Dairy-Free Thanksgiving

I’m preparing for my first dairy-free Thanksgiving. That means no panna cotta with sweet potato topping, no milk-based gravies or sauces, and nothing enhanced with cheese unless I use a non-dairy milk alternative.

I’m accustomed to substitutions. Creating gluten-free recipes has been great preparation. But this fall has not yielded much time for experimenting. Keeping the substitution requirements to a minimum for this first holiday will keep stress to a minimum. I can expand the dairy-free options at Christmas and throughout next year as I have time to refine recipes.

While there is a wide variety of plant-based milk and cheese, the characteristics vary widely. That sometimes necessitates adding an ingredient to compliment or mask the flavor of the milk. It sometimes means a dish will require less fat or more sweetener. And it often means adjusting the amount of liquid in the recipe.

Learn on the fly.

If you don’t have much time up front but can afford the luxury of multiple purchases, choose a selection of cow’s milk alternatives to have on hand when you begin cooking. You can sample the taste, richness, and viscosity of several choices side-by-side to determine which will work best. Or divide up the mashed potatoes and try two or three at the same time. Let your guests help you decide the best option to make your go-to.

It doesn’t have to be only milk or cheese.

I use a mixture of firm tofu, unsweetened coconut milk (brand matters), and vegan cheese (brand matters) for lasagna. The tofu adds extra protein and a texture similar to ricotta cheese. I season the tofu to add flavor. I sometimes use plant-based yogurt for mashed potatoes or for baking.

While I will substitute milk and cheese for my dishes, I will use regular butter. I don’t suffer any ill effects from it. Others may. It’s good to check before assuming.

It doesn’t have to be plant-based.

Some people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk are fine with goat or sheep milk. Goat’s milk can often be found in pints or quarts in health food stores. Cheese made with goat or sheep milk is often available. Be sure to read labels before assuming feta is made with sheep milk.

If the protein in cow’s milk causes you a problem, A2 milk may be the best solution. It’s cow’s milk with all the familiar taste and texture, but a different protein that prevents stomach discomfort in some people. If you have an anaphylactic allergy to milk, do not use this as a substitute.

Substitute differently.

If only one or two in a crowd of 10 or 12 are dairy intolerant, you may want to make sweet potato or pumpkin pie using your regular recipe and offer the intolerant two an alternative dessert. I can purchase tofu pumpkin donuts nearby. Katz® offers a pumpkin pie spice glazed donut. And there are tons of recipes for dairy-free (and DF/GF) pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cookies would be easy as well.

And dessert doesn’t have to be pumpkin. Most pecan pies are dairy-free. Cherry or apple pie are good options. If you choose packaged crusts, read the labels to make sure there are no unexpected ingredients.

Don’t forget the stuffing.

While it may be easy to remember not to add milk, it’s sometimes harder to remember that some ingredients could already contain milk. Bread or cornbread that form the base of stuffing must be dairy-free too. The chocolate you choose should be dairy-free. Be sure to review all packaged items prior to including them in your dish.

Enjoy what you can.

If you don’t do the cooking, enjoy the items that are safe and skip the rest. Keep your avoidance as low key as possible and be sure to compliment the cook on the food you are enjoying. It is not necessary to jeopardize your health in order to please someone else. People who truly care about you will not want you to be unhealthy.

Say no if you need to say no.

When family systems are too dysfunctional to allow you to comfortably take care of yourself, it may be best to spend time with friends or football on TV. There are worse things than being alone on a holiday.

No matter what your dietary restriction, with some planning and playing there’s delicious food to be had. Wishing you a peaceful holiday in which to enjoy it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Gratitude Workout

It’s Thanksgiving week, let’s breathe our way through a gratitude workout. A study of the effects of the pandemic showed that 90% of us have been emotionally affected by it. That’s really not surprising. But for 25% of us, this has resulted in depression. While a temporary state of depression is a natural response to change, it’s possible some will experience long-term or clinical depression as time goes on.

Many Americans are facing trauma and hardship they’ve never seen before – job loss, hunger, severe illness, loss of family, lack of physical contact, unsafe working conditions, and more. This takes a toll even on the strongest and healthiest of us. Yet some will rise to the occasion, feel the effects, find a way to cope, and thrive in the future. Others will become stuck. Genetics, personality, support, and choices all play a role in how we fare.

Even when outside support is lacking, we can become our own support system by building the emotional resilience that will facilitate processing through difficulty and coming out the other side better than before. This can be accomplished through deliberate practices. One tool to build an emotional toolkit is a gratitude practice. I’ve written about this before because it’s always a wonderfully useful tool, but it seems especially important right now.

So much of our cultural conversation is focused on what we don’t have, can’t do, can’t buy, can’t see, can’t experience that we’re at risk of losing sight of the good that surrounds us. A gratitude workout may be just the shift in focus that revitalizes us when we’re dining alone this week.

