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When the sun finally battled through the incessant barrier of clouds, I put on and old pair of jeans and my mud caked garden shoes and dove head first into outdoor projects. With complete abandon I attacked the weeds that had uninhibitedly taken over; relishing the feel of warm rays soaking into my back and shoulders and letting the sun hit my face to revitalize the freckles that hibernate through the winter months. I had myself so completely convinced that this was the big break of springtime that I even dug up the barbeque and set up the outdoor grilling area. I was ready for warm evenings, the smell of caramelized sweet onions and barbeque sauce. That night the first hand packed burger would sizzle as it hit the hot grill and I could hardly contain my anticipation.

As rain came in the form of a torrential downpour around dinnertime, rain boots, coat, and a bit of a frumpy attitude accompanied me to the grill. I was simply unwilling to postpone the burgers, especially because I had already thawed a package of ground “cow”, as I have come to call the gigantic 1/3 of an animal we received, butchered and packaged as part of a local grass fed beef cooperative. What some may think is plain old ground beef was, for me in this moment, none of the above. If you have ever had a hand-packed grass fed beef patty grilled to perfection you know the feeling. The burgers, steaks, roasts and even stews I had made from this well raised and well fed animal were relished, I imagined, like Hindu cultures worship the bovine deity.

The burgers, although mildly dampened with rainwater, were nothing short of delectable. If you have never had the fortunate opportunity to compare a grass fed patty to the conventional counterpart I highly recommend it, rain or shine. Not only do you get a tender and fresh flavor, grass fed beef is also a much healthier indulgence.

Feedlot cattle that gain up to 2-3 pounds per day eating corn, soy and grain before slaughter experience abnormally rapid weight gain that destroys beneficial nutrients and loads on the saturated fat. Grass fed cattle, on the other hand, produce beef that is high in nutrients, packed with health benefits and safer for consumption. A grass fed patty not only tastes better, it is better for you, the cow it came from and the environment that supported its growth.

A few Grass Fed Facts:

  • Grass fed beef has 7 times more beta carotene, 3 times more vitamin E, 1/3 less cholesterol and ¼ less saturated fat than grain fed beef.
  • Higher levels of vitamin E prevent oxidation of cells and higher concentrations of vitamin K2 help ward off heart disease and support brain function.
  • Each bite contains more heart healthy omega 3’s and less artery-constricting omega 6’s.
  • A powerful antioxidant called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is only produced by grass fed ruminants and helps build muscle and ward of cancerous cells.
  • Studies found up to 6,280,000 more e-coli cells in the stomach of feedlot cows and 58% of feedlot cattle tested positive for campylobacter bacteria.
  • Grain feeding cattle requires more than half the world’s supply of grain, which requires an immense amount of gasoline consumption, fertilizer, and land monopoly for production.
  • Cattle have digestive systems specially designed to digest fibrous grasses. When fed grain the cow’s stomach becomes excessively acidic, causing ulcers and allowing harmful bacteria from the stomach to leek into the cow’s bloodstream. This is not only painful and sickening for the cow, it requires the use of antibiotics and other drugs that are passed down to you through the beef you eat.

Kick off your summer barbeque with a better burger, if not for the simple and pleasurable experience of tasting something the way only your great grandparents may have remembered it, maybe for the sanity of knowing exactly what is going into your body and knowing it will nourish and not destroy your body.

After a grand burger cook off and tasting event this weekend where friends patiently stood by as I photographed and noted the contents of various burger stacks, I have an extensive list of favorite topping combos, patty makings and burger secrets to come for Thursdays post.



Sprouting at home is easy and requires little or no equipment not already have on hand. To save a few pennies, improve the taste, texture and nutritional status of your favorite recipes and to ensure you are eating well produced, safe and healthy sprouts, start sprouting in on your own kitchen counter today. See Monday’s post for a list of good seeds, beans and grains to sprout as well as some nutritional information on the super-food quality and power of sprouts.

