Thanksgiving Gratitude

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My grand idea for this year's Thanksgiving went to the wayside when several family issues occurred. Being a mother, I had to pay more attention to my children rather than anything else. I had been imagining what to make for Thanksgiving since August, staring out upon my barren backyard and dusty patio, visualizing a table full of feast, family and friends. Plans changed, and this year will be a light lunch served with butternut squash soup--- which I happen to take pleasure in making every year--- and then we're loading into the car to have a proper Thanksgiving at our friends' house later in the afternoon. 

When I'm cooking, the world is a peaceful place, and my kitchen is where I want to be. Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday.

During the week, I've become accustomed to picking up a burrito for myself when my low blood sugar level is sinking, so I pick up more burritos for dinner, because the kids like them, and they're fairly healthy. I actually find them quite satisfying: black beans, brown rice, veggies and, of course, loads of guacamole. I eat avocados almost daily, and my cousin in rainy England reminds me of how lucky we are for all the avocado bounty we have in California. There's a Mexican supermarket close to my house in the valley that shames even the grandest Whole Foods Market display of avocados. The first time I discovered it, I heard angels singing and the mountain of avocados for .59 each (that's two perfectly ripe avocados for a little over a dollar) looked like one of those pot of gold cartoons with the shining visual animation. 

The fantasy of taking a vacation drifts along the landscape of my thoughts while I'm waiting for the left turn signal. I have perspective and realize that my toughest days aren't the worst, because I don't like complaining or wallowing in negative thoughts, I still have gratitude. 

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I thought that I'd have my garden designed and planted by this time, with pretty tableware and plenty of food for the celebration. In my mind, I had a whole spread on the table, better than last year, though it was quite amazing that I churned out nine vegan-inspired dishes for twelve people, in addition, desserts. I found my kitchen notes stashed away in a drawer while I was cleaning, and remembered all that I made--- mashed potatoes with a rich mushroom gravy, cornbread stuffing, wild rice pilaf, grilled sweet potatoes and kabocha, my ritual butternut squash soup, mushroom soup, green beans and a colorful kale salad with hazelnuts and lemon. I also made endive with figs and honey chèvre and grapes. I made a pumpkin pie and an apple galette, served with coconut ice cream, as well as caramel sauce, just because. 

Eddie is a carnivorous eater, as are his two young daughters, my teenage son and my two daughters, so there's not a chance that a Thanksgiving spread can be completely vegan, however, it is much appreciated and they do eat a lot of vegetables to appease me. It's Eddie's job to acquire our ritual Chinese-style turkey, which is made by our friend Chef Liang in Chinatown at his restaurant Hop Woo. These Chinese turkeys are made like they do a roast duck--- then stuffed with rice and glazed with sauce. I have nothing to do with the turkey, but I cannot deny them this ritual on Thanksgiving. To make me happy, Eddie takes me out to the Chinese neighborhoods in the San Gabriel Valley for dinner dates--- he intentionally seeks out the tofu abundant vegetarian options to please me. The teapot is refilled; we drink many cups without hurry. He makes the bed every morning, he scrubs the toilets without my asking, washes dishes every once in awhile (a skill acquired from his first job at one of Disneyland's themed restaurants). He alsobabysits so I can work later, and adds many honey-filled bears to the tea cabinet at home, encourages my writing goals, tolerates my existentialist angst, and understands me when I'm at my lowest. For all of my positives and negatives, he loves me. I am grateful for that. 

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.
-Marcel Proust

Gratitude is written in chalk on the framed chalkboard sign above my stove. I look at this everyday. When I'm cooking or when I'm making tea at night, I contemplate gratitude. 

It's easy to feel complete contentment when things are going right, but something in the depth of my soul seeks to push me beyond this place. Perhaps it's the way of a creative spirit. We seek to constantly move beyond ourselves, improve, strive to make things even better. This is good when you are cooking, because the creative act is like meditation, and you can think about how to make food with more love in it. I like to keep a positive mind when cooking. I intentionally think about happy moments, such as the birth of my children, laughter, funny things that have happened, and love itself. You cannot think of your troubles when cooking. Just like the story Like Water For Chocolate, your emotions transfer into the food you prepare, at least that is what I believe. I'm superstitious about this and will not cook when angry, sad, depressed, exhausted or incredibly hungry. 

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I also find when I haven't cooked or even prepared a meal in a long time (not everything requires heating or cooking by flame), I'm out of sorts. My body hurts, my mind is clouded with things that aren't working, and I can't relax properly. Being creative, I need to paint, write, make love or cook. It comes down to those things that make me the most happy and peaceful. Even the act of giving love to my children in the form of  hugs and cooking meals is nourishing to the soul.

