What is at the heart of your tradition, and what matters when it comes to sharing a Thanksgiving table? For me, it’s being together with friends, family - or both, spending time cooking delicious foods, and eating together - enjoying each other’s company with gratitude.
Even though holidays can push all of our trigger buttons so effectively, by being thrown in the stew of family dynamics, the stress of bringing a huge meal to the table and the digestive toll of eating too much - it can also be differently wonderful. It can be exactly what you want to eat, shared with the people you most want to enjoy.
When six of us sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, for instance, there won’t be a bird, stuffing, mashed potatoes or gravy on the table. Our focus will be on vegetables, cheese and homemade pasta, because that is how I want to love my family this year. All of the vegetables will come from either my fall Hogsback CSA farm share - leeks, onions, garlic, celery root, carrots, squash, thyme, potatoes - or from my parents’ garden - kale, tarragon, rosemary and Brussels sprouts. The other ingredients will come from as close to home as possible, with the exception of a marvelous hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that I brought back from a recent trip to Italy, which has inspired our menu.
We’ll start the day with coffee and homemade prune or poppyseed-stuffed kolacky (Czech filled buns) - an annual Czech tradition that my mother bakes the day before. For lunch, we’ll have a bowl of Celery Root Bisque with a batch of hot rolls right out of the oven. They’ll be my mom's famous crescent rolls - tender and buttery, but this year my husband will be learning to make them with her, expanding his knowledge for his new love of baking.
In between breakfast and lunch, my mom and I will spend a few hours in the kitchen - my favorite place to be on any holiday - where we’ll work on prepping the dinner. I’ll be making one of my favorite things that needs to be made with heaps of love: homemade pasta. I’ll be roasting a buttercup squash, and sauteéing onions to make the pasta into Tortelli di Zucca - or squash and parmesan-stuffed ravioli, which we’ll have with a decadent butter and sage sauce. My mom will be working on the sides and her apple-cranberry tart. We’ll take time away from the kitchen to play cards for several hours, make a fancy cocktail or have a little glass of bubbly, and then sit down to eat our ravioli with a lovely salad, sautéed Brussels sprouts with pecans and shallots, Tuscan white beans (recipe in my Nourish: Spring cookbook), and sautéed kale with garlic. It will be simple and perfect for our day.
Next year it will probably be something entirely different all over again. Maybe there will be more tradition on the table, or maybe not. But it will always include the important stuff: food, friends, family and love. What will be on your table?
Prep time: 30 min
Cooking time: 1 hour
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
4 tablespoons organic butter (substitute extra olive oil for a dairy allergy), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb celery root (also called celeriac), peeled with a knife or Y peeler, cut into 1/2” pieces
2 large potatoes, cut into 1/2” pieces
3 celery ribs, chopped
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, rinsed and chopped
1 medium shallot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
6 cups vegetable stock - homemade stock or from organic bouillon cubes - OR water
1 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces cremini mushrooms, very thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
Warm a 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, then add 2 tablespoons butter and the olive oil along with the celery root, potatoes, celery, leeks and shallots. Stir to coat all of the vegetables in oil, then cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 15 minutes. Add stock, salt, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.
Purée soup with an immersion blender, or cool for 15 minutes and carefully purée in batches in a blender until smooth, then return to pot. Reheat bisque over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
While bisque is reheating, warm a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat, then add the butter and mushrooms and sauté, stirring the mushrooms until crispy golden brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer mushrooms to a plate.
Serve bisque topped with mushrooms and a garnish of minced thyme leaves.
This morning tells a story of what it is to have a very large goal, a team of cheerleaders, and the support of those who believe in you.
For years, I’ve written down and assembled my recipes to share with friends who were making a shift in their food journey to eat healthier and feel better. For the past several years, I have been creating even more recipes and dedicating a large part of my time to crafting more foods at both ends of the health spectrum - both hyper-conscious of food allergies and intolerances - and absolutely delicious with no room for apologies.
The story of how sending recipes to friends turned into creating four full cookbooks that make up an entire year of seasonal, local, organic and healthy eating starts with being asked if I was ever going write a book at monthly cooking classes that I teach at Kitchen Window in Minneapolis. Over and over and over again. I finally got good and tired of saying that I was “working on it” and actually started to work on it. It began with a plan to gather all of these recipes, and then ended with it being too big and too much to do for one book.
So I restarted with the idea to break it down, and to write and publish just exactly how I live my life - season by season, cooking and eating with beautiful ingredients that are sourced by the prime of their flavor from local growers.
