How to Add a Side of Awareness to Your Thanksgiving Meal
Thanksgiving can be a somewhat decadent holiday. But, even amidst the indulgence, there is ample room for awareness and simplicity that will benefit you and the Earth. Here are a few tips for creating a greener, healthier Thanksgiving including, some of my favorite family recipes. Bon appétit!
1. Be Mindful of your Meat. If you chose to go for tofurkey this year, kudos to you. But, if you decide to go with a turkey, choose an ethically raised or humanely raised turkey. Cooking Turducken? Apply the same principles to your chicken, turkey, and duck. Poultry is not covered under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and turkeys are said to be among the most abused animals on earth. And with an estimated 42 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving alone, that's a lot of turkeys. Some phrases to look for when shopping are Heritage turkeys, sustainably raised turkeys, or USDA certified organic turkeys. Certified Organic birds were raised under strict guidelines; no antibiotics, no growth enhancers, only organic feed, and the animals must be given access to outdoors. The term "free range" can be misleading, so do your research when purchasing a bird, know where it's from, and how it was raised. Go for locally raised birds from smaller farms if possible. Factory farms also have a much higher environmental footprint, so you are doing your part in more ways than one here. The price may be a bit higher, but it's well worth it. So, whatever your preference may be, opt for a meat that was given a good life.
2. Buy fresh, organic, local produce. Hit the Farmer's Market if that's an option for you. The environmental impact of produce flown in from around the globe is substantial. And going can-free reduces packaging waste and often unpleasant, over-salted taste.
When it comes to greens on Thanksgiving, I like to keep it light and fresh to counter the heaviness of some of the other dishes. So, I'll usually make a salad and then a steamed vegetable like green beans or sugar snap peas drizzled with olive oil and sea salt and pepper.
-crumbled goat cheese
-sliced honey crisp apple
-raw, hulled sunflower seeds
-dijon or a spicy grain mustard
-salt and pepper to taste
To make the dressing, grab an empty glass jar and fill it with two parts olive oil, one part lemon. Add in a dollop or two of grain mustard and sea salt and pepper to taste. Put the lid on and shake 'til mixed. Drizzle over the greens and toss. Then I like to add in some crumbled goat cheese, a sliced apple or two and sprinkle on some sunflower seeds.
-about 3 c. (or one bag) of cranberries
-1 c. sugar
-1 c. water
Add all ingredients together into a saucepan and bring to a boil stirring often. Turn the heat to medium for about 5 minutes until some of the berries have popped. Turn off heat and cool.
3. Choose organic roots. Potatoes, carrots, and yams are known as root vegetables, meaning the part you eat is the root of the plant. The Consumers Union compiled a list of produce with the highest levels of pesticide residue and potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrots were in the top 15. Almost two billion pounds of sweet potatoes were grown last year. So buying organic is good for you and the earth.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
-several large organic sweet potatoes
-olive oil and/or butter
-freshly ground pepper (I like white pepper for these if you have it)
The spice of the white pepper nicely counters the natural sweetness of the potato. You can roast these (if your oven is big enough) while you cook the turkey. Peel and cut the potatoes. My preference is 1"-ish size chunks. Then toss with olive oil and sea salt and pepper. Place on a pan (the olive oil should keep them from sticking but you can always butter the pan lightly as well) and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or until done.
-6 fresh, organic large carrots or roughly 1 lb. (you can go traditional yellow or get purple or white)
-2 tablespoons of butter
-1/3 c. brown sugar
-pinch of sea salt and pepper
Peel and slice the carrots. Steam in boiling water for a few minutes until tender. Drain. Turn the burner to simmer and add in butter and brown sugar stirring constantly for about 5 minutes.
5. Make homemade gravy. Whether you prefer turkey gravy or a vegetarian gravy, you can make your own with a few simple ingredients. This eliminates all kinds of packaging waste, preservatives and fillers often found in pre-made gravy.
-1/4 c to 1/2 c. drippings
-2 to 4 c. broth
-flour as needed to thicken
-salt and pepper
Place drippings into a sauce pan on medium heat. Add about 2/3 of the stock. In another bowl, take remaining broth and warm, then add 1 tblsp. of flour at a time to make a roux. Once it begins to thicken add it into the sauce pan. Stirring constantly. Add in salt and pepper to taste. If you want it thicker, take a little of that liquid and put it in a separate cup, then add in the flour whisking 'til smooth, then add it back to the main pot. This will ensure you don't get lumps.
6. Homemade Stuffing. Go to your local bakery and ask for the day old bread or stale bread. Quite often they will give it to you at a discount or free. This will make amazing stuffing and eliminate the need for boxed or pre-packaged stuffing.
-about 8 c. bread (cut into 3/4" cubes)
-1/2 c. unsalted butter
-about 1/2 c. chopped onion
-1/2 c. chopped celery
-1/2 c. chopped carrot
-3 tblsp. finely chopped fresh sage
-1 tblsp. chopped rosemary
-1 c. basic vegetable or chicken stock
-1 tblsp. sea salt
Spread the bread into a single layer on a baking sheet and dry overnight at room temperature, uncovered. Melt butter into large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot stirring constantly for about 10 minutes. Add herbs and and cook 3 min. Stir in 1/2 c. stock and cook about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add in remaining stock and bread pieces, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Place in a buttered baking dish and cover with foil and bake at 350 for 25 min, then remove foil and bake until heated through and top is golden usually about 30 minutes.
7. Decorate the table with sustainable simplicity. Avoid the expensive, store-bought flower arrangements and create a beautiful, rustic, sustainable centerpiece. This is where you can bring out your inner 'martha' and be a little creative. I for one prefer smaller arrangements that don't block your view of the person across the table. If you have dried herbs in the house, try putting them in small glasses, mason jars, or mini vases. If you have flowers growing around your house, maybe clip a few and have those as your centerpiece. Have leftover pumpkins or gourds from Halloween? Put those on the table. Scatter those around the table and maybe add some candles and voila. If you don't already own cloth napkins, this is a great excuse to invest in some (or make some). Reusable table linens are a staple for any environmentally aware home.
8. Desert store bought dessert. Try making your own homemade dessert this year or purchase from a local bakery as opposed to buying the heavily packaged items you often find at the market. Or you can ask one of your guests that likes to bake to bring their favorite dessert. If you are new to baking, you can always experiment a few days prior just in case it needs tweaking. If you are an experienced baker, it's always fun to try something new. Last year we made a pumpkin creme brulée with ginger and cinnamon that was amazing.
9. Have some old fashioned fun. You don't have to abandon the television all together. There is nothing wrong with watching football or the parade or a favorite holiday film, but have a little old fashioned fun as well. Play some board games or go for a walk around the neighborhood. Turning off the electronics for a little bit is good for the planet and for you.
10. Keep it simple. When you buy good, fresh, organic food it often needs very little to taste amazing. Apply this simplicity not only to your cooking but to your whole day. Keep it simple. Keep it fun. Clean as you go, drink while you cook, and have fun with those you love.