Thanksgiving

The two things you absolutely MUST have on your Thanksgiving menu

I do like pie, I'm not going to lie! But in all likelihood pie is already on your menu---maybe even several varieties! So, I'm going to suggest a couple of things that you may not have thought of just yet. How did I settle on the two items you should add to your table? As I trained to become a health coach, I studied 100 different diets. As a fitness professional, I have read countless periodicals, journals, and magazines, all of which feature studies and all kinds of information exploring the effects of various foods on our bodies. And just last week I attended the Wise Traditions conference in California, where I learned more about the most nutrient-dense and nourishing foods.

All of this to say, I'm not just pulling these ideas out of thin air. I've boiled all of that info down to just two MUST-HAVEs to add to this year's Thanksgiving feast. Cranberry relish and stuffing! Just kidding. The two are listed below.

First, something FRESH! You are as alive as the food you eat. Think of the difference between being at a live concert and listening to a cd. Eating food from the supermarket is the cd--shiny and attractive but tasteless and difficult to digest. Eating food from a farm or your garden is the live concert--delighting and stimulating your tastebuds...and your whole body!

By the way, when I say fresh I don't mean something labeled "fresh" or a product with a cow drawn on the label or a cutesy illustration of a farm. I mean something that doesn't come in a package, food that you did not buy in a brick and mortar store. I'm not saying everything on your menu needs to be this fresh. But what if at least one menu item were that fresh?

You can get fresh food from your own garden if you have one or from a local farmers market. If you don't know of one, just google it or go to farmmatch.com. I bet there's one within a 10-minute drive or walk from your home!

Once you buy your one fresh item, get cooking, but keep it simple. There's no need to gussy up your ingredient by making it into a casserole or putting marshmallows on it. Farm fresh foods--like the sweet potatoes we had for dinner last night--don't need a lot of adornment. We just stuck them in the oven for an hour or so and slathered butter on them and they were absolutely delectable.

Note that this was only the initial butter I slathered on!

One of my daughters takes hers completely naked---the sweet potato, that is! The freshness is the condiment that takes them over the top. Of course if you want to get fancy, you may. You could make sweet potato gnocchi. Be my guest. Or better yet, invite me over and I'll be your guest.

The second must-have menu item is something FERMENTED. The Standard American Diet (also known as S.A.D.) doesn't often include fermented foods, but most all other diets around the world do! The bacteria and enzymes from fermented foods enhance your digestion, boost your immune system, and help you avoid chronic disease. At Thanksgiving, we're most interested in the first benefit on that list: aiding digestion. In other words, it'll be easier for your system to handle all the food coming its way, if you eat something fermented.

So what should it be? The choices are practically endless! Try pickled green beans, just plain pickles, krauts, kimchi, kalechi. Warning: you can't just buy something at your local grocery store and assume it's been fermented. (Even pickles aren't always pickled; they may just be cucumbers sitting in vinegar.) So be on the lookout for brands that indicate that they are fermented like Bubbie's pickles and sauerkraut. You can find brands like this one at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or Moms Organic Markets.

Serving suggestion for the pickled beets

Or go local with fermented foods (see point number one). Number 1 Sons has some amazing fermented foods that have made me fall in love with veggies in a whole new way---like okra and green beans. They sell their vast array of foods at many area farmers markets in the DC metro area.

So that's it: fresh and fermented foods. Were you surprised by these two suggestions? Did you already have these kinds of foods on your menu? If not, go for it! Yes, serve the usual suspects: turkey, stuffing, green beans, and mashies. But add a dash of life and spice by adding the fresh and fermented foods to the mix! Your family and friends will love you and thank you for it! And so will your body!

A simpler (saner) Thanksgiving

Short of time travel to transport us back to the first Thanksgiving, how can we enjoy the upcoming holiday without sweating the details? (Although now that I think of it, I bet those pilgrims and native Americans were working quite hard to pull off that first feast---there were turkeys to pluck, giblets to stew and corn to shuck, just for starters.) For us today there are to-do lists the length of our arms--covering everything from food purchasing to prep to household cleaning to making sure we have the right number of plates and silverware. Even writing about it is making my blood pressure rise! How can we keep things simple, so that we can truly enjoy the gifts the day brings? The old Shaker song had it exactly right: Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free. Freedom follows simplicity.