Next, I kept saying that I didn’t want to do a “cooking for kids” cookbook, even though I kept hearing from families that they wanted just that.
So what I ended up doing was creating a healthy cooking series for families - or anyone who want to eat better - while managing food allergies and intolerances in the kitchen. I used my healthful recipes with the all-natural substitutions that are a mainstay in my own kitchen.
And I did it because I had a huge team of help. My team was a group of over 15 women - most of them moms, including my own mom - and two men - both dads. They worked with me for over a year, cooking and testing recipes, serving them to their families and giving me real feedback on what worked and what didn’t. And guess who was eating the food? Kids. Not food that was dumbed down, breaded, flavorless or fried - but real food with whole ingredients and good flavors. Every single recipe was vetted and tested by real families.
The families of my testers are like so many other families out there, who are learning what it means to cook with healthy fats, whole gluten-free grains, colorful vegetables, and without dairy or refined sugar. Families who are learning how to cook more and stock the refrigerator with batches of healthy foods to make busy lives and nutritious eating both possible and delicious.
So the story this morning is that the seasons have come full circle, and I've been humbled in the process. The writing and recipe testing for Nourish: Winter began last September, and I complete the series today with Nourish: Fall, live on Amazon. It’s a huge project completed and at the same time - just the beginning. Cheers - to more good food and healthy living!
Sweet Potato and Anasazi Bean Stew
(from Nourish: Fall by Anna Dvorak)
Anasazi beans are beautiful when dry - speckled white and deep red - and have a sweet flavor and creamy, rich texture when cooked. They have a thin, tender skin which makes them easier to digest than some beans. Native to the desert high mountain regions of the southwest, they cook remarkably well at altitude, which isn’t the case for all beans. Outside of their native region they can be hard to find, so substitute pinto beans instead, which are also a very creamy and meaty bean. Serve this colorful, satisfying stew with a large green salad, and consider doubling it to have great leftovers for lunches or dinners.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups cooked Anasazi beans or pinto beans (or use 1 (14 ounce) can beans, drained and rinsed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 small sweet potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2” dice (or 1/2 small winter squash) (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 small Yukon Gold potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/2” dice (about 1 cup)
3 cups water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 cup frozen sweet corn
1 teaspoon coconut oil or olive oil
2 Roma tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare beans if cooking from scratch. (See full recipe for beans in Nourish: Fall.)
2. Meanwhile, warm a small soup pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and onions and sauté until onions begin to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir and let cook for an additional 3-5 minutes. Add cubed sweet potato and Yukon Gold potato, stir to coat in oil and add 3 cups water along with sea salt, oregano and thyme. Increase heat to medium high; when the mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and let cook at a gentle simmer for 25 minutes.
3. While the soup is simmering, warm a small sauté pan over medium heat until hot. Add coconut oil and corn and sauté until the corn begins to turn golden brown. Add corn to the soup pot along with chopped tomatoes and cooked beans and let the mixture simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Add 1 cup bean cooking water if needed to thin the stew.
4. Taste for salt and adjust. Stir in fresh cilantro and black pepper to taste and serve.
I came to Italy with this Romantic Notion that things were so much better over here in terms of people appreciating their food source, living closer to the seasons, and having an integral relationship with the land. I came over to discover more about that magic, how I could find it and understand the essence of it - as a model for describing an optimistic ideal for living well.
Certainly in this little valley where I am staying, life is lived close to the land and in tight relationship with the earth and her gifts. I experience awe and wonder when I try to fathom that people have been living this way right here - as in other valleys like it throughout the world, for over 2000 years, giving and taking from these slopes that have provided for so long. There are so many medicinal plants here, so many edible wild foods, a landscape and climate with mineral-rich earth and water that keep this bioregion alive and flourishing that I am humbled to take it all in.
The flip side has been becoming aware of how our exported lifestyle is impacting life here in this region that has flourished on growing and raising foods that are optimum to this climate and land for so long. The Walmart, Costco and giant Supermarket-ification of our pro-growth lifestyle has made its way here as well, and small producers are struggling and fighting their way to stay at it - if not giving it up all together.
There is something real we can all do, in every bioregion that we live in, to make a little difference in a backwards direction as a rebellion - against dependence on giant agribuisiness and the loss of the individual voice.
