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.
I’ve been writing my own recipes down since the mid-90s, just keeping little scrawled notes of what I had cooked using vegetables in my garden and especially good combinations of ingredients. The shift towards helping other people make healthier foods in their own kitchens began when I assembled a booklet of recipes for our friends Anne and Kelley six years ago because they wanted to start cooking healthier at home.
I also began shifting from just having my own little garden in my backyard, which I learned how to grow from my parents, to promoting local small farmers and thinking about larger food issues. I began learning about what farmers were doing about local food issues, and how much thought and effort they put into growing incredible foods for our tables.
As things have evolved, I still create new dishes for myself and my family, but now a big part of what I do is share what I’ve learned about food – in this blog, by teaching cooking classes, and by serving up the flavors with anyone who happens to come into my kitchen.
Now it’s all come together as I’ve published my first cookbook, an e-cookbook called nourish: winter, part of a series that I’ll release over the next year called nourish: cooking with love in four seasons. It couldn’t be more local, organic, seasonal or healthful. My whole goal is to continue to help people get back to cooking from scratch - making wholesome, delicious and healthful foods. I love sharing ideas and tools for healthy living, about knowing why good food matters, and how it's possible to do something about it at home. I truly believe that not only is good food important, it should taste really good at the same time – not just in my kitchen, but yours as well.
Here's a sample recipe and photograph from the cookbook. Enjoy!
Roasted Delicata Squash
Delicata squash have a light, delicate flavor and a firm texture. Maybe the best part about them is that you can eat them skin and all, saving time and fuss. Serve them as a side dish or atop a crisp green salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2-4 servings
2 tablespoons coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 delicata squash
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375º. Wash squash thoroughly and dry. Slice into 1/2” rings and scoop seeds out of each slice. (You can also cut off each end and scrape out all of the seeds at once.) Rub all surfaces of each piece with oil – skin and cut edges – and place on an ungreased heavy baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Photo credit: Mike Dvorak Photography
Most of us are really trying to do the right thing when it comes to our health. We try to cover the basics: making good choices for our families, eating the healthiest foods we know, getting some exercise, avoiding cigarettes and excessive alcohol consumption.
But there are still a lot of things out of our control - including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the methods under which our food is grown.
Maybe you’ve heard that California has a landmark measure on the ballot next month called Prop 37. It would require food labels on raw or processed food to state if the food is made from plants or animals that were raised with GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It will also prohibit the use of the word “natural” on any packaging.
It’s as simple as that.
We already have labels that state how many servings, calories, fat grams and sugars a food includes, plus an ingredients list so that we know what makes up the food we’re eating. Including GMO information on the labels would give us extra information as consumers to make an informed choice. Whether or not we will choose a certain food based on the label is not at the heart of the discussion.
It’s about having the freedom to make the choice. We may not be able to control how foods are grown, but we certainly have the right to know. Seeing the information on the label is the most consumer-friendly way to be able to make an informed decision about the foods we buy.
What happens in California does matter for the rest of us, because national food manufacturers will label food for the US market depending on those requirements. (Here's an illustration of what it might look like, as dreamt up by Mark Bittman writing for the NYTimes). Let’s hope that they can pass the ballot measure that will lead to all of us having the right to know about what’s in our food.
Spinach has dominated my day so far - in a good way. A few of us talked about it during class this morning at Alotapilates; we bought some from an overflowing box just picked and delivered from the Hjele farm to Local D’Lish this morning which we ate as a salad with brunch; and it will be on our table tomorrow at lunch, wilted and stuffed into crepes with sautéed cremini mushrooms and a little bit of locally made havarti from Morning Star Farm in Cokato, MN.
Spinach is an easy entry into eating dark leafy green vegetables since it is mild tasting and delicious, whether served raw or lightly cooked. In the spring, it is usually one of the first local greens to make an appearance at the markets since it prefers cool growing conditions and doesn't mind spring rains.
For being so delicate, spinach packs a big nutritional punch: it is extremely high in vitamins A, K, C folic acid and B2, as well as the minerals manganese, magnesium, calcium (yes, really!) and iron. Spinach is also loaded with antioxident-rich phytochemicals that are especially good for eye health - age related macular degeneration in particular and cancer protection, especially stomach, skin and breast cancers.
In order to get the most nutritional benefit out of your beautiful, local spinach, eat it both raw and cooked to maximize vitamin absorption and phytochemical benefits (raw to get the vitamins, minerals and enzymes; cooked to get the phytochemicals). Either way, be sure to prepare it with a good healthy fat, such as cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and raw almonds or walnuts in a salad, or by cooking it in a little coconut oil or organic butter to access the fat-soluble nutrients.
Buy fresh spinach when it looks bright green and fresh; store it loosely packed in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator where it should last for about four days. Wash fresh spinach by swishing in a bowl of cold water to removed trapped sand particles and dry in salad spinner or by wrapping in clean cotton towel and refrigerated until ready to use that day.
Visit Mark Bittman’s article from last week’s NYTimes Magazine to find a whole matrix of recipes for eating cooked spinach, or try this salad below which totally simple and truly delicious.
Spinach Salad with Grapefruit, Avocado and Walnuts
Four large handfuls (about 8 loose cups) of fresh organic spinach (tender stems are fine to include), washed and dried
2 tablespoons top quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 wedge of a fresh organic lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado, pitted and flesh cubed into 1/2” pieces
1 ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sections cut into bite-sized pieces, preferably organic
1/2 cup walnuts (halves or pieces, preferably raw but toasted if you like. Can substitute raw pecans or almonds.)