I’ve used many techniques for practicing gratitude. I started with a series of journals. In those books, I made a list every day of 10 things for which I was grateful. On days when most everything had gone wrong, I had to sit for a very long time to think of that first item. But I’m sure you’ll find as I did that once you think of one thing, you’ll think of more because your focus has finally shifted.

One year, I used a series of neon colored post-its that I collected in a brightly colored plastic box with a pull-out drawer. At the end of each month, I’d go back and read all of the notes. It was a great way to gain perspective on the events of the month. If I gleaned an insight that seemed particularly significant, I’d record it somewhere to ponder later.

The specifics of how you record your lists are not as important as the discipline of doing it. In fact, it’s the discipline that will pave the way for the greatest insight. Those moments when you really don’t feel grateful for anything will get you to dig deeper. But you won’t dig deeper unless disciplined commitment to the process requires that you record something. It’s a lot easier to eat ice cream and pout.

This week of Thanksgiving, you may not be with family. That brings the temptation to only see what’s missing. That’s why I’m planning to combine two practices and breathe my way through a gratitude workout.

How? Before I prepare my Cornish hen, I’m spending some time on my yoga mat. I’m going to sit in easy pose (Sukhasana) or stand in mountain pose (Tadasana) and slow my breath bringing my focus to my sit bones or the four corners of my feet, my thighs, my shoulders, my neck, my face. Once I’ve found the balance between effort and ease, I’ll begin to breathe my gratitude. A long breath in through the nose and a slow breath out for each item on my list. I may add a twist in between and a series of warrior poses before I rest in corpse pose (Savasana).

I’ll express gratitude for grocery delivery, Zoom & FaceTime, the warm weather that made fresh tomatoes and spinach from the garden possible for Thanksgiving, the flavor of those tomatoes, my grandchildren’s laughter, the internet, the heart of healthcare workers, brilliant maple leaves, and strong oak trees with rough bark.

None of those are equal to sitting around the table with my family, but grocery delivery means I have groceries without virus exposure. Zoom and the internet mean I’ll can see my family in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. Fresh vegetables from my garden mean both healthy and tasty food. And cooking for one rather than a large group means I have time to sit still. Things don’t have to be perfect to enrich my life or make things better than they would be otherwise. I can be grateful for things that are just okay.

In fact, I am grateful for things that are just okay as well as things that are magnificent. But it’s easy to miss the magnificent if I only focus on what is wrong. In this year when it feels like so much has gone awry, a gratitude workout is just what the doctor ordered.

Scaling Back Thanksgiving

Here are some tips for scaling back Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is such a great time to embrace extended family! For years, I hosted a Saturday-after dinner for 26 relatives who live nearby. It started as a Hamming it Up celebration and continued through a year when I burned the ham and another when my stove was broken. It was the only time of year the whole group got together. Your family may enjoy similar gatherings. This year, many of our traditions will change as we scale back in order to be safe.

None of us like giving up the traditions we love. We don’t even like putting them temporarily on hold. At this moment, my family is experiencing a reminder of why a different plan may be necessary this year whether we like it or not. My father’s youngest sister died a few weeks ago. Now two of my cousins who attended her funeral are sick with COVID-19.

Exposure is one of the risks we must weigh as we determine the number of this year’s invitations. While this is a hard reality, it doesn’t have to mean the menu is peanut butter sandwiches even if you’re only joining the family via Zoom. Luckily, I’ve prepared one-and-two-person Thanksgiving meals as often as large ones, so I am familiar with techniques for enjoying familiar flavors at a smaller scale.

When planning meals, I like to think a few meals past the event. What will be good served as leftovers? What do we enjoy so much I need to prepare extra helpings? What can easily be repurposed into other dishes? Can I share any leftovers with elderly neighbors or friends? Answering these questions helps me determine whether I need to alter a recipe or consider a replacement.

On a normal year, I make dressing that starts with two recipes of cornbread. This is a family favorite, so we often eat more than one serving each at the main meal. Even so, it feeds eight and still leaves leftovers. If there will only be four people at the table, I cut the recipe in half. If there are only two, I substitute rice pilaf.

Turkeys come in many sizes. If you anticipate that the smallest whole bird will leave too many leftovers, consider a turkey breast. For one or two people, I opt for Cornish hens. Some years these are hard to come by so it’s smart to shop early.

I’m a big fan of sweet potatoes, but not candied yams. That means, I usually opt for baked sweet potatoes with a little salt and butter even when I have a crowd. If you want the candied yam experience for one without lots of prep time, consider topping a baked sweet potato with butter, brown sugar, and a dollop of marshmallow crème.

If you prefer a little brown crunch on your marshmallows, you can treat a baked sweet potato like a twice baked potato. Once the potato is done, gently remove the inside from the skin. Mix in butter and brown sugar. Return to the skin. Top with marshmallow halves. Place under the broiler until the top of the marshmallow browns.

For a couple, sautéed fresh green beans is a faster and easier preparation than a casserole. If that doesn’t seem special enough, green bean bundles are another great option. I also like apricot glazed green beans from time to time. They’re fast, easy, and special all at once.