It is to take a portion of our time and grocery dollars, and spend them directly with a grower or farmer or producer of food where we live. We need to act - as if the weekly farmers’ market is our temporary grocery store for as many months as we can, and buy our food directly from the source - starting now. As lovely as the foods look, as similar as what’s laid out might look from table to table (they are growing in the same region on the same timetable, after all) - those farmers are not there for fun and to support the carnival of a pleasant weekend morning.
They are there to earn a living because they are passionate about what they are doing, and keenly invested in the piece of land that they work and or animals they raise, to bring food to tables. They can’t do what they’re doing because we hope that they’ll be there next week or month or year, when we’re finally ready to do more than look.
They can’t live on smiles and free samples.
They depend on us to thank them for what they’re doing - selling the riches of the earth and of their hard work - by buying from them and bringing it to our tables, whether it is vegetables, meats, hand-harvested fish, cheeses, eggs, fruit, herbs, wild rice, or plants.
If we want to see any fraction of this kind of life survive - that is, the kind of life that might keep us alive if Walmart/Costco/SuperGrocery closes - then we need to participate in it, in our kitchens, and take part in a small way with the farmers, in the ancient cycle of living in accordance with the earth and her rhythms. The option and freedom is given to us right now by the effort of a small farmer near you, and we have a responsibility to receive, no matter where we live.
Dedicated to Brent Zimmerman of Valle di Mezzo, Mike Noreen of Burning River Farm, all the farmers at Stone’s Throw and Loon Organics, Shepherd’s Way Farm and at Singing Hills Goat Dairy.
I am wrestling with the burning question, "Why Does Life in Italy Seem So Much Better?"
Is it because Italians value the little things, take pleasure in the slow and the delicious, live simply and large at the same time?
Maybe. I’m only on day 5 so I am just scratching the surface. I am hunkered down in the hills of Umbria for a month, tucked into a little farmhouse within a cluster of a few homes and barns which are part of a former tiny, ancient, Etruscan village near the Tuscan border.
Life in this area is slow-paced, far away from city air or noises and charmingly beautiful. A bread truck lumbers up the road once a week to deliver Tuscan loaves of any size, and farmers and neighbors who take the shortcut to the next village over putter up and down the hill at random during the day. The neighbor nonna walks slowly out to her garden daily to pick a head of lettuce for dinner and rinses it under the cistern faucet before returning to her kitchen.
From here I can see green hills where at least 10 different things or creatures are being grown or raised: olives, grapes, wheat, farro, lentils, canola, chestnuts, sheep, honey, and chickens. That’s about it for excitement, which is pretty exciting. It means not only do you get chestnuts but you get chestnut honey, not only do you get sheep but you get pecorino cheese, olive oil, etc. You get the picture, and it is pretty abundant.
So, I am enjoying being where I am and living in the question. In the meantime, I am keeping busy looking after the farmhouse and gardens, as well as writing, walking, painting, learning Italian and of course, cooking and eating. Healthy eating is simple when so many delicious vegetables are grown nearby, many raised from heirloom seeds which favor flavor over traveling ability, and sourced from the garden or the village vegetable store.
A quick chopped salad below is what I made to eat after the thunderstorm last night, along with a starter of pan-fried zucchini blossoms stuffed with homemade yogurt cheese and herbs. This is a nice main dish salad consisting of a little raw zucchini, which is sweet and crunchy when it is young and fresh, contrasted with a little bitter radicchio - a member of the chicory family and a beautiful purple-red - plus some sweet cherry tomatoes and chopped romaine. To truly taste the vegetables, you barely need any dressing - just some good sea salt and a little drizzle of excellent quality olive oil. And maybe a nice glass of Chianti for the full effect.
Zucchini and Radicchio Chop Salad for One
5 large cherry tomatoes or 8 small cherry tomatoes
1 small clove garlic, minced
large pinch sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon)
1 baby zucchini (no longer than 5 inches)
1 baby head radicchio (about 1 cup chopped)
2 inner leaves of romaine (1 cup chopped)
1-2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced herbs - I used lemon thyme, parsley and chives
Quarter the tomatoes and place in a small ceramic bowl that can hold 2 1/2 cups of chopped vegetables. Toss them with the minced garlic and sea salt and let that macerate while you chop the rest of the vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces. You’ll end up with a salad that looks like you can eat it with a spoon - and you can, if you like. As you chop each vegetable toss it in the bowl on top of the tomatoes but don’t stir until you’ve got it all done. Once everything is in the bowl and it has been about 5 minutes, give everything a stir. Taste it for salt - it should be nicely seasoned - and then drizzle with a little bit of excellent olive oil, about a teaspoon or so. If you have some herbs growing on a pot outside your door or on your balcony (hint: this is a really good idea, whether you’re in Italy or not) then pick a couple sprigs at random and tear them into the salad. Serve immediately, with or without the Chianti.