Place spinach leaves in a large bowl; drizzle with olive oil, squeeze the fresh lemon juice all over and sprinkle a large pinch sea salt evenly on top (about 1/4 teaspoon). Add a generous grinding of black pepper. Toss well to evenly coat the spinach leaves, then top with the avocado pieces and grapefruit chunks, sprinkle with the walnuts and serve.
Ever heard of a sunchoke? You’re not alone if you haven’t: it’s not a common vegetable for many of us, but it’s a vegetable that is worth finding it’s way into our diet.
Also known as a Jerusalem artichoke, sunchokes are the tuberous root of the sunchoke plant, a relative of sunflowers. Sunchokes are knobby and misshapen, with a papery skin and flesh the texture of a radish when eaten raw, and creamy like a potato when cooked.
So why bother learning about this funny little tuber and consider adding it into your diet? Gut health. Our digestive systems need all the help they can get from foods that contribute to a finely operating gut, especially if we have trouble with blood sugar imbalance, have received antibiotic treatment, or suffer from digestive distress including stomach upset or IBS, Crohn's or colitis. Jerusalem artichokes - like other inulin-rich sources such as chicory root (most often consumed as an herbal tea or coffee substitute), asparagus, artichokes, dandelion root, onions and garlic - can help.
Inulin is a carbohydrate that acts as a soluble dietary fiber: whole foods inulin sources are considered natural prebiotics, which help establish a healthy intestinal environment by stimulating the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. A healthy intestinal environment prepares us to access the benefits of probiotic foods such as unsweetened yogurt and kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchee, miso and other fermented foods that contain beneficial bacteria.
So if you’re willing to give a sunchoke a try, there are very simple ways to get them into your diet. Buy a small amount, scrub them well with a vegetable brush, and slice them thinly to eat them raw with a healthy dip like hummus or white bean dip, or substitute them where canned water chestnuts are typically called for. To cook, clean them the same way, then slice them into 1/4” crosswise pieces, cover with salted water and gently boil until tender. Then mash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and eat as a vegetable side with your dinner. (You could also go half and half with potatoes on that one). To roast, prep them as above, then toss with coconut oil, salt and pepper and roast for 30 minutes - alone or as part of a big pan of roasted vegetables - until tender and caramelized.
Or try this simple soup, put together in 10 minutes with a few other basic ingredients and simmered for less than an hour.
Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchoke) Soup
2 medium leeks, white parts and pale green parts only (save dark greens of leeks for soup stock)
3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
1 bulb fennel, rinsed, tops removed and bulb sliced crosswise (optional)
1 lb Jerusalem Artichokes (sunchokes); scrubbed, quartered the long way and sliced into 1/8” pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon oregano, crushed
1 teaspoon cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
2 small branches rosemary (optional)
2 bay leaves
filtered water to cover by 1 inch
freshly ground black pepper
Heat a medium soup pot over medium heat. When it is warm to the touch, add the coconut oil, leeks and garlic and sauté until softened but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel (if using) and Jerusalem Artichokes and continue to sauté about 5 minutes longer. Season with the salt, oregano and cumin, add the rosemary and bay leaves, and cover by 1 inch with filtered water. Increase heat to bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add salt, if necessary, season with freshly ground black pepper and serve.
* Add cooked wild rice for a more substantial soup. Purée in a blender for a smooth soup.
Most days it can feel like if we only had enough time, we could do a much better job at being healthy. Sound familiar? We’d have enough time for a proper breakfast; we’d have time to pack a healthy lunch and prepare a nourishing dinner; we’d carve out downtime for ourselves plus time to connect with friends and loved ones; and time for exercise. Yet we usually end up cutting corners for our well-being throughout the day, but still end up spending ever more hours in front of the computer and television out of exhaustion, lack of energy or seeking a way to connect.
Everything we do makes a difference, though, and even a small amount of exercise is no exception. A recent study shows that regular physical activity has important benefits for our blood sugar levels, whether we’re in good physical condition to begin with or currently living a sedentary lifestyle. With heart disease, Type-2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses on the rise for both women and men, it is becoming clear that this is the kind of information that deserves to get us off of the couch.
The upshot of the study, reviewed on a nytimes.com blog last week, is that it doesn’t take much to control our blood sugar levels with exercise - just 30 minutes over the course of a day, or around 10,000 steps per day. That is the amount of exercise that can easily be achieved by adding up the minutes from a lunch time or after-dinner walk around the neighborhood, riding a bike to work or to the store, walking the stairs at work instead of taking the elevator, or parking in a space farthest away from the store entrance.
So even though this study doesn’t grant us our wish of a lucky pill that will help us lose weight and get fit while catching up on Facebook or watching American Idol, it gives us an easy, doable and best of all - free! - way to make a significant impact on our health. With warmer temperatures and sunshine in the months to come, we’ve got the makings of some great motivation to get out there and get moving. Happy Spring!
Easy Ways to Get Moving
Get a pedometer (usually free from a managed health care provider) and wear it to track your steps
Work better with a goal? Set a goal, make it public, and use a fun way to track your progress
Ride your bike to work, the supermarket, or for errands
Play ball with your kids
Have a dance party in your living room
Walk to the park, walk to lunch instead of driving, and walk the dog
Pair up with a friend
Try something new: hula hooping, a dance class, or hill climbing in the parks
Find an exercise that you like to do - and do that (instead of doing the exercise that you really hate)
Ride the bus to work and walk home