A Paleo Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2014Thanksgiving just might be my very favorite holiday. Over the years I’ve celebrated it in many different ways and that’s left me with a lot of fond memories. Growing up it always involved getting the family together and many dishes that were traditional to our table. There are also a few memories that involve under- and over-cooked turkeys, jokes about more wine and less lighting, and perhaps even some preventative antibiotics. Then slowly, as lives changed and different traditions developed, Thanksgiving began to evolve.

For much of my adult life, I’ve lived fairly far away from my parents and siblings and travelling on the holidays hasn’t been possible very often so Thanksgiving started to include friends. Frequently these friends were also displaced and looking for a way to share and celebrate the bounty of the season. There have been years when we’ve hosted friends at our house, a couple times with family who came out to visit, and some years we’ve had friends invite us to their Thanksgiving feasts. This year, actually, will be our quietest Thanksgiving – just the three of us. It’s a busy time of year for my husband at work, a few family possibilities didn’t come to fruition, so I’ve been thinking about different ways to mark this time of year.

There’s so much to love about Thanksgiving, I think. First of all, for a foodie, having a holiday with a huge emphasis on a bountiful table is fun. I love the idea of putting some music on, opening a bottle of wine, and just cooking to my heart’s content. Plus, I really appreciate this holiday for its emphasis on gratitude and sharing. I realize consumerism has taken over and get frustrated when October rolls around and there are Christmas decorations/songs/toys/music/etc. in the stores, but for this one day, I really see and feel the beauty of grace and gratitude. Maybe it’s something about the crisp, cool weather, maybe it’s that the holiday lights and songs are finally in synch with the season, or maybe it’s just me. And food. And how cooking for others and sharing the gift of time in the kitchen is one way that I can give back to the people who fill my heart and mind and life.

So back to the food… Someone recently asked me about a Paleo Thanksgiving and truly this is one of the easiest holidays to celebrate if you are following a Paleo lifestyle. So many of the foods are delicious, whole foods that can be easily modified to fit whatever your food philosophy is. If you’re strict Paleo, you can totally do this, and if you are someone who allows a few blurry lines, you might be surprised at how easy it is. I’m posting a few links today to some recipes around the web that I have either tried on various holidays myself or that look amazing and worth trying. If you are a traditionalist that has to have the same recipes from year to year, consider branching out just a little bit! Until starting this blog which requires some recipe testing and repeat performances, my husband would often tease that it wasn’t really worth liking a recipe because I wasn’t going to make it again anyway. I am not one for repeating recipes, generally, because there are so many things out there to try and for some reason I think I need to be the one to try them. Either way, if you are a traditionalist or someone who loves a new rendition of an old favorite or someone who loves to spice up the table with a different dish every year, I hope you find this list helpful as you’re planning your holiday plate.

Turkey – I don’t really have a great recipe for Turkey. It’s Paleo by nature so I just go with that.

Stuffing – I admit that this is generally the hardest one for me on Thanksgiving. I LOVE stuffing. It’s my favorite thing on the Thanksgiving table and I love many different versions, none of which are Paleo. I have, however, found a recipe that looks intriguing so this is what I’m thinking for this year.

Cranberry Sauce – My favorite recipe from a friend and modified for Paleo.

Gravy – I made this last year and my son devoured it over everything. It’s definitely coming back!

Brussels Sprouts – We love Brussies in our house and our favorite way to have them is roasted with bacon and mushrooms. Since my son doesn’t like green beans, we usually opt for these instead.

Butternut Squash – Try this exotically spiced dish for a change from sugary-sweet casseroles.

Mashed “Potatoes” – Potatoes are considered Paleo so there are definitely ways to use regular potatoes and coconut milk, ghee, grass-fed dairy, or bone broth to make your mash Paleo. But if you’re looking to lighten the carb load of your Thanksgiving Day, try using cauliflower! There are many variations and this garlic-y version looks lovely.

Pumpkin Pie – Thanksgiving needs pie, right? Here’s a Paleo pumpkin pie recipe that looks spectacular!

One last thing before I go: There’s an incredible Paleo (Kindle) book sale going on over at Buck Books on Tuesday, November 25. It is for one day only and there are some truly cool books on the list for just $0.99 and a couple at $1.99. Really! I’m super-excited to see Gather on the list because what better time than the holidays to have a book focused on celebrating with friends around the table? The Ancestral Table has also been calling my name for a while and there are many others to check out.

The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant
Beyond Bacon by Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry
The Paleo Kitchen by Juli Bauer and George Bryant
Gather, The Art of Paleo Entertaining by Bill Staley and Hayley Mason
Everyday Paleo By Sarah Fragoso
Sexy by Nature by Stefani Ruper
Free the Animal by Richard Nikoley
The Paleo Girl by Leslie Klenke
The Paleo Sweet Tooth by Alison Russo
Decadent Paleo Desserts by Hannah Healy
The Modern No Nonsense Guide to Paleo by Alison Golden
The Everything Weeknight Paleo Cookbook by Michelle Fagone

So head on over to the site to sign up so you don’t miss the day.

