Today we are celebrating my favorite holiday of the year. To me, Thanksgiving signals the smell of nutmeg and cinnamon in the air, spending time with my family, and baking some delicious, sweet and savory fare.
Yet, if we take a peak underneath the modern-day Thanksgiving hood, the food on the table is a far cry from what was served at the first Thanksgiving of 1621, or even Thanksgivings of 30 years ago. Instead of thoughtfully dining on local and wild foods, today we're accustomed to store-bought pumpkin pies, canned cranberry sauces, Kraft's Stove Top stuffing mix, and other packaged, nutrient-deplete foods made in factories, and not in Grandma's kitchen.
We need to bring Thanksgiving back to its roots! This year lets take on the challenge of making this holiday a more conscious one. Its not every day that the stars align where we've got time off from life's daily grind and the family all together in one place. Next week is the perfect opportunity to show off your culinary skills and put some homemade, nourishing food on your table.
Here are three mindful tips to spice up your 2010 Thanksgiving. I've also added two of my natural, whole foods recipes to get you started and hopefully inspired!
Tip 1: Get Smart About What's Really in the Foods You're Purchasing
Few of us have the time to cook a Thanksgiving feast from scratch. That means many dinner tables next week will be topped with at least some food items that have been pre-baked, pre-mixed, pre-seasoned or prepared, at some level, by someone you'll never see along the food chain.
If you have to take the shortest, quickest route, you may opt to buy a dessert, order a pre-cooked turkey and whip up some gravy with the help of a dry packaged mix. But just take a walk down the aisles dedicated to Thanskgiving at your grocery store and you'll find most sauce packets, stock cubes and premade pie crusts, are full of hard-to-pronounce, factory-added ingredients, like "partially hydrogenated soybean oil," "disodium inosinate" and "thiamin mononitrate." Taking the time to find more natural versions of these, or, better yet, making simple dishes from whole and pure ingredients can be a great first step.
Here's a list worth thinking about: pan-roasted brussel sprouts, herb-roasted root vegetables or grilled polenta. These will take you less than 10 minutes of prep time.
Tip 2: Try Making Healthy Modifications to Conventional Recipes You're Cooking
If you've decided you're going to make most of your feast from scratch, you've already guaranteed yourself a healthier, more delectable meal! However, there are still some things to think about because many ingredients, although more whole, will still have origins in an industrial food chain. In their conventional forms, cream, milk, butter and eggs (essential ingredients for pumpkin pies and gravies) won't be free from antibiotics, hormones or pesticides unless they're from local, organic or non-factory farms. Similarly, wheat flours and breads (used for stuffings and cornbreads) will on most occasions be made from refined, nutrient-deplete grains.
But there are plenty of alternatives. Here are some healthy ingredient modifications to some Thanksgiving favorites:
Pumpkin Pie: If you want to make a pumpkin pie filling from scratch, try pureeing pumpkin or choose a canned pure pumpkin puree that has no sweeteners or extra ingredients. Choose organic eggs (or pasture-raised, even better!), butter and milk if your budget allows. And substitute the large amount of refined table sugar with a smaller quantity of less refined sugars. My favorites are coconut and palm sugars (or a combo of the two), date sugar or maple crystals. In terms of the crust, a non-dairy alternative can be made with olive or coconut oil and whole wheat pastry flour can be substituted for refined and bleached wheat flour.
Cornbread and Stuffing: With these items, try reaching for a non-GMO cornmeal as well as an unbleached, organic flour or a bread consisting of more whole grains for your stuffing recipe. The more whole grain you can use, the more nutrient-rich your recipe will become.
Turkeys: There's still some time left to find locally raised, wild and/or heritage breed turkeys from smaller, non-industrialized farms. The more naturally and ethically raised your bird, the more delicious and healthier for you and our planet! Explore some options at Dartagnan, HeritageFoods, and SlowFood Dallas.
Tip 3: Think Outside the Box and Explore
Finally, don't be afraid to think outside the box. Thanksgiving doesn't always have to be defined by turkey, stuffing and gravy. Use this day as an opportunity simply to cook more, explore different recipes, enjoy a sit-down, slow meal with your loved ones, and go vegetarian if you want to. Below I've included two tasty recipes: one is a savory and nutritious lentil soup, and the other is a simple, low-sugar cranberry sauce.
Finally, you can weave mindfulness not only through your food choices, but also through your entire routine! Try start or end the day with a walk or hike outdoors, taking the time to get in tune with the day, the season and the present. Or throw the football around outside before the games start on TV. Whatever we end up doing, lets make it a goal to truly honor the abundance in which we live now in comparison to the days of yore. With small changes, it'll be easy to make your 2010 Thanksgiving a more conscious, healthy and meaningful one. Enjoy!
Natural and Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Yield: 2 ½ cups
1 12-ounce bag cranberries
2/3 cup water
Juice of one large orange (about 1/3 cup)
Zest of one large orange (about 1 tablespoon)
¾ cup unrefined coconut sugar or palm sugar
1 cinnamon stick
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
pinch sea salt
Combine ingredients into a heavy sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for fifteen minutes, making sure to stir occasionally as sauce thickens. Remove from heat, transfer to a clean vessel, discard cinnamon stick, and refrigerate sauce until cold. Enjoy!
Savory Cumin Lentil Soup
Yield: Five 1 cup servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced into ½ inch cubes (about 7 ounces)
2 ribs celery, roughly diced into ½ inch cubes
1 carrot, peeled and roughly diced into ½ inch cubes (about 5 ounces)
2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1 cup red lentils, rinsed thoroughly and drained
4 cups vegetable stock or water
3 ounces collard greens (3 leaves, stems removed), chopped into bite-sized pieces
1. Add oil to a large sauce pan over medium heat. When warm, add onions, celery, carrots and garlic. Sweat until unions become translucent.
2. Stir in salt, cumin, coriander, cayenne and turmeric.
3. Add lentils and 3 cups stock or water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, covered.
4. Uncover and add 1 cup remaining stock or water. Simmer another 5 minutes uncovered.
5. Stir in collard greens and cook until tender - about 5 to 10 minutes.
Pooja Mottl is a healthy living advisor, candidate of the Chef's Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts (NGI) and an NSCA-CPT-certified fitness professional. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.