What you will need:

  • 1 wide mouth jar (the bigger the better – ½ gallon or bigger)
  • Cheesecloth or a fine mesh screen to cover the mouth of the jar
  • A rubber band, string or fine wire to secure the lid on the jar
  • Your sprouting seed/bean/grain of choice

How to start

  • Use 1 part seed to 3 parts water
  • Place desired amount of seed in your jar. All of the following measurements will yield one quart of sprouts – 2 tbsp alfalfa or clover, ¼ cup radish or mustard, ½ cup lentils, 1 cup wheat or rye, 2 cups sunflower
  • Add the appropriate amount of filtered or spring water to the jar depending on what amount of seed you choose
  • Secure your cheesecloth or mesh screen over the lid of the jar
  • Let soak at room temperature for at least 6 hours for smaller amounts of seeds and 12 hours for larger measurements
  • Drain well and keep in a mild but warm dark place.
  • Rinse sprouts twice daily in a strainer and return to the jar
  • After three days place your sprouts in a slightly lighter area to increase the amount of chlorophyll, continue to drain twice daily
  • After 5 to 6 days your sprouts will be ready for consumption. Rinse before using and remove any hulls left behind from the original seed
  • Store sprouts in the refrigerator for up to one week in a clean and covered glass jar

Add sprouts to your favorite sandwich, wrap, soup, salad, pizza or stir fry. Spicier sprouts like radish and mustard make great garnishes for meats and seafood. Sprouts may be slightly cooked but provide the most nourishment when eaten raw and fresh.

Soba and Sunflower Sprout Salad with Cashew Dressing

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves crushed garlic
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp tamari
3 Tbsp smooth cashew butte
1 tsp chili sauce
2 9-oz packages soba noodles
3 cups fresh sunflower sprouts
6 green onions thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
2 carrots quartered and thinly sliced (on a mandolin if you have it)

Combine olive oil, garlic, orange juice, sesame oil, tamari, cashew butter and chili sauce in a small mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine. In a large saucepan bring water to a boil and add soba noodles.  Cook until just soft, drain and set aside. Toss cooled noodles with sprouts, green onions, cilantro, bell pepper and carrot.  Add dressing and toss until salad has a light coating and good flavor. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

*Add ginger soy grilled chicken or salmon for extra protein

Following up on my article on soaking grains from last week, I thought I would discuss the result of going one step further in your whole grain preparation. If your grains are left soaking for three or more days (not necessary for the nutrient absorption and pre-digestion process, but an option that creates a whole new delicacy) the result is a sprouted seedling. As I explained, soaking helps release the “dormant energy” of the seed, making it more available for use by your body. As it happens, the dormant energy of any grain, seed or legume is the source of life and growth potential that it contains – remember it’s not just food, it’s a plant’s form of reproduction as well. As the growth process begins during sprouting, food enzymes are activated, nutrient levels increase and new vitamins and minerals are taken on. Like the initial soaking process, sprouting eliminates the nutrient blocking enzymes, begins pre-digesting the grain/legume/seed and results in a more nutrient rich and available food for your digestive tract.

With the recent salmonella outbreaks in commercially produced sprouts, what better time to take your grain soaking to the next level and try some at home sprouting? Depending on what you chose to sprout, nutrient contents vary, but all sprouts are healthy nutritional powerhouses. Some of the best grains for sprouting are: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rice and wheat/rye. Other great seeds and legumes to sprout include pumpkin, radish, sesame, sunflower, broccoli, alfalfa, clover, garbanzo, lentil and mung. Avoid sprouting large beans such as black, fava, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, and soy as they can be harsh on digestion and toxic to the body.

Don’t write off sprouts as a past time for hippies and granola lovers. Sprouts can be a delightful addition to a gourmet meal or a simple sandwich. They taste great, add texture and flare to foods and have amazing nutritional benefits.