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Here are a few tips on finding that simple, freeing balance in your upcoming holiday:

1. First and foremost, remember to give thanks. It's not just about eating or football or pie (though all of these should be enjoyed, of course). As you prepare your home and the food, be thankful for the little things---helping hands, flour to spill, a roof over your head, the cat darting through your feet.

2. Choose quality over quantity.  The fanciest restaurants serve the smallest portions. Why? Because their food is made with the finest ingredients. They know their patrons will be satisfied because of the quality of their food. Follow suit. Buy the best, freshest, most organic ingredients you can afford.  Of course you want to make sure there is sufficient food, but there's no need to make too much. This will only result in everyone over-eating and consequently feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the evening.  It's okay to leave people wanting more. And trust me, they will want more.  Here's what I'm talking about: make 2 pies from scratch, rather than buying 4 Mrs. Smith pies, for example.  Your guests will be abuzz about how amazing everything was. And you'll ensure that only the turkey is stuffed.

3. Move. One of my most memorable thanksgiving celebrations came when I was a twenty-something and I went to a family friend's home for Thanksgiving. After we ate, the parents gathered around the t.v. to watch a football game. The kids headed outside to play touch football. Guess which group I decided to join? I'm no football player (my husband has that territory covered nowadays) but I knew that sitting on the couch would leave me feeling like a big fat turkey. (Sorry, I couldn't resist!) This year, some of our family is signing up for a local Turkey Trot. If you're not that ambitious, simply invite folks to play a game after dinner that requires more movement than lifting a fork and bringing it to your mouth.

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4. Regarding decorations, one or two colorful items will suffice. Let Martha Stewart be Martha Stewart. Keep the decorations natural and simple. Get some seasonal flowers or vegetables and arrange them as a centerpiece. For the past few days, I've had a simple pumpkin and a bowl of clementines as the centerpiece of my dining room table. Their color feels very November to me and they make the table look so festive and cheery. (Plus, they're edible, so we can enjoy them twice!)

One year, my sister made this cute brown wreath and she cut up construction paper to look like leaves. She asked everyone to write down what we were thankful for on a leaf and pin it to the wreath. (Simpler still: don't make a wreath. Just cut out the colorful leaves and scatter them on the coffee table or kitchen counter.) It made for a wonderful conversation piece, as we read what young and old had written.

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5. When it comes to family, just breathe. Ah, yes, there will be the usual quirky personalities gathered around the table. Your own included! Make an effort to see what you are grateful for, in each person. Maybe Uncle Rodolfo's tired jokes make everyone roll their eyes, but at least he also puts a smile on everyone's faces, right? Look at each person with eyes of love.

6. Speaking of eyes of love, look for ways to share the blessings you've received with those in need. Soup kitchens and non-profits are swamped on Thanksgiving. You don't need to run out and be one of the crowd. Look for ways to serve and help, year-round. We sponsor two children through Compassion International. A contribution each month ensures that these children have food, education and Christian guidance. Do something on a small scale, if you like---give to the Salvation Army bell-ringer outside the grocery store; buy an extra non-perishable food item for a local food pantry. Give others something to be thankful for.

7. Last, but not least: be. Don't shop. There will be sales on other days. Just be. A recent study indicated that people would rather receive electric shocks than to sit alone quietly with their thoughts for 15 minutes. We are a distracted generation, afraid to just be. We don't know how to do it. We can re-learn to "be", together. It's a matter of being intentional---even if it's just for an hour or two. Put out a basket and ask everyone to put their devices (cell phones, ipads, etc.) in it, at least for the duration of the meal. Try turning off the t.v. and turning toward one another.  We'll be rewarded when we experience the gamut of emotions that life has to offer---even boredom, perhaps. To me, this is experiencing the totality of life---in all of its beauty and mundane glory. We'll eat, laugh, move, smile, talk, and eat again.

And for all of this, I am truly thankful.