When Hurricane Irene put Kingsbury Farm under water this summer, Suzanne Slomin and her husband Aaron Locker had to start over with their farm, their business, their lives. They have every right to feel miserable. And yet what Slomin feels, she says, is "grateful to be part of a true community. Our friends and neighbors have been faithful to us, offering physical, economic and emotional support when we have been vulnerable and in need."
Slomin -- and the rest of us 99 percent -- are struggling through tough times. That's all the more reason gratitude belongs on your Thanksgiving menu. Giving thanks, especially in the face of hardship, is humanizing, energizing and doesn't cost a dime. Gratitude makes the food taste better. It makes you better, too.
"The attitude we carry is very important," says Anne Marie Colbin, CEO and founder of Natural Gourmet Institute. "If we are negative about the food we eat, we are eating our own negativity. That can't be good."
Much is made of the caloric and nutritional energy we get from food, but not enough about the spiritual. In these days, when irony and attitude rule and we focus more on the politics of what we eat rather than its pleasures, it takes a certain boldness to give voice to our powerful relationship with food.
"Your energy goes into the food you prepare," says Veggie Queen Jill Nussinow. "I think that's huge." Nussinow believes the physical act of preparing food, the chopping, the stirring, "is where you get to put the love in. When you eat it, you get it back. You're giving something, you're getting something. It's complete. How amazing is that?"
The New York Times food columnist and Cook This Now author Melissa Clark believes that love should be shared. "We need to cook for each other," she says. "It will not solve all the problems but it will help us get in the right place. We are better people when we eat well. I really, really believe that."
You don't have to be pious or belong to a cult to feel awe at the abundance on our plates, or, adds wine guy extraordinaire Terry Theise, the transcendence in a glass. Wine itself proves "the sacred can exist," says the author of Reading Between the Wines. "You've done nothing to deserve the beauty in this glass. It just seems wasteful to take that experience for granted."
So raise a glass and take a moment out of your crazy, overstuffed life to be thankful for the food we have, the people who grew it and the people we share it with. "It doesn't need to take a long time, you don't need to make a big show of it," says Colbin. "Just say thank you to the sun and moon and the growers and truckers and packers."
The gratitude comes right back to you by way of fresh food lovingly grown. Kingsbury Market Garden reopens today, for the first time since Hurricane Irene.
Thanksgiving needn't be elaborate. It needn't involve turkey -- the Pilgrims didn't have one -- it just needs to involve thanks.
"No matter what you eat," says Colbin, "be grateful."
Crispy Polenta with Broccoli Rabe and Gratitude
Often polenta is served at a custardy consistency, but it can be made firm and shaped and then pan-fried or broiled, giving you great crunch on the outside and creamy (yet creamless) mush on the inside. It's a perfect pairing with bold broccoli rabe.
Homemade polenta takes a little time to make, but can and should be done a day ahead, making for a less stressful Thanksgiving (or any day). Yes, you can use tube-o'-polenta instead, but compared to homemade, it feels gritty in the mouth and tastes of ... almost nothing.
Right before your Thanksgiving feast, finish the polenta by broiling it while you do a quick saute of the broccoli rabe and everything comes together bing, bang, boom.
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups organic yellow cornmeal
6 cups vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, minced
a generous amount of sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2 bunches broccoli rabe, coarsely chopped (about 5 cups)
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste
optional garnish: pinenuts or grated parmesan
Generously coat a 13 X 9 baking pan with the olive oil. Set aside.
In a large soup pot, bring 4 cups of vegetable broth to boil.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and remaining 2 cups of broth. Stir briskly until mixture is smooth and well-combined. Pour into the boiling broth and stir to avoid splattering.
Add minced garlic and stir with a wooden spoon. When mixture starts to thicken, about 5 minutes, reduce heat to low and continue stirring occasionally until polenta turns creamy and pulls away from the sides of the pot. This may take up to half an hour, but relax, have a glass of wine -- Terry Theise suggests a big, ripe Gruner Veltliner -- give the polenta a stir between checking your e-mail and your work will be done.
Add sea salt and fresh ground pepper -- polenta should have some kick. Stir and pour into prepared baking pan and let cool.
Cover and refrigerate for several hours, or better yet, overnight.
To finish, set broiler on high.
Lightly grease a rimmed cookie sheet.
Using a knife or cookie cutters, slice firm polenta into diamonds, wedges, squares, turkeys if you're clever, whatever shape moves you. Place polenta slices on cookie sheet.
Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. Place on top rack of the oven and broil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until polenta turns crisp and brown on top.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add minced garlic and red pepper flakes. When pepper flakes start to sizzle, add chopped broccoli rabe.
Give it a quick and easy stir, until broccoli rabe starts to soften but is still vibrant green -- about 5 minutes max. Squeeze juice of 1 lemon. Add sea salt to taste.
Serve polenta slices topped with broccoli rabe. Garnish with grated Parmesan or pinenuts if desired and a big dollop of thanks.