A Thanksgiving meal is something I’ve appreciated much more often in theory than in execution. Coming from a Cuban family was more than a little weird because commonplace dishes always seemed to be replaced by those my relatives were more comfortable serving. The turkey had suddenly morphed into roasted pig, the stuffing looked a lot like rice and beans, the yams tasted more like sweet fried plantains and the gravy boat warmed the bench while the mojo got passed around to top everyone’s plate off.

Marrying into an Italian family, I soon learned, only helped the situation along moderately. (see last year’s post) Sure there was a Norman Rockwell-worthy turkey, accompanied by all the typical side dishes, but it was expected that the gigundous meal be prefaced with an equally gigundous antipasto. My understanding of Thanksgiving went further awry at that point (from mojo to mortadella) but it was all good because the celebration was about bounty—and about gratitude for that bounty.

Here’s the thing, though. At least when I was served a slice of mozzarella, I could be pretty damned sure the wet white stuff was, in fact, mozzarella. Or, if my aunt passed me the plate of plantains, there really wasn’t any telling me that they were anything other than actual plantains.

Lines get a little blurred, though, when you take a look at some of the ingredients that grace your average, American-as-apple-pie table. I kinda dig sitting at that table, acting as a sort of wiseass know it all, dispensing little-known bits of food facts, because it serves as a nice counterpoint to the usual mindless “how early are you getting up for Black Friday” conversation. Case in point: You know that cinnamon you use to flavor your pumpkin pie? Well it ain’t cinnamon—it’s called cassia. Real “Alba” cinnamon comes mostly from Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) and it’s a far cry from the hard brittle sticks you throw into your mulled cider. Its aromas are much more delicate, with hints of orange blossoms and vanilla. Mexicans call it “canela”. I call it “not what you’re using.”

ttar_yam_vs_sweet_potato_hThen there’s the sweet potato/yam debacle. Lots of cooks use the two words interchangeably, while others know there’s a big difference. But what most people don’t know is that the sweet potatoes and yams we find here in the US are really all sweet potatoes. What we recognize as yams, aren’t. The Africans who were dragged here as slaves identified sweet potatoes as “nyami.” The name stuck and we’ve been eating a misnomer ever since. And just to fuck with you a little more, sweet potatoes aren’t really potatoes at all. They’re tubers, and not even distantly related to yams. There are about 200 varieties of true yams, none of which grow in the US.

thanksgiving-joke-720535No. I’m not done yet. This last one is a naturally occurring, misunderstood ingredient—tryptophan. Does turkey contain it? Yup. Is that what makes you sleepy after the Thanksgiving meal? Nope. Tryptophan is definitely a natural sedative, but truth is, it doesn’t act on the brain unless it’s taken on an empty stomach with no protein present. Not to mention that your average serving of chicken or ground beef contains about as much of the stuff as turkey does. So if tryptophan were truly the harbinger of sleep you’d just as likely doze off behind the wheel after peeling out of a KFC or Burger King parking lot. Let’s stop blaming the poor overcooked bird and put the sleepy blame squarely where it belongs—on the 4 filled-to-the-brim glasses of wine you tossed back, and the biscuit/mashed potato/stuffing carb overload you double-dosed on while your relatives were busy babbling about Uncle Mo’s new hybrid Toyota.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 castello November 16, 2009

Great tidbits. I can’t wait to throw down some 4 or 5 bottles that day. It does bring out some damn good wine or at least inspires me to find some damn good wine.


2 RJ Flamingo November 17, 2009

My family thinks I’m a know-it-all anyway, and they’d just roll their eyes and tune me out if I tried to fill conversation gaps with any of this info. And I grew up with the stuffing made from matzo. 😉


3 Jim November 17, 2009

It’s amazing that folks load their body with two days worth of food to process, and then blame a trace amount of tryptophan for their lethargy. Seriously, it’s a food coma people – your body’s way of saying WTF?!

But there’s still probably a little room left for sweet potato pie…


4 Katie Pizzuto November 17, 2009

@ed…agreed. I’m in charge of bringing all wine, so it’s kinda fun to unearth gems.

@renée…ditto that, which is why they often throw me over to the kid’s table…they’re impressed by my bullshit knowledge…for now.

@jim…there is always room for sweet potato pie…but not yam pie 🙂


5 Mark November 17, 2009

Hey Katie-
This Thanksgiving, I’ll trade you for your delicious Cuban and Italian specialties and hell even Uncle Mo in exchange for what I’ve been told is “turkey”, “ham” and “stuffing” and lets not forget about dessert – how about a truly memorable “pumpkin pie” that bears a striking resemblance to a chocolate jell-o pudding pie. And to sweeten this deal, I’ll even throw in the “cook” who shall remain nameless that prepares these scrumptious delicacies. She will share with you and your entire family all – and I mean all of her secret ingredients and how to replicate these fabulous and creative recipes in your own home. Unfortunately however, this very special chef does not do dishes. But, she will send you home with a doggie bag full of leftovers that you can experience all over again the next day.