  • Sprouted wheat contains almost four times the amount of niacin and twice the amount of vitamin B6 and folate as un-sprouted
  • Sprouted wheat has a higher protein to starch ratio, which makes its impact on your blood sugar level less extreme. More protein than starch will help maintain energy and satiation longer and decrease cravings
  • Chlorophyll is abundant in sprouts and has intense purification, anti-inflammation and regeneration qualities
  • Sprouts help eliminate excess and stagnancy built up in the body from symptoms induced by stress, diet and lifestyle in modern cultures
  • Sprouts, especially of broccoli seeds, contain high levels of sulforaphane that supports antioxidants such as vitamin C and E and has been researched for its aid in cancer fighting regimens
  • Sprouts contain highly effective and beneficial digestive enzymes that help build healthy intestinal flora and proper digestion and assimilation processes
  • Sprouting cereal grains can produce up to 300 percent more vitamin A
  • A large variety of phytonutrients (naturally occurring plant based compounds) in sprouts have positive health benefits that include combating degenerative disease, aiding in pain relief and anti-inflammation, detoxifying the body, counteracting harmful free-radicals and oxidation and aiding metabolism and immune function
  • Alfalfa sprouts help clean and tone the intestines, remove harmful acids from the blood and contain enzymes that help with the assimilation of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Carotene, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus zinc, vitamins K and P and abundant chlorophyll in alfalfa sprouts provide nourishing and healing qualities.
  • Sunflower sprouts (pictured above) are a rare food form of natural vitamin D, a necessary but usually deficient vitamin for most people. Vitamin D aids in bone and immune system health and plays a role in fighting cancer and cardiovascular disease.

This weekend, while waiting for my homegrown sprouts to work their magic, I picked up some beautiful sunflower sprouts at the farmers market. They were a treat to snack on plain (snappy and fresh — hinting of fresh spring life) as I meandered my way around the remaining booths. Luckily I managed to save a few for last night’s dinner, where they added a perfect crisp crunch to the top of  a black bean, quinoa, sauteed greens and arugula pesto salad.

Check back this Thursday for easy at home sprouting instructions and more recipe ides for the final product.

Knowing how your food is made is equally as important as knowing where it comes from. I know (because I am a culprit of this myself) it is easy to get caught up on the labels that have been plastered on products all over the grocery store shelves. However, what labels usually don’t tell you is how the product was made; how much processing it went through, what other products have been added to it and exactly how it came to be on your local market shelf.

Knowing the origin and production process of the food you put in your body can help connect you with the earth, people, plants and animals that feed you, as well as helping ensure that every last bite is going to make a positive impact. Buying organic, sourcing as locally as possible and trusting the producer and distributor that provide for you is a great fist step, but nothing can outweigh homemade foods you have a personal hand in from start to finish. Not only do you know exactly what goes in, you know and can control the details of the entire process.

Realistically, I realize that it is close to impossible to make everything you eat from scratch, but learning how to make a few of your favorite staple foods can be a fun process that also benefits your health. One of my favorite foods to make at home is yogurt. I hardly go a day without a bowl of yogurt and my favorite granola that my father makes and sends me in gallon quantities on a regular basis. Since I eat it so regularly, and yogurt is commonly a food that is highly processed and can contain a lot of additives when not produced well, I thought it would be a good one to undertake at home. Homemade yogurt has a great original taste and texture that you can’t find in the store bought version. Use good quality organic milk to ensure your final product is as filled with nutrients and beneficial probiotic bacteria as possible.

Basic Homemade Yogurt

1 Quart whole milk

3 Tbsp plain organic yogurt

Heat milk to 105 degrees (any lower can promote growth of harmful bacteria and any higher can kill the good probiotic bacteria). Remove from heat and thoroughly stir in yogurt. 

At this point, unless you have a conventional yogurt maker, you have the option of using a thermos, a warm oven or a heating pad.  I prefer to use my oven because I find it is the easiest to regulate temperature in.

Pour the milk mixture into a clean ovenproof dish or jar and set in a 100-degree oven for 6 hours. This method works especially well with gas ovens that have a pilot light that keeps the oven at a warmer temperature. Use an oven thermometer to ensure your oven is not too hot or cool during the process.

