We took a trip to Wisconsin this past weekend to visit K.C.’s cousin, Rita. Rita recently celebrated her 94th birthday and is without question one of those angels who walks among us. She’s open-minded, forgiving, funny, easygoing, and energetic. She’s an inspiration in how to be grateful for life. Despite over the past decade having broken both hips, her wrist, battling two cataract surgeries and the passing of her beloved husband, family and friends, she just keeps moving and smiling. We are so blessed to have her in our lives. She never wastes a second of time.
Speaking of time, on our way back to the airport, a car in front of us swerved from the middle lane into the right almost sideswiping another car before swerving back into the lane in front of us. Thanks to KC’s quick reflexes, we skid to a stop before hitting the car. There were several breathless moments as we held our breath hoping the truck behind us wouldn’t slam into the back of us. Thankfully, what could’ve easily been a three car pileup on the highway with us in the middle didn’t happen. If we had been a second ahead or behind, it would’ve been a very different outcome. Instead of one or both of us waking up in a hospital far from home, or worse, we woke up safe and sound in our warm bed with Ms. Lilliput sleeping soundly at our feet. The fates gave us that extra second of time and another beautiful day to wake up together. That’s why this year, I’m grateful for time and the simple pleasure it brings like getting to hug K.C. good morning, and listening to Ms. Lilliput purr when I scratch her behind the ears. With Thanksgiving less than a couple of weeks away, it’s perfect time for the reminder of what I’m most grateful for. My precious girls.
I love Thanksgiving. It’s by far my favorite holiday. It didn’t used to be though. There was a time when it meant eating totally unhealthy food until I felt awful and spending the day with blood relatives who I had nothing in common with and really don’t like. Not anymore. Now, we rotate hosting dinner with some good friends whose company we enjoy. Family members are invited provided they check their negativity and drama at the door. When it’s my turn to host dinner, I make the same usual classics, but modify the recipes to avoid unnecessary fat, sugar and salt. We also incorporate exercise and stress management into what is typically a busy bustling day. Here are a few of my ideas for transformed Thanksgiving Day recipes, exercise and stress management.
The Recipes: I love to cook. Good food is both a gift and artistic endeavor. My biggest piece of advice is to modify the things you like to eat at Thanksgiving so that they’re more health versions. I avoid processed foods, excess fats, refined sugars and salt. They simply are not necessary to make a beautiful delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Trust me, its fun to try and totally doable. Essential things that you’ll need are a high quality roasting pan, turkey baster, fat separator and meat thermometer. To lesson stress and have time for exercise on Thanksgiving Day, I make most of the dishes ahead of time. In the couple of days before Thanksgiving, I make the turkey dressing, cranberry sauce, squash, parsnips and pumpkin custard. Dinner is served with one of my favorite wines, pinot noir.
- Turkey: There are loads of different recipes out there for how to cook a turkey. Mine is pretty basic. I always order a fresh free range bird from our local farm stand. Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s fresh and not pumped up with salt and chemicals in order to make it artificially juicy. Plus, a free range bird didn’t have to live its life inhumanely cramped in a filthy cage. To cook the turkey, preheat the oven to 450. Mix chopped fresh sage, thyme and rosemary together. Rinse and pat the turkey dry. Then rub olive oil lightly over the turkey, sprinkle the herbs on top and sparingly add salt and pepper. Add an onion cut in half, a stalk of celery cut into pieces and a bunch of unchopped sage, thyme and rosemary to the cavity. Place in the roasting pan on a rack and fill the pan so that it has about ¼ inch of water in the bottom. Roast for 30 minutes and then turn the heat down to 325. Baste the turkey often to keep it moist. Cook for the prescribed amount of time on the turkey packaging. You can also use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
- Turkey Dressing: Rip a loaf of good crusty bread into small pieces and place into a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and mix together. Place the bread on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 250 until the bread is dried out. Sauté 2 chopped leeks, a small onion, 2 celery stalks until soft then add a cup of finely chopped mushrooms. Continue sautéing until the mushrooms have released their liquid. Beat two eggs in a small bowl. Add the eggs, sautéed vegetables and dried bread to a large bowl. Add in lots of chopped fresh sage, thyme, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, 3/4 cup of dried cranberries, and 2/3 cup of chopped roasted chestnuts. Mix together and add in 1-2 cups of low sodium chicken or turkey broth in order to moisten the stuffing. Bake at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Cranberry Sauce: Place a bag of fresh cranberries into a saucepan with 1 cup of apple cider. Bring to a boil and simmer until the cranberries are popped. Add either ½ cup of honey or ¼ of stevia, the quarters from two tangerines, ½ cup of chopped walnuts and 1 tbls of instant tapioca and continue to simmer until thickened. Cranberry sauce is one of those dishes that you can get really creative with. The key here is to avoid adding refined sugar. As I mentioned, I use either honey or stevia, and not too much. The apple cider helps to add natural sweetness as well. The instant tapioca helps to thicken the sauce without all the sugar in typical recipes.
