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Thanksgiving 2021. I’ve never been more excited.

I am ready to celebrate with my family, and lots of them. I am eager for our holiday rituals to return, including long-awaited time together around a table of our favorite foods.

As I plan our Thanksgiving feast, texts are flying. My phone pings into the night with recipe requests, spirited sparring and plans for walks, games, and leftover pie for breakfast.

My mother’s baking achieves legendary status at Thanksgiving. She manages to make each of her children’s favorite desserts. With five children, it is over the top! But you won’t find a complaint here.

With so many of us, there are different taste buds and cravings. We are each thoroughly satisfied to delve into our favorite sweets, quietly savoring each bite after the deluge of activity, raucous voices and food Thanksgiving Day brings.

Skimming my texts, I notice updated requests. As our family evolves, so do our diets. Modern day gatherings require nutritional flexibility.

One of my sister’s tests the water. “Could we make a few things keto-friendly?” she texts the group.

My mother instantly chimes in, “If you will help me shop and cook!”

Another sister adds, “How about vegan?”

And finally, one of my brothers, “I wouldn’t mind a Weight Watchers friendly dessert!”

“Wait!” I say. “Could we keep the classics ‘as is’ and simply savor a bite or two to maintain our diet goals?”

“Are you nuts?” is the resounding reply. Apparently, moderation is not our strong suit.

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Thanksgiving food traditions not only create enjoyment, but closeness, too. Family holidays bring together individuals who rarely see each other and a chance to acknowledge those we’ve lost. My mother’s act of providing our favorite desserts is also a custom that brings us together.

With so many changes in our world in recent years, a chance to enjoy tradition feels especially good — and dependable. But the best traditions are the ones that can adapt over time. Perhaps this is a good chance to update some of our recipes and make room for our changing tastes and renewed dedication to taking care of ourselves and each other.

Pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving staple at most homes. But it doesn’t have to be boring, and it doesn’t have to break the caloric bank. My version of pumpkin pie is rich with flavor and yes, calories too. With some adjustments, it can be slimmed down.

Our Thanksgiving dessert table isn’t complete without a chocolate pie. When baked to perfection, Southern Fudge Pie features a buttery, flaky pie crust filled with rich chocolate, the consistency of a gooey, slightly under baked brownie. It is best topped with whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream.

My mother always makes a delicious pecan pie for our Thanksgiving suppers, but this year I am trying something different. This recipe for Pecan Pie Bars is courtesy award-winning chef and TV personality Andrew Zimmern.

At a recent book club gathering, my neighbor served these bars to the delight of her guests. Every single person in attendance raved, and requested the recipe. I even made an excuse to assist in clean up so that I could help myself to a second (or third?) serving in the kitchen where I knew the extra bars were stored.

As I savored the last bite, I thought, ‘Why go through the fuss of making a pecan pie when I can make these simple bars in advance and have them at the ready for our Thanksgiving festivities?’

My sister Adelia is credited with the final sweet treat that will round out our dessert table this year. For years my family enjoyed a “Famous” Chocolate Trifle with chocolate wafer cookies sandwiched between layers of rich whipped cream. Recently, those cookies have been hard to find.

“Why not try the trifle with Gingersnaps?” my sister mused as she grabbed two boxes in the cookie aisle. Brilliant! I’ve adapted her recipe to include a bit of spiced rum to heighten the flavors. I love this recipe because it is a “snap” to make and can be easily modified for most any diet.

As I count down the days until Thanksgiving, I am aware that whether we prepare the same desserts per tradition or whether we develop new ones, the ritual of coming together to enjoy each other’s company and share in good food is the magic that is truly savored.

There is power and joy in the ritual gathering together, no moderation needed for that. This year, it is a joy for which I am especially grateful.

Margaret McLeod Leef can be reached at

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