Gratitude is the experience of emotion that is rooted in appreciation for what is good. We can show our gratitude, parallel to giving love, by sharing. We all want to feel appreciated. I've been and am grateful for two very dear friends of mine who have helped me insurmountably, and without their kindnesses, I would be lost. I am grateful to my son's best friends' parents who have helped us over the years and opened their home and hearts to us. I am grateful to my former lover for opening my heart and soul. He was the catalyst for this blog and to this day I keep two of his gift cards on display near my writing desk--- each one has a picture of a typewriter--- and his handwritten note that says: "you inspire, your great gifts, your heart, inspires" which will always remind me of how he believed in me and my talents. I will always hold gratitude in my heart for the beautiful moments we shared and all of the food he lovingly prepared for me, as well as the many meals he wooed me with, and all that he did to show his love. I am most grateful for my three children, because without them I would not know the depth of love itself, or have the experience of being a mother, which has changed the direction of my life and its purpose. I am grateful for sharing love and being with someone who allows me the space I need to grow, expand my dreams, goals, and talents. He shares a parallel path, which isn't an easy one, of raising children and pursuing writing as a career. I am grateful for his efforts in being my loving partner, for listening to me expound on life's many events, my deepest thoughts, hopes, dreams, and the miraculousness of being alive. Also, for listening to me rant about terrible days. 

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The world and its news is filled with tragedies, horrors, sadnesses, and, because of the recent Paris attacks, my heart drowns in sorrow. I cannot fathom the losses due to the deaths of those killed in Paris, France, nor any other country and city. Loss and sorrow fill those hearts of many around the world during these holidays. My heart sinks when I imagine what their days and nights are like without those they loved. Mothers lost their children, husbands lost their wives, wives lost their husbands, children lost their parents, lovers lost their beloveds, friends lost their friends. There have been atrocities, killings, hatred and innocent people forever gone to this world. I try not to imagine, and maybe it's morbid of me, but in my way, it's giving love back to the heart of existence on this planet. I try to put myself in the place of the husband who lost his wife, and feel his pain. The depth of his anguish. The empty space by his bed where she slept. The mother who lost her daughter who was in college abroad. There are no words to give these people, and their every day forward is without that person they loved so entirely. In each meditation, as I am driving in the morning, or if I am standing in line at the supermarket, I stay present, observing each person, trying to understand that we are all here together on this earth, figuring out what life is, how we want to spend it, and forgetting how quickly it all ends, sometimes without warning, due to accident, sickness, terrorism, violence. We cannot know. 

When I gave birth to my second child, my daughter, I felt her body coming through me and I began to laugh. It was in that moment something beyond consciousness was deeply experienced--- I don't know--- I kept repeating variations of "I don't know" until it was an amusing revelation. I was completely open, a vessel for life. I knew absolutely nothing. This was it. The spiritual realization of "I don't know" gave me utter freedom. 

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Gratitude isn't an easy one. Genetic researchers have discovered that some people are inclined to appreciate more than others. I've noticed in my three children such variations in their own abilities to appreciate what they have or bemoan what they don't. 

I feel gratitude for what I have in this life. I seek love, give love, ask for love and in cooking for those I love, I am giving them my appreciation, compassion, happiness, peaceful thoughts and love as ingredients. 

Since I've not had the means to create what I envisioned for this year's Thanksgiving, I have to change my mindset and believe that it is enough, though maybe not how I wanted it to be. Letting go of the perfect Thanksgiving, it becomes the perfect Thanksgiving, though maybe not in the catalogue-beautiful, sunset-picturesque perfection way, or maybe it is

Just being present in gratitude of life itself is enough. Making soup comforts, celebrating making something good out of what you have. 

The cinder block wall in the backyard will eventually be covered with bamboo fencing. The grass removed will be replanted with longer fescue grass, another citrus tree, a Meyer lemon, will be planted, some stone paving, an area to grow vegetables--- those pesky squirrels better not eat them because I'll cover the edible garden with netting, though my poor oranges are plundered the moment they are ripe.

I'll have my youngest daughter set up the table, prepare our Thanksgiving day luncheon, and perhaps next year at this time I'll have more friends over, share more, give more. This year, I needed the giving to, and that also means, giving to myself the patience and gratitude in just being alive and grateful for that. There are those who are not, and there are those who have much harder lives that worrying about their vegetable gardens being eaten by squirrels.

I consider myself fortunate and with a full heart I wish my readers a Happy Thanksgiving, because we have much to be thankful for here on earth. Let's celebrate by making something to eat and share with those we love. That act of love and kindness is all that matters, and we can make it better, in small ways, with this chain effect of gratitude and giving. 