- Mashed Parsnips: Peel, chop and steam a large bunch of parsnips until very soft. Mash with ¼ cup of olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Vegetable sides: (1) Steamed fresh green beans and (2) a tossed salad. For salad dressing, blend ¼ olive oil with ¼ cup red wine vinegar, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 tsp of mustard and a dash of stevia or honey.
- Winter squash: Peel and cut a butternut squash into ½ chunks. Drizzle with olive oil and roast at 375 with one large chopped shallot until soft. Add in 2 tbls of chopped fresh sage, ½ cup of dried cranberries and ½ cup of chopped walnuts. Continue to roast until browned, but take care not to let the walnuts burn.
- Gravy: After removing the turkey to a platter to cool, pour off the juices from the roasting pan and separate the juice from fat. I use a fat separator. Place the roasting pan over the burner of the stove and add in 4 cups of low sodium turkey or chicken broth, add the turkey juice back to the pan and bring to a simmer scraping up the caramelized pieces at the bottom of the pan. In measuring cup, dissolve 2 tbls of cornstarch into ½ of water. Add the cornstarch mixture to the simmering broth and whisk continuously until the gravy is thickened. You may need to add another tbls of dissolved cornstarch depending on how thick you prefer your gravy. The key is to make sure the cornstarch is dissolved in water before adding it to the broth and continue to whisk to avoid clumping. You can also add in more fresh herbs and replace one of the cups of broth with a cup of dry white wine to jazz things up.
- Pumpkin custard: This is an incredibly easy and versatile dessert. I use a typical pumpkin pie recipe except that instead of evaporated milk, I use unsweetened almond milk. I replace the sugar with either honey or stevia (in this case either ½ cup of honey or ¼ cup of stevia) and I leave out the crust by very lightly coating a glass baking dish with butter and adding the pumpkin pie mixture directly to the dish. Bake as usual. Apple/Pear stew: Mix 1 chopped granny smith, 1 chopped pink lady, 1 chopped honey crisp apples with 2 chopped pears into a large bowl. Add in 1 tsp of lemon juice, ½ cp of apple cider, ¼ stevia or ¼ honey, ½ fresh cranberries, 1 tbls cinnamon, 1tsp cloves and 2 tbls of instant tapioca. Mix together and add to a baking dish and bake at 350 for approximately 45 minutes until the fruit is softened into a stew. Serve warm. You can make ahead of time and then place into the oven to bake while you are eating dinner.
Exercise: Don’t forget to make exercise part of your Thanksgiving Day. It will help work off the calories and keep stress at bay. We always start the day with exercise such as a run or hike, and finish with a leisurely walk after dinner.
Stress Management: The biggest thing that has helped me to avoid stress at Thanksgiving is to give myself permission not to spend the day with people who I don’t like just because they’re blood relatives. Life is too short and the day is too special. Just before we eat dinner, we go around the table and have everyone give at least one example of something they’re grateful for. After dinner, we all go for a walk. Clean-up is a tag team effort with me directing the show since it’s my kitchen. Post dinner, we play board games, drink more wine and enjoy each other’s company. We keep dinner simple by avoiding an over the top number of dishes, as I mentioned, I make as much as possible ahead of time, and we require that negativity and drama be checked at the door. I like to have fresh flowers for the table and I always give myself some quiet alone time the night before.
I wish you all the best Thanksgiving Day. I’ll be enjoying the precious time sharing a great dinner with people who I love and am so grateful to have in my life. Peace.