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.
If you’re like most of us, this cozy holiday season is filled - to the top - with busyness. We have so many plans - for gatherings, for holiday activities, photo shoots and Santa visits, shopping, parties and more.
But how do you plan to stay well?
I’d like to suggest a few things:
Keep moving. Make at least 20 minutes of activity a priority every day: a quick walk outside, a simple yoga or stretching series, or any moderate form of exercise to stimulate the immune system.
Schedule sleep. Make a plan for the same bedtime every night and try to keep to it. Keeping sleep patterns as regular as possible – and with the number of hours per night that are right for you – is a key to a healthy immune system.
Stick to a well-balanced, whole foods diet during the meals that are in your control.
• Aim for plenty of good proteins from plants, fatty fish and organic and/or humanely-raised animals.
• Eat whole grains in their natural, minimally-processed form. Wild rice, quinoa, millet, brown rice make a great base for a quick stir-fry, stirred into soup for a satisfying whole meal, and eaten on fresh salads.
• Choose lots of vegetables – especially green veggies such as broccoli, greens (spinach, chard, kale, romaine), orange veggies like squash and sweet potatoes, red veggies – red peppers and beets, and good fruits, such as apples, berries (frozen is the best winter option), and mangos (in season right now!).
Go easy on sugar, alcohol and refined white starches. It takes your immune system 5 hours to recover from each dose of sugar from any of these sources, which is important to keep in mind during the time of year when you most want to resist catching a bug.
Remember to breathe. Take regular, deep, cleansing breaths throughout the day. Practice when you’re in your car at a stop light, practice when you’re in line at the store, practice when you’re in the elevator. It is calming and naturally stress-relieving.
Schedule downtime. Plan at least a couple of nights at home each week. Block the time, and make plans to do next to nothing – but with intention. Keep the television off and the computer closed and eat a good meal. Practice calming techniques that feel the best to you: take a long soak in a warm bath, cozy up with a book or magazine, listen to music or make a pot of soothing herbal tea.
Laugh often. Practice gratitude. Remember your blessings. Spend time with a good friend.
The basic idea is to allow for the excesses, within a framework of general good, healthy practices that sustain us. With awareness and attention to our health, we can arrive in the new year - not trying to spend months to undo, but to return with relative ease to our natural state of balance.
I wish you joy, balance, and a happy, healthy holiday season!