This post was originally published on our predecessor site, BCCT.
BCCT asked me to write a blog post on “eating well” for the holidays. In these unusual times I will take the license to expand the topic to nourishment, which includes, but isn’t only about eating. According to the Oxford dictionary, nourishment is “the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition.” Those “other substances” may vary a bit from one person to the next, but in general, we are all nourished by so many health-supportive things that we take in through our senses: smells, sounds, sights, tastes, touches. Those inputs end up as “ingredients” that your body-mind-spirit converts into health-enhancing substances and wondrous biochemical reactions.
I wonder if before you read on, you would think about what those nourishments might be for you. Then, ponder on how you might create opportunities to bring nourishments in to your holidays in light of all the changes and challenges of this pandemic.
This blog post is accompanied by recipes contributed by me and other BCCT staff for making nourishing foods for the holidays. However, I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on how I will shift from my typical holiday focus of big social gatherings centered around eating, to satiating my appetite with the “other nourishments.”
For the last few years, my partner and I have hosted a “Sunday after Thanksgiving” potluck gathering of neighbors who community garden together. We’d gather around the modern-day cauldron filled with frying sweet potato chips from tators we harvested in October. While we would crunch on chips, the Cajun greaseless turkey fryer was turning an organic turkey into the juiciest, tenderest, tastiest turkey we’d ever eat, with plenty of leftovers for everyone to create “Deja Chew” meals of turkey soups, casseroles and salads.
Everyone contributed their signature dishes, including green bean casserole, cranberry relish, cornbread dressing, mac and cheese, lemon squares and sweet potato pie. I required that lots of healthy veggie and fruit dishes appear on the buffet, and in this crowd, they disappeared quickly. The main dish for my vegetarian guests was my acorn squash stuffed with rice-lentil pilaf. I knew to make plenty extra as side servings for the omnivores of the group.
We socially lubricated the group (though that was hardly needed) with our experimental cocktails. Last year the feature was local Virginia hard apple cider with a stir-in of pureed cranberries and oranges and a splash of bitters.
Of course, the real sweetness and joy of these gatherings was our coming together to tell stories and openly gush our gratitude for another year of friendship and support.
Somehow, over the last year we all sensed that we wouldn’t be able to gather in this way over Thanksgiving, so we took advantage of the beautiful warm Virginia days and nourished our friendships with long walks, brunches made from the garden harvests and served in the community garden, and campfire circles on cool autumn evenings where we caught up on our life stories. Somehow, overcoming the challenges of physical distancing made us even closer and more committed to caring for each other.
I am honing in on what nourishes me.
With that backdrop, I now am planning how I will spend this Thanksgiving. I am honing in on what nourishes me, knowing that food is only one nourishment I need. As morning light comes in my window on Thanksgiving day, I will relish staying in my cozy bed a little longer, knowing I don’t have to think about the logistics of entertaining a houseful of people. I will let my muscles marinate in my unhurried Yoga practice. My precious little dog will spread her happy spirit and unconditional love all over me, like frosting on a cake. A holiday from work will find me eating a more leisurely breakfast enlivened by spicy conversations between me, a Cajun, and my partner, a Brazilian.
My partner and I will cook a Thanksgiving meal, but without the pressure of setting up the house to accommodate 16 dinner guests. I won’t have to fret over a timetable. That will free me up to enjoy the meditative and healing power of cooking.
I will prepare turkey in the usual way, in my greaseless infrared turkey fryer, only this time there will be far more leftovers. I will be sure to infuse the bird with an extra measure of love, because most of it will go to 3 friends who are going through health crises compounded by being isolated. Classic holiday dishes from our respective cultures will show up on the menu: Cornbread Dressing, Cajun Dirty Rice, Brazilian style collards and Pumpkin Sweet. We’ll throw in some healthy translations of classic comfort food like Mac and Un-Cheese as well as green beans casserole. I will save aside some turkey for us to have Turkey Pumpkin Peanut Soup and turkey salad over the coming days.
While we eat, we’ll Zoom with our family members who are spread all over the country and the world. My older sister and brother-in-law are celebrating their 50 years of marriage this week, so reminiscing about their wedding in 1970 and all our years together tending our family circle will be sweet.
I will turn off the light, thankful that there will be plenty of leftover food, love and caring to nourish me during this unpredictable time.
Then, we’ll walk our dog along the lovely Roanoke River, and hopefully be joined by a few good friends. The sound of the river, the view of the boulders towering above the water, the crunch of the leaves, the smell of the forest, the throaty call of the blue heron, the delightful laughter and story-telling among friends will satisfy our appetites for nature and friendship.
I will be full by bedtime—full of the many nourishments in my life. I will turn off the light, thankful that there will be plenty of leftover food, love and caring to nourish me during this unpredictable time—this time that calls me to discover what is most essential.
Recipes from BCCT Chefnurcian (chef, nurse and musician) Laura Pole and others. Laura is a health-supportive chef and culinary translator. She is Director of Nourishment Education Programs as well as head retreat chef for Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC.
Laura’s note: I find that many traditional Thanksgiving meals often don’t include fresh veggies. Many folks are used to using canned vegetables cooked in a casserole, which often adds calories, salt and fat without enhancing the nutritional value of the vegetable. Here’s a delicious, more health-supportive alternative to that popular green bean casserole. Even my die-hard “pot luck” frequenters like this version of the traditional dish!
Laura’s note: I grew up in southwest Louisiana, the Cajun Country. Our dressing to accompany turkey was made from cornbread. Some folks down there often bake the dressing in a casserole dish with a little extra broth in it, to make it very moist. I, and my cooking mentor, Angelle, like ours formed into balls and baked until golden brown, with a little “crunch” on the outside. Here is my more “health supportive” version of this classic dish.
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