Ham and Vegetable Chowder

Ham Chowder 2014

Snow! We are in the midst of our first real winter weather here in Pueblo and, while I already miss the long, lazy days of summer, I do love soup and stewed dishes so I plan to focus on the positive and get cooking. Our winters in southern Colorado don’t compare at all to what happens in other parts of the country. Generally, like now, we get a dusting of snow and it doesn’t stick around for very long. This cold front was a bit of a shock to the system, though. On Tuesday, I enjoyed my lunch outside in the sunshine, relishing the gorgeous 70 degree weather. About an hour later the wind was terrible and the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. Now it won’t get above freezing. Extreme shifts in temperature are common for Colorado, but I really wasn’t quite ready for it yet. I still had plans for hiking and running in the fall sunshine. Luckily, there will still be lots of occasions for that because this can’t last too long.

For now, though, it’s cold! So what’s a girl to do? Well I made chowder. I like my chowder with lots of veggies, of course, while my son chose to pick out all the chunks of ham and eat those. One day I’m convinced he’ll like vegetables just as much as I do, but I’m not holding my breath for it! This is a comforting bowl of creamy, salty, smoky deliciousness, just perfect for a chilly day. I cut everything into fairly small chunks so this chowder came together quickly. The next time a storm blows in, consider warming up with a big bowl of this and maybe a glass of wine. I promise not to tell.

Ingredients

2 tsp. coconut oil

1/2 onion

3 stalks of celery

2 large carrots

2 turnips, total about 3/4 lb.

1/2 bell pepper (I used an orange one)

4 oz. mushrooms

1/4 tsp. salt

3 c. ham, cut into 1/2 in. chunks

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. bouquet garni

1/4 tsp. pepper + more to taste

4 c. stock (I used pork stock)

1 c. coconut milk

Directions

1) Gather all of the vegetables together. Peel the carrots and turnips and chop everything into 1/2 in. pieces.

2) Melt coconut oil (or other fat of choice) in a large soup pot over medium high heat and sauté the vegetables with salt until beginning to soften, about 7 minutes.

3) Add the ham and herbs and stir everything together. Then add the stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.

4) Once the vegetables are soft, scoop out about a cup of veggies and broth and puree (I used a Magic Bullet for this). Add it back to the chowder, pour in the coconut milk, and simmer vigorously for about 10 minutes.

5) Taste to adjust the seasoning – if the ham is salty, skip any additional salt. Serve in large bowls with lots of freshly ground pepper.

This I Know for Sure: I am grateful for you

branches at dawnI lost my balance for a bit. I wish I had something profound to say about why it happened or how to prevent it from happening again, but the truth of it is that I don’t exactly know. Still. So many years of back and forth with food, fun, and trying to figure it all out. What I CAN say, though, is that this time was definitely different than before. Shorter. Healthier. More balanced. Not perfectly balanced, just more balanced. And that’s a start.

It wasn’t just about food either. Something shifted inside of me and I have spent some time over the past few months trying to figure out how all of the pieces of my life fit together. One of those pieces is this blog and it has been a struggle for me to put into words what transpired. Last month was actually my one-year anniversary of sharing recipes and the occasional musings with all of you. That should have been reason for celebration, at least a special recipe or something, but instead I closed up and haven’t posted in ages. Then each time I wanted to post, or thought I should post, I felt guilty for neglecting Balancing Paleo and you(!) for so long. I wanted to apologize, explain, fix it, take it back…something. And that in turn made me stay quiet, because you see, I don’t usually put things out there that easily. My thoughts, my reasons, these are things that I tend to keep quite private and ever since beginning this blog it has been an interesting experience for me. It has stretched me and made me look at things differently. But to say everything, to put it all out there, is still so hard.

My cooking shifted too. Rather than creating my own recipes, I’ve been spending time in my cookbooks. Or if I do cook creatively, I haven’t been writing anything down, instead just going by taste and feel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I recognize it for what it is here – a desire to stay safe, a fear of being vulnerable, exposed. There have been days, too, when I simply haven’t felt like cooking, and many of those days have spiraled out of control, reminding me sharply of the interconnectivity of food and my mind.

Then a friend gave me a book: What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey. It is a compilation of short essays about those things, experiences, thoughts that Oprah knows for sure. She explores joy, resilience, awe, connection, gratitude, and possibility. It is introspective, touching, and inspiring. It, in fact, inspired this post. I started reading it a few days ago, and then I went to yoga, another gift in my life that I have neglected lately. Fittingly, we did Tree pose which always reminds me of what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. Balancing Paleo is a place for growth, not perfection. It is my attempt to share things which delight me – food or otherwise – and it is okay if that isn’t perfect. If I am not perfect.

So this I know for sure: I am grateful for all of you who read my blog, try my recipes, comment here, or just stop by. Your presence allows me the place and space to continue this journey and work towards balance. You ground me in my search towards better and let me reach towards the sky, fluidly, not locked into any expectation. You let me bend and stretch and become.

Thank you.