If you are only serving one or two people but still want a casserole, here’s an easy one that can be made in about 10 minutes:

Spinach and Rice

3 tbsp butter

1/4 cup diced onion

2 Minute® Ready to Serve White Rice cups

1/2 cup drained canned spinach

1/2 cup cheddar cheese

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

Place butter and onion in a 1-quart microwaveable casserole dish. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave.

Cook each cup of rice separately per package directions. Add rice, spinach, and half of the cheese to onion and butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Top with remaining cheese and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Serve hot.

If baking rolls from scratch sounds like too much trouble, frozen gluten-free Brazilian cheese rolls may be an option. First, and most importantly, they’re delicious! Some are available through grocery pick-up and delivery. In my city, there’s a bakery that makes these. They sell them baked or frozen delivered by multiple services.

Even if the crowd size is reduced, you may want to keep the desserts large and cut back the number of choices. Pie is always a special treat, but I serve all sorts of desserts for Thanksgiving. I’ve made personal size orange cakes, panna cotta with sweet potato topping, and cheesecake. I also like banana bread, pumpkin bread, and iced pumpkin cookies. If you want to eat dessert over a long period of time, making cookie dough and freezing three-fourths, one-half, or one-third of it for the holiday and saving the best for later can help you resist the temptation of eating more than you plan in one sitting.

Some areas are still experiencing periodic shortages. Allowing more lead time and having some backup recipes will make the holiday less stressful as you scale back Thanksgiving.

I’ve focused on adapting traditional Thanksgiving flavors, but many of us will have more freedom to shift gears and enjoy nontraditional menus this year. Whether you choose clam chowder or chili, hot dogs or shrimp, prime rib or neck bones, enjoying your selection with gusto is the recipe for a successful Thanksgiving holiday!

Brazil Bites

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thanksgiving Keeps On Giving at Cooking2Thrive

Thanksgiving keeps on giving by warming our hearts and our bellies. This week, I’m focussing on the role of food in this process. When we’re hungry, it’s hard to feel anything but tired and irritable. When it’s cold, a warm bowl of pasta can set the stage for gratitude on many levels.
pasta
Yesterday, I decided to use some of my Thanksgiving leftovers to create dairy-free pasta sauce. Many Cooking2Thrive recipes begin this way. The process goes something like this:

The idea centered around what was available in my kitchen. For the base, I used two cups of broth leftover from making stuffing. To this I added water, half an onion, a couple of pieces of bacon, two large fresh sage leaves, two sprigs of fresh thyme, garlic powder, salt, fresh ground black pepper, and a dash of cayenne.

When I first cook a recipe, I don’t measure. I just cook. I use sight, smell, and taste to get the proportions right.

I considered thickening my sauce with corn starch but decided I’d rather try using potatoes. I peeled and cubed two Irish potatoes. Once I’d added these to the broth, I brought it to a boil and then let it simmer until the potatoes were falling apart.

I removed the onion, bacon, and fresh herbs and let the broth cool. Of course, I tasted it as well. It was delicious! I considered just eating it as soup with or without adding some leftover turkey. For the ideal soup, I would probably cook the potatoes a little less, add a hint of curry powder, and throw in some frozen green peas.

Once the broth had cooled sufficiently, I put it in a food processor and pureed the mixture. Actually, I just have a small food chopper so I have to do this in stages. At the end, I returned the puree to the pan and turned the heat on low.

While I was doing this, I cooked some gluten-free egg noodles in lightly salted water. This gave me plenty of time to cube two cups of leftover turkey and add it to the sauce to warm. When the pasta was done, I drained it and topped it with the sauce.

The result was hearty, warm, rich and creamy enough to be pleasing without including cream, milk, cheese, or non-dairy substitutes. The flavors are pulled from Thanksgiving, but the combination provides enough variety to prevent leftover flavor fatigue.

Green peas would also be a good addition to the pasta sauce. I almost always have some in the freezer. They cook quickly so adding them into the puree along with the turkey should allow ample cooking time. If I were adding them, I would cover the pan while it simmers.

After tasting a recipe, or eating two helpings, I sit down at the computer and record what I did. To some degree, I’m guessing how much salt I added, but I’ve followed this process for years creating and testing recipes so it’s an educated guess.

I also taste the dish again warm and cold. I note both taste and texture and add notes of things I may want to try next time I cook the dish. This process will be repeated until the recipe is right. Along the way, we get input from tasters and testers. These include friends, family, neighbors, and volunteers as well as professional bakers and chefs.

Sometimes a recipe only requires our minimal triple testing. Other times, it takes more than 10 trials to get it right. If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes. Yes, sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s also like solving a puzzle with delicious food as the reward.

We are grateful to have food to put on the table, rework and put on the table again. We are grateful to have input from people who help us improve. We are grateful for those of you who follow us.

And for all of this, we give thanks knowing Thanksgiving keeps on giving!

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/food-junkie/201807/the-many-health-benefits-soup

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/im-going-let-thanksgiving-kickoff-new-year-filled-gratitude/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/new-life-for-leftovers/
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