If using a thermos, pour the milk mixture into the clean thermos, wrap with a towel or blanket for extra insulation and let sit for 6 hours. If using a heating pad, place the pad in a box or insulated cooler with the jars of your milk mixture. Let sit for 6 hours and use a thermometer to regulate the 100-degree temperature. After the 6-hour incubation period of your choosing, remove the jars and test the yogurt.

If your incubation was too hot the yogurt can curdle and get very stiff.  If you did not incubate for long enough or the temperature was too low, the yogurt will be very runny. After successful incubation, store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to one month. If you desire, add fruit, honey or jam for flavoring right before consumption. Your yogurt will last longer if not exposed to any additional ingredients during storage.

“I hate mushrooms.” I can distinctly recall saying this line more than a few times during my youth. As I picked around even the smallest white spongy specks on my plate I wondered, “why would I eat a piece of fungus that tastes mildly like dirt and squeaks across my teeth when I chew it? Gross !” My mushroom predisposition unfortunately held true until, as a chef, I was literally force fed a mushroom tart. In order to ensure the food I was serving to guests was not going to leave a literal or figurative “bad taste” in their mouths, I swallowed the mouthful of slippery caramelized fungus.  Sweet and earthy, still warm from the oven and caramelized to a melt-in-your-mouth consistency with just a hint of salt to contrast the buttery crust it was served in; it was delicious.

When gigantic portabellas, perfectly golden criminis, brushed white buttons and amoeba like shitakes started filling the shelves of our refrigerator, my like minded mushroom-hating boyfriend gawked with disgust. But, as I gradually and successfully sneaked them into delicate cream sauces, home made pizzas and rainbow chard gratins, it went without discussion that mushrooms were becoming a new staple of our mealtimes. Lucky for us, unlike the soft serve ice cream with chocolate sprinkles and home made Italian style doughnuts that have also been know to become unmentioned dietary staples in our house, mushrooms are one of natures best healing foods as well as a culinary delicacy.

Of the over 14,000 varieties of mushrooms about 3,000 of them are edible and over 700 of them have known medicinal properties. Extensive research in health circles around the world has been published about the healing powers of this wondrous fungus.  In Chinese medicine mushrooms have been linked to body balance and homeostasis, helping align and strengthen energy and immunity. According to recent medical studies the impact mushrooms have on the immune system not only wards off illness but helps relieve more dramatic immune system ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis.  High amounts of Zinc found in most varieties help fortify the immune system, regulate blood sugar, metabolism and inflammatory pain management.

Selenium, essential for the function of antioxidants is also a key nutrient found in mushrooms that contributes to their potent healing qualities. The cooperative work of selenium and vitamin E helps clear the body of harmful free radicals and may contribute to the prevention of age related and degenerative diseases.

Mushrooms are packed with selenium, copper, zinc, potassium, iron, B vitamins and are a conveniently low calorie food that you can consume with complete confidence that every last bite will nourish and heal your body. In addition, mushrooms are one of the rare foods that contain vitamin D, making them a great food to get you through the dreary winter months.

It was a drastic change of heart, you could say, that brought these little tilth dwelling orbs into my highly regarded list of favorites. To the food that has this many nutrients packed tightly into a beautiful natural form with the power to transform health, well-being, longevity and energy, I am sorry for calling you “gross”.

This week I am excited to see local crimini mushrooms as a substitute for the regular contents in my Farm-to-Table box.  Not only will I swap them in, I am also ordering a few extra criminis and four large and beautiful portabellas from Full Circle’s Green Grocery program to make a weeks worth of delicious and healthy meals.   I am thinking a crimini and leek risotto to start the week and spice rubbed roasted portabella burgers to bring it to a close.  Nourishment, flavor and the pure joy of spongy, squeaky fungus, bring it on!

Check out Full Circle’s Good Food Life blog this week for a great mushroom recipe and modify or add to your order for the week to get some great organic mushrooms delivered straight to you.

