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 recently took some time away in Colorado for a little getaway – one week by myself, and one week joined by my husband. For the first week, I made a priority to take care of myself - an intentional stretch of a few days without a schedule, computer, phone or any electronic intrusions of any kind. I also made it a priority to eat healthfully without spending a lot of time in the kitchen – since food of all ways - preparation, recipe creation, and teaching has become such a big part of my daily life.
So I planned ahead. I took with me 3 pounds of organic greens (baby greens mix, spinach and arugula) from my two CSA shares - Uptown Farmers and Burning River Farm. I brought two pints of MN grown cherry tomatoes and some MN grown hydroponic cucumbers; radishes from my CSA share; a head each of organic broccoli and cauliflower; and a variety of freshly cut herbs from the gardens of my mom in MN and my friend Austine in Denver. Planning was important because the nearest grocery store was a 45 minute drive each way from my cabin, and fresh, local vegetables wouldn’t be possible.
My non-cooking meal plan was simple: to have good ingredients on hand, prepare a few key items ahead of time that could be mixed or matched and seasoned to taste, to use different vinegars, oils, miso, tahini or yogurt to create a variety of salad dressings, and to have the rainbow of nutrients thought out in advance and available so that meals could be optimally balanced without needing to think about it when I was hungry.
Once I arrived at the cabin, I roasted a large sweet potato, cooked a pot of quinoa, soaked and cooked a pot of Colorado-grown borlotti beans (similar to a pinto bean), and cooked up a pot of lentils seasoned with onions, garlic and carrots. For lunch and dinner I ate big salads topped with a changing combination of all of my available ingredients: I never ate the same salad twice because I always varied the crunch and texture of the mix and I made micro-batches of different salad dressings.
My point is this: preparing healthful meals in minutes is possible with advance planning and cooking to minimize kitchen time and to avoid take out or packaged meals. Salads are a great option for minimalist eating this time of year because they fit with our natural inclination to eat lighter during warmer weather, they make the most of local and seasonal ingredients, and they supply our bodies with loads of Vitamin A and other nutrients. To use them as the backdrop for a meal ensures that we’re eating a nutritious, fiber-rich meal that can be adjusted to be a light or substantial summer main dish. In my case, I prepared a few items to have on hand, but a salad can be built around whatever is easy and available, such as leftover grilled meats or vegetables, baby new potatoes, or fresh sweet corn cut right off the cob.
I find the biggest key to a delicious and successful salad is homemade salad dressing: without additives, preservatives, emulsifiers and texture or flavor enhancers, salad dressing goes from being a nutritionally zero calorie bomb to being a healthy and flavorful key element of a delicious main-dish salad. We need healthy fat to be able to absorb and utilize the fat soluble Vitamin A-rich leafy greens and other vegetables and a good homemade dressing can provide just that, without all of the unwanted gunk.
Even if eating a main dish salad for every meal isn’t on your radar, it is certainly possible to enjoy a main dish salad a few times a week as a way to increase vegetables into the diet - and uncooked vegetables at that. In my case, they payoff was worth it. When it was all tallied I ended up with 10 days and 20 different salads: I felt great, I was able to throw together meals in a flash when I was hungry, I had plenty of energy for my 3 hour hikes and extra walks, and I lost a few pounds to boot.
Not bad for salad days.
Chop Salad with Creamy Basil Dressing
Dressing: (makes enough for several salads)
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1/2 c. organic whole milk yogurt
1 cup of fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
generous grind of black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
Blend until green and smooth in blender or with immersion blender.
Salad for One:
2 cups of leafy greens or arugula
1/2 cup chopped cauliflower or broccoli
1/4 - 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans or black beans, drained
1/2 tablespoon raw sunflower seeds
1/2 tablespoon raw pumpkin seeds
freshly ground black pepper to taste
A bounty of vegetables from Gracie's Garden in Ely, MN – August 2010
Yesterday, columnist Mark Bittman announced the end of his weekly “The Minimalist” column in the weekly Dining section of the New York Times. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Bittman’s column for the ease and sense of “no big deal” with which he approaches everyday cooking – while paying attention to details and great flavors all at the same time. I’ve also admired his shift in direction towards eating more plant foods in his own diet by adopting a "vegan until 6" eating style on an earth conscious as well as health conscious premise, and sharing that story through his column and most recent two books, Food Matters and Th≠e Food Matters Cookbook.
An occasional feature of The Minimalist was to produce a big list of super fast, tasty, and 3 ingredient “recipes” – again, aimed at encouraging people to cook more often and to dispel the myth that great tasting food has to be complicated or too long to prepare.
With this blog, I pay homage to The Minimalist by keeping this short, and by making a short list of my own based on all of the things that are close to my heart: eating more vegetables and fruits, increasing the nutritional value of what we’re putting in our bodies every day, and keeping things delicious and interesting.
So here it is – 21 ways to boost the nutrition on your plate. Why 21? Because it’s three weeks of good ideas - and hopefully enough time to turn some of these new ideas into lifelong nutritious eating habits. Some of these may seem obvious, but on the other hand; some ideas may not have occurred to you yet. Either way, I encourage everyone to keep up the good work – and to keep striving to make your way of eating even better.
21 Ways to Eat More Plant Foods (and Boost the Nutrition on Your Plate)
1. Keep a fruit bowl on the kitchen counter so that fruit is always visible and accessible for snacks.
2. Thaw frozen organic blueberries or organic mixed berries in a glass jar in the fridge; add to breakfast oatmeal, use for yogurt topping or as smoothie ingredient.