Heirloom zucchini, cherry tomatoes, fresh rosemary and radicchio. Photos © Anna Dvorak
Today on Earth Day I am cautiously dreaming about what I’ll plant in my new garden this year, what will go in my “foster” garden, and which clever new ways I can organize my herb pots so that they keep me supplied with cooking herbs throughout the summer.
All that, and I am also thinking about food, summer, and recipes - most specifically for my next e-cookbook, Nourish: Summer, which is due out June 1st.
One thing that has changed for me this past year has been paying greater attention what goes on in a typical kitchen for a family with school age children in my neck of the woods. Eleven women - most of them moms - and two men - both dads -have been my recipe testers for the three cookbooks I’ve written, and am writing, thus far. As I’ve received their feedback on the recipes, I’ve used it as a benchmark to write about cooking in a way that makes it so very practical and doable in a regular kitchen with the busy schedule that most families maintain.
This is why I get even more excited when I hear voices who command a much larger audience saying things like, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” That is from Michael Pollan, and it is the message at the forefront of the new book he has just written called “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”
Without Pollan knowing it, I consider myself part of a big team doing “work on the ground” in communities across America to implement a similar message, by educating about food and how to cook in front of groups 2 to 32 in size.
As a result, I’m pretty darn excited to go and hear Michael Pollan speak live in Minneapolis next week as part of the Inspiring Minds series at Beth El Synagogue, with proceeds to benefit an excellent organization in North Minneapolis called Appetite for Change.
I’m so excited, in fact, that I bought two tickets. So, if you’d like to join me next Thursday to get a taste of what inspires me and hopefully get a little inspired yourself,
(...read the rest of the blog HERE and get the full instructions!)
Oh January in Minnesota, how well you succeed in every attempt to dissuade, punish and intimidate all of our healthy new year resolve! You are dark, you are cold, you are dreary.
The only way to survive these cold days and nights without escaping to the tropics is to focus on something wonderful (to eat, in my case). And the best way to beat the pants off of flu and cold germs is to make that something garlicky and wonderful.
Which brings me to kale, garlic, onions, red peppers and sweet potatoes. Prepared and served in a comforting way, these colorful, seasonal foods deliver all of the warmth that is so desperately needed with the nutrition that will help us defy the worst of January weather.
What you have in these five foods is a powerhouse of immune-boosting, nutrient-packing and inflammation-reducing super-goodness. Antioxidents abound in every single vegetable this combo, plus vitamins A, C, K, as well as the minerals calcium, potassium, manganese and phosphorus.
Eat them because they are delicious, naturally sweet and will add to your health. Bake them so that you will feel nourished and warm from the inside. Try them so that you, too, will be able to scoff in the face of January. Or just have something really garlicky and wonderful to eat.
Garlicky Kale-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Serves 2 (with leftovers)
2 medium organic Garnet or Jewel yams (orange flesh sweet potatoes)
1 bunch organic kale, stems discarded and leaves chopped
1 tablespoon coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced lengthwise into 1/8” strips
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced
organic goat cheese or feta, optional for garnish (my favorite is Singing Hills Dairy from Nerstrand, MN)
Heat oven to 400º. Scrub the sweet potatoes, prick several times on all sides with the tines of a fork and place on a metal baking pan lined with parchment paper. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes or until soft when squeezed in the middle. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, warm a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the oil and the onion and sauté until the onion turns very tender and sweet, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes longer, then stir in the chopped kale. Raise the heat to medium and sauté, stirring to toss, for 3-5 minutes or until the kale turns dark green and tender-crisp. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper and remove the pan from the heat.
Slice each roasted sweet potato lengthwise and squeeze apart to open. Mash the flesh of each sweet potato lightly with a fork, lightly drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then stuff with half of the kale mixture. Garnish with fresh parsley and the diced red pepper. Eat immediately, or keep for up to two hours at room temperature of up to two days, refrigerated. To serve prepared dish, return to the oven and bake until warmed through, about 15 minutes (depending on whether or not they were refrigerated). Serve along with a crisp green salad and a small portion of the protein of your choice.