“Light” foods have always been a nemesis of mine, conjuring up images of the cardboard-like “light butter” that my college roommates stocked in the fridge.  If I am going to indulge in a bowl of ice cream I am going to eat traditional chocolate-chocolate chip, not the light and tasteless counterpart.  Yogurt, my favorite breakfast food, keeps me full and energized for hours because of its healthy fat and protein content.  I am not about to switch to the lightened version that tastes far more like artificial flavors and sweeteners than any wholesome breakfast should.

“Light” foods, which you would never find naturally growing out of the earth, are not the healthiest or only way to “lighten up.” Instead of spending time and money on diet foods and lifestyle tricks, you and your waistline may benefit from enjoying moderate amounts of wholesome foods and other sources of natural light in your life.  Healthier ways to lighten up, including trying different types and amounts of whole foods, activities and engagements can naturally lighten up your weight, mood, health and energy.  Living a bit lighter can be healthy, tasty, fun and easy to do.

Sunlight

Light, in the form of sunshine, is important for the synthesis of vitamin D, something many of us are deficient in this time of year.  Adequate amounts of this vitamin are important for your bone health, immune system, heart health, brain function and mood.  However, dark winter skies and the limited availability of vitamin D in foods leave many of us feeling lethargic, moody, achy or mildly depressed.  Lightening up by including more whole food sources of Vitamin D as well as spending a few more minutes outside between rain/snow storms every day will benefit your whole body and inspire health, happiness and energy. Some of the best food sources of vitamin D include wild salmon, sardines, organic eggs and organic whole milk.

Light-eating

To “lighten up”, for me, means treating my whole body well, not torturing it with artificial processed foods touted for their low calorie or sugar content.  Even in the midst of winter eating lighter is easy to do with whole foods that are satiating, comforting and easy to make.  Dark leafy greens are in season and will fill you with incredible amounts of powerful antioxidants and nutrients to build immunity and energy.  Heartier winter salads with legumes, nuts, seeds, cheeses and meats will satisfy without weighing you down.  Ovens roasted root vegetables pack in the nutrients, are filled with fiber and stocked with natural sugars that power your body for work or play in the colder weather.  Broth based soups can nurture your health, warm your belly and help hydrate your body.

Lighthearted

Lighten up your mood, physical body and mental state by taking a step back from everyday stressors and letting yourself enjoy a more balanced lifestyle.  Eating lighter quantities, instead of feasting and fasting will help keep your metabolism and mental state on a more even keel.  Bring a bit of light into your lifestyle by taking a walk, practicing yoga or having game night with friends.  Engaging in activities and practices that keep your mind and body active is enlightening.  Nurture your whole body with light that keeps you steady, strong and smiling and just lighten up!

Here is my “light” for the day: a run with the dog before the rain starts, a warming cup of soup, Caesar salad with a vitamin D boost and an extra hour of sleep.

Vitamin D rich Caesar dressing

3 anchovies (don’t skip -they are one of the best sources of D)

Juice of 1 lemon

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp grated parmesan

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp Worchester sauce

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

Put all ingredients in a standing blender or Cuisinart.  Process until smooth and toss with romaine, croutons and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

This morning I took my dog for a run.  Flurries of lightly falling snow could be seen in traces along the path and on the limbs of trees and the cold gray air had kept the usual hoards to a minimum.  It was peacefully quiet, refreshingly crisp, but oh so very gray!  As we ran along at a slower pace than normal, both of us a bit tired, I couldn’t help but scan my eyes across the horizon, dark gray skies gave way to light gray rooftops, dirty white leafless trees, gray wet roads, snow white blanketed sidewalks and puffs of gray-white breath condensing quickly in front of me.

Looking for a bite to eat later that day I was disheartened to find an almost empty refrigerator with only a half-full bottle of milk, a few potatoes, two parsnips and some Jerusalem artichokes from the previous week’s farm box.  Everything colorful I had stocked on the shelves was quickly eaten leaving behind a white-gray filled, very unappetizing array of foods.