3. Chop up vegetables at the beginning of the week and refrigerate in an airtight container for easy, affordable snacking.
4. Pack a piece of fruit and a mixed container of veggies every day - for snacks, for errands, and to eat with lunch.
5. Add greens to your fruit smoothies.
6. Add greens to your pizzas.
7. No matter what you’re eating for dinner, add a salad with 1 or two extra (colorful) veggies on it and add a side vegetable (corn, potatoes and green beans don’t count).
8. Make sure that at least 1/2 – 3/4 of your plate is green and colorful.
9. Stir a green leafy vegetable into your favorite soup - escarole, chard, spinach or kale are all good options.
10. Choose a different colored fruit for every snack.
11. Put vegetables on, under, and in between your sandwiches.
12. If you’re eating an egg, have it with vegetables.
13 Make your next batch of homemade mac and cheese with half pasta, half cauliflower.
14. Better yet, make your next batch of homemade mac and cheese with all cauliflower!
15. Eat fruit with nut butter for your own “power bar”.
16. Make your own batch of dried fruit and seeds for your “energy snack”.
17. Switch to dipping your hummus, guacamole, baba ganoush or yogurt dip with sliced vegetable “chips”.
18. Blend fresh spinach into your hummus or yogurt dip.
19. Eat your cheese or nut butter with an apple instead of crackers.
20. Eat a main dish salad once a week for dinner and use protein for your topping, not the main course. (2-3 times a week in summer!)
21. Count your veggie and fruit servings every day for a week to get used to the idea of how much to consume.
Two words: zucchini and cucumbers. Don’t groan! I know that this is the time of year when our collective enthusiasm for all things garden-fresh is shifting from waning to dread. It’s okay. Instead of feeling guilty about summer abundance, and instead of finding ways to turn everything into cake (even though I’ve enjoyed a good chocolate zucchini cake as much as the next person) I’m offering two ways to make easy green vegetable foods.
Here’s the quick version of why you should be eating zucchini and cucumbers right now: they’re at their peak and they’re good for you.
Guess what - all vegetables are good for you! Sometimes we mistakenly think that some vegetables are not good for us because we know that some vegetables (like kale, broccoli, and sweet potatoes) are incredibly great for us. But don’t be fooled - it’s variety that counts - not just confining our diets to the super foods.
Here’s the detailed version of why zucchini and cucumbers are good for you. First, cucumbers – with the skin on – are a great source of vitamins C and A as well as the B-vitamin folic acid. They provide fiber for the diet, and help prevent water retention because of the ascorbic and caffeic acids that they contain. But here’s my favorite reason to eat more cukes, though: silica. The mineral silica is very important for maintaining the strength in our connective tissues – muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and bone – which in turn contributes to a healthy frame, which in turn helps maintain healthy joints.
Zucchini are good for us because, like cucumbers, they provide a lot of fiber for a minimal amount of calories by way of their high water content. More than that, however, in addition to providing vitamin C, antioxident-rich carotenes and potassium, zucchini (as well as all summer squash) contain naturally rich anticancer properties that protect us from cellular damage, especially sun damage. Again - you’ll want to keep the skin on, because that’s where the most valuable part is found.
Eating abundant amounts of both of these water-rich vegetables helps to provide our bodies with...water!, which is especially important during a season in which dehydration can easily occur.
Choose cucumbers and zucchini that have a firm flesh - no squishiness - and clear skin. Store them loosely wrapped in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Eat them on salads, grilled in fajitas (yes, you can cook cucumbers just like a zucchini!), sliced into “chips” for dipping your favorite hummus, or blended into a soup. Below are two of my two newest summer recipes using two of my most favorite summer vegetables. Enjoy!
Chilled Cucumber-Avocado Soup
3 cucumbers, ends trimmed
1/8 – 1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed juice from organic lemons (NOT out of a bottle)
zest of one organic lemon
1 tablespoon maple syrup or raw honey
1/2 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh mint (peppermint or spearmint)
2 tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon sea salt
additional basil or mint to garnish
Add all of the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Add a little bit of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to blend. Taste for salt and serve immediately or chill to serve later. Garnish with shredded basil or mint. Serves 4
Summer Zucchini Bisque
4 zucchini or summer squash, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2” pieces
1 medium new potato or other potato, scrubbed and cut into 1/4” pieces
3-4 summer onions, with the tops, chopped into 1/2” pieces (or use 1 medium red or yellow onion)
5 cloves summer garlic cloves (or use 3-4 regular garlic cloves)
2 tablespoons organic butter
2 cups water
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon cube (optional)
1 teaspoon salt (DO NOT ADD if using bouillon cube)
large handful fresh herbs: mix basil, oregano, chive, parsley)
freshly ground pepper
Heat a medium saucepan or soup pot over medium heat until warm to touch. Add butter and onions and sauté until onions turn translucent. Add garlic and sauté for two minutes longer. Add potatoes and zucchini and sauté until zucchini just begins to brown slightly.
Meanwhile, heat water and add bouillon cube, if using, to soften. After zucchini begins to brown, add water with bouillon (or water wtih salt) to the sautéed vegetables and simmer for 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add herbs and pepper and blend with a stick blender or very carefully in batches in a regular blender. Return to pot, taste for salt and pepper, adjust as necessary, and serve immediately. Serves 4-6