Do we have deal?

Btw – Found the part about Tryptophan being a natural sedative pretty interesting.


6 Linsey November 17, 2009

chocolate jello pudding pie – whats that? – sounds very different


7 Linsey November 17, 2009

btw – when I have leftover turkey, stuffing and ham etc – always use it to make a massive meatloaf afterwards – one of my favourite ‘what to do with the leftovers’ recipes


8 Katie Pizzuto November 17, 2009

No dice, Mark….better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know 🙂 As for leftovers, as Linsey mentioned, look for a post-Thanksgiving article here on the best use of leftovers EVER.


9 Cate November 17, 2009

Love the historical twist! Would love to see a post about what will be on your table this Thanksgiving! I’m sure you mix it all up…


10 Linsey November 18, 2009

I’m English, so Cate I wont be having one – but also would like to read what others will be having and how traditional they are


11 Katie Pizzuto November 18, 2009

Cate, I’ve got the fortune of having been invited to my sister-in-law’s house for the holiday, so it won’t technically be my table. My duties include roasted peppers (for the antipasto, of course! LOL) as well as all desserts which, as of right now include an upside down apple pie w/caramelized pecans, a chocolate/brittle cake, pumpkin/rum ice cream and imperial stout-infused chocolate truffles 🙂


12 Scott November 19, 2009

Neat post!

I actually take Tryptophan supplements before sitting down to Thanksgiving diner. This way, I’m good and sleepy which really helps dealing with crazy relatives. Plus its all-natural!


13 Katie Pizzuto November 19, 2009

That’s it, Scott…blame the tryptophan and not the brews you’ll no doubt suck down, LOL.


14 The Wine Commonsewer November 19, 2009

As long as you don’t put any got dam marshmallows on my yami’s, I don’t care what you call them! 🙂


15 The Wine Commonsewer November 19, 2009

The turkey had suddenly morphed into roasted pig, the stuffing looked a lot like rice and beans, the yams tasted more like sweet fried plantains

Amen to that, girl, that just my cup of of tea.


16 Katie Pizzuto November 20, 2009

I hear ya, Mike…I don’t go near anything with marshmallows on it at the dinner table, in fact, I talked about it in last year’s Thanksgiving post (don’t know if you read it, but the link is in this article). They have no business being at the dinner table 🙂

I’ll have to also remember to invite you to the next Cuban Thanksgiving, LOL.


17 Jim November 20, 2009

@ Linsey that meatloaf using Turkey Day leftovers sounds fabulous, like a casserole with structure. I’ll have to google “Thanksgiving Meatloaf” and see how far I get.

@ Scott Most of my relatives are already on something, so your tryptophan supplement idea sounds like the way to go. Maybe wash it down with some Elijah Craig whiskey.


18 ConstanceC November 23, 2009


This article is really great! Definitely not your typical, “eat this, drink this” sort of deal. Interestingly enough, I am also Cuban, but we always saved those goodies for Christmas eve! Luckily my family focuses a lot on vegetable sides (I must admit, at my suggestion) but yes, undoubtedly the wine will be the cause that I am “sleepy” for the next 48 hours 😉


19 Linsey November 23, 2009

Thanks – I chuck anything into it – after Christmas there is usually beef, ham, turkey, stuffing around so with onion and a ton of other flavours like herbs, ketchup, seasoning and mushroom ketchup I just combine it all with egg and cook it in the oven until its cooked right through.

Christmas afters tradition I rather like 🙂 and the food processor for chopping is a wonderful wonderful thing lol


20 Linsey November 23, 2009

Question – marshmallows with sweet potato – is that served with the turkey meal?


21 Katie Pizzuto November 24, 2009

@Linsey…yup, the mini-marshallows get baked on top of the sweet potato casserole and served with the turkey dinner….BLECK!!

@Constance…had no idea you were Cuban…no wonder I like you! I’m looking forward to the Xmas Eve pig feast in Miami this year…going to see my family!! If you look a few posts back you’ll see a photo of last year’s lucky pig.


22 Linsey November 24, 2009

I do wonder who on earth first thought that marshmallows served with a meat roast is a good idea … yuck!


23 Katie Pizzuto November 24, 2009

Uh, that would be the marshmallow-making industry 🙂


24 The Wine Commonsewer November 26, 2009

Tryptophan is definitely a natural sedative, but truth is, it doesn’t act on the brain unless it’s taken on an empty stomach with no protein present.

Lies! [commences sawing logs]


25 SimpleSue March 12, 2010

(Oooops I ment to say that about the potatoes here, I clicked the wrong thing)
Finally a straight clear answer on sweet potatoes and yams. Thanks!


26 Katie Pizzuto March 12, 2010

My absolute pleasure, Sue! And as a “curvy” woman with two cats (one of them black) I adore your logo!


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