In the heart of January, eating the white starchy foods that are in season, when the season itself seems to be bringing you down all on its own, can feel like locking yourself in a gray padded room and waiting to go crazy.  But once again nature reigns in the creation of things that work symbiotically and, as it turns out, there are numerous reasons why we should not shy away from locally grown foods in all shades of white during this gray time of year.

Cold air, wet weather, less time outside, the flu season, stress, travel and the fewer hours of daylight that accompany the gray winter season require increased immunity, efficient energy production, attitude adjustments and motivation from all sources available.  Luckily, foods like potatoes, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac contain an array of nutrients and health building properties you need to help you endure the winter.

Don’t fight the season.  Compliment the weather, mood and environment around you with the best of the season’s bounty. Keep your body and mind healthy, optimistic and strong with these wintry whites:

Potatoes: A good source of vitamin C and B6 as well as potassium, manganese and fiber, potatoes are great for immune system and energy building this time of year.  Potatoes also contain a variety of phytonutrients that produce great antioxidant activity.  To get the most nutrients for your buck buy organic and eat the skins too.

Parsnips: Parsnips are rich in vitamins B1, B2 and C as well as minerals, potassium and fiber, making them a good antioxidant, immunity builder and energy source.  Parsnips have been shown to have pain-relieving properties and to help lubricate the intestines and promote healthy digestion.

Jerusalem Artichokes: This tuber contains a large amount of inulin, which has been linked to intestinal health because of its pre-biotic and good bacteria promoting qualities.  Jerusalem Artichokes help promote healthy and efficient digestion and have high amounts of vitamin C that provides antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.  In the winter months this tuber is especially helpful in nourishing the lungs and decreasing asthmatic symptoms.

Celeriac (or Celery Root): Low in calories and high in fiber and vitamin C, potassium, calcium and iron, this food defies its ugly appearance.  Celeriac’s high water content helps flush the body of toxins while its nutrients help re-build and nourish.  Health benefits include easing digestion, circulating antioxidants, building immunity and helping blood flow.

Beautiful Yukon gold and fingerling potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac/celery root are coming straight to you from Full Circle Farm this time of year.  Take advantage of the healthy and still local foods you can get your hands on and use these winter weather foods to your nutritional advantage.

When I reached out to our readers for some healthy New Year’s resolutions, I received some great food, lifestyle, and nutritional goals.  Thanks to everyone for sharing your resolutions and spreading the inspiration to take action, make change and live well.

As I lay awake, the wind howling and these resolution ideas streaming through my head, I kept returning to one poignantly put phrase that read, “eat what the heart wants instead of the mind.”  Eating what the heart wants, literally, means bringing more awareness to what and how you feed your body.  But figuratively I thought, the concept of nourishment can stretch beyond the realm of food and into the proceedings and thoughts of our every day lives.  Let your heart, and not just your mind, guide you to the nourishment it needs from wholesome food as well as goals, inspiration, decisions, activities and relationships.  If a change is grounded in what the heart guides you to feel and not just what the mind thinks should happen, does this define the difference between long term achievements and short term spurts of motivation?

When I step back to examine goals and resolutions that I have set in my own life, it is achingly obvious that far too many of them have dwindled only weeks after their initiation.  I would have liked to cut processed sugars out of my diet because I know they are hard on my body, energy and mood, but the commitment just was not strong enough to keep my hands off platters of gingerbread cookies and chocolate ice cream cakes over the holidays.  Why was I unable to stick to my goal even though I knew it would benefit my mind and body?  I had my mind set on making this change, but had I forgotten to engage the motivation from my heart that may have made the long lasting difference? If I had set a resolution framed from the heart such as: I promise to my body to eat less sugar so I have the energy to enjoy the outdoors, the patience to endure the holiday stress and trust in my good health to look forward to many more years of family, friends and adventure, would I have had the endurance to stick to my resolution?