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I'm sharing my butternut squash soup recipe, because it's my ritual. Also, I'm trying out a few other recipes this year, mainly due to meeting Nigella Lawson most recently, so I'll choose a few recipes from her latest cookbook for our mid-day Thanksgiving lunch (we'll see how I did in recreating them, Nigella). From Simply Nigella: Feel Good Food, I'm making Warm Spiced Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad with Pomegranate Seeds as part of our lunch, then baking a Cider 5-Spice Bundt Cake. I think the Smoky Salted Caramel Sauce might go well with the No-Churn Pumpkin Ice Cream and maybe those delectable Nutella Brownies are a good thing to make as an offering to our friends. I did receive a vegan recipe from Matthew Kenney's chef, so that's a good one to try for lunch--- Forager's Thanksgiving Pie. It has wild mushrooms and sweet potatoes, so really, you can't go wrong. This recipe was sent to me via email from Matthew Kenney. Honestly, all of the sweet potatoes just make me smile in gratitude. I'll try that recipe for another post, because the abundance of mushrooms and sweet potatoes give endless pleasure. 

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There are so many ways to make butternut squash soup. I've added other squashes, such as kabocha and pumpkin, however there is something about the way butternut squashes blend that have me in awe of the silky texture. The main ingredient I find essential to this particular soup is cashew. Cashews lend a light yet velvety taste with some creamy heft to the soup without butter and/or cream. However, you may add butter and cream to be indulgent, I won't blame you. If you want the pleasure of a creamy soup that is low-fat and healthy, just use cashews. 

For those with nut allergies, cashews won't work. I'm making two pots of this soup this year--- one with cashews and one without, as we have one of our children that cannot eat nuts. Think for your guests. If you do choose to make this soup with cashew nuts and suspect someone may be allergic, please mention before they ladle up a bowl. In that case, substitute with coconut cream or whole milk cream, if either of those options fit. Yukon Gold potatoes also add a creaminess without the use of dairy or nuts. 

Additionally, adding coconut cream gives it an Indian and South Asian taste, which is complimentary to the use of cashews and curry spices like coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cumin, and nutmeg. Fresh grated turmeric root and ginger adds a spicy zing to the soup. You can garnish with cilantro and kaffir lime leaves and a few toasted cardamom seeds which changes up the Thanksgiving usuals. Poblano chilies are a spicy shift from the typical flavors during this holiday, and can be magical when added to this squash soup, but you must serve with warm cornbread for dipping. 

Butternut Squash Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 tbsp. olive oil

  • 3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

  • 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut 

  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock, to add as needed 

  • 2 tbl lemon juice, plus more to taste

  • 1 cup of milk or cream (substitute coconut cream)

  • 1 cup cashews, soaked in stock (optional if allergy)

  • 2 or 3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

  • sea salt and spices (to taste)

DIRECTIONS

Heat the oven to 400F. Peel and seed the squash: cut in half then lengthwise, then put cut side down on board and slice off skin carefully. Scoop out seeds. Cut into 2 inch cubes. 

Peel and chop shallots. If using cashews, soak them in the broth awhile. Scrub, peel and chop potatoes. 

Toss the squash, potatoes and shallots with olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. A splash of marsala or sherry gives sweetness to the roasting and I tend to do this, but it's not necessary. Spread the squash mixture on baking sheet pans and roast in the oven for about 30 to 45 minutes. Stir the roasting squash to get an even browning while they are in the oven. 

Place the roasted squash in a large soup pot with 2 cups of vegetable stock and simmer on the stovetop for about 20 minutes. Add the cashew with broth (if you are using cashews). Then turn off flame and purée the soup in a high speed blender or use an immersion blender. Have a separate soup pot to transfer the blended soup into as you puree in batches. Add more broth to temper the texture of your soup. 

Bring the puréed soup back to simmer and season with lemon juice, spices, sea salt, and whatever ingredients you choose from the suggested list of options. Balance the sweet to acid, salty and spice. 

Squash soup with brown butter, fried sage leaves, nutmeg and whole milk cream is another variation that pleases the senses. Use this base recipe and then create the flavor with your choice of spices, cream, nuts, butter and garnish. Here are some suggestions:

 
  • cinnamon

  • nutmeg

  • honey toasted hazelnuts

  • cream

  • brown butter

  • fried sage leaves

  • gruyere

  • hazelnuts

  • crème fraîchecoconut cream

  • garam masala spices

  • pumpkin oil

  • fresh grated turmeric root

  • nutmeg

  • croutons

  • caramelized red onions

  • fried sage leaves

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