As I let my mind run with the phrase, I came to this simple summation: feed the heart.  In addition to eating what the heart wants, nourishing the heart with good intentions, companions, activities, challenges, feelings, and care will pave the way for positive changes that will last a lifetime.  Instead of doing what you think or have been told is good, cool, better, fashionable or trendy, do what you know, feel, believe, trust and hope is going to make a difference in your life.

Lose the last ten pounds not just because you don’t like the way you look but because your body will feel better and have the strength to spend a day hiking with your dog.  Grow more of your own food because it will nourish you, your family and the earth, not just because it is what your neighbor is doing.  Exercise more to strengthen your heart, prolong your life and increase your energy to do the things you are passionate about, not because the health magazines tell you to.  Set goals at work to stretch your mind and challenge your intellect not just for the numbers on your paycheck.

You can eat, sleep, exercise, work, act or change for the mind all day long but without nourishing the heart as well, the best and strongest changes will be hard to hold on to.

As for me, I am going to climb more mountains, not just for the exercise, but for the exhilaration and pure joy I get from being in the outdoors and the confidence I get from knowing I have the health and strength I need to get myself to the top.

Happy New Year to all.  May you lead with your heart into a new day, new year and new stage of life.

 

Last thanksgiving, before putting on my apron and diving into the intricate meal I had planned for months, I took my dog for a run.  When I was growing up, getting outside to exercise before the feast was a family tradition.  My mother, father, two border collies and I would pile into the truck and head out for the first cross country ski of the season.  While running, for the first time surrounded by a big city and hundreds of people doing the same thing, I was intrigued by the conversations that wisped by.  Quips of sentences pieced together in my head beneath the heavy breathing and visions of other people’s thanksgiving traditions flickered through my head.  Diet, stuffed, gross, so much food, hectic, disaster; people’s words were frequently disheartening.  I have definitely had my fair share of thanksgiving disasters and oh so stuffed moments on the couch, so this year I have decided to change gears and focus on the word thanks, which I hope to bring more of to the table, to the food I eat, to the nourishment I give my body and to the people I share it with.

Thinking about thanks was spurred, not just by last years run, but also by a sentence that I came across that read, “Think of bringing nourishment into our bodies rather than just feeding ourselves.”  I realized, while reading this, that the stressing, organizing, feeding and rushing that is so commonly associated with Thanksgiving is not making for a nourishing tradition but a frenzied feeding one.  We rush around trying to time everything in the oven just right.  The television is often blaring in the background, the table needs to be set, guests need to be organized and people swarm the kitchen looking for something to do.

In a technical sense, all of this sends the nervous system into the sympathetic state of alert.  The natural reaction to stress puts an emphasis on all systems in your body used to fight or flight in reaction to stimulus.  Your heart rate and air intake increase and other systems, especially your digestion are put on hold.  When we sit down to eat a meal in this state it is difficult to truly receive what you are putting in; you feed yourself, but do not nourish your body.  In the sympathetic state that our nervous systems are too frequently in, the body pushes food through but does not absorb nutrients.  Hormones that are essential to the digestion, absorption and use of nutrients are not secreted and the body’s sense of satiation in diminished.  We can simultaneously stuff ourselves silly and malnourish our bodies.

In a relaxed or parasympathetic state, on the other hand, breathing and heart rate slow, muscles relax, and the digestive process revs up.  We are more inclined to chew slowly, think about the food going in, appreciate the flavors and receive the nourishment.  These are the qualities that bring thanks.  The physical body thanks you for providing it with the necessary sustenance it needs, every organ and system thanks you for giving them the energy and time they need to catch up and work efficiently, the mind thanks you for letting it rest and have time to think about the present, your emotions thank you for the peace and quiet, your friends and family thank you for a wonderful meal and you can step back and be thankful for it all.

This thanksgiving, wherever you are going and whatever traditions you have, take a moment to give thanks.  As you sit down at the table take a deep breath and bring your mind and body to the present.  Open your senses and take in all that is around you.  Give yourself time to appreciate what you have and those you share it with.  Let not just the food and flavors of each bite, but also the family, community, rest and celebration nourish your body. Your body, mind and everyone you share your day with will be thankful.