introduction: celebrate with me
Many of my fondest memories are tied to holidays. Most of those memories are woven into the food we enjoy during those special times of the year. I remember being taught how to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey for the first time (accidentally baking it with the bag of giblets inside the cavity!) and baking dozens of cookies from old family recipes with my sister and my mom to hand out to friends during Christmastime. I look forward to reuniting with family and friends at holiday gatherings and congregating around the table to enjoy wonderful food and conversation. I especially love time spent in the kitchen with everyone busily preparing their favorite holiday dishes and later laughing over a glass of wine while cleaning up the mess from the celebration.
When you are forced to alter your diet drastically for the sake of your health, you may understandably fear that your fond memories and traditions will be lost along with the newly eliminated food groups. You may worry that you won’t be able to attend significant gatherings with your family or host a baby shower for a friend without feeling ostracized or, worse, hungry! There is also a deep sense of loss when you can no longer experience the joy that comes from lovingly preparing and serving food to the people you care about. Those fears were once very real to me and left me feeling hopeless. But I have since made it my mission, with my blog and with my books, to break the misconception that you have to live a life of deprivation and alienation when you adopt a new dietary lifestyle.
My initial switch to a grain-free and Paleo diet came after spending many years battling for my life. I devoted months to seeing different specialists in an attempt to find out what was causing my symptoms and was told everything from “You’re a hypochondriac” to “You might have colon cancer.” After dozens of tests and many different doctors, I was ultimately diagnosed at the young age of twenty-two with ulcerative colitis, an incurable autoimmune disease that wrongfully attacks an otherwise healthy colon. I was devastated, and very lost. I was also newly married and had fairy-tale aspirations of having a beautiful family and of following in my mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps by hosting big parties year-round.
All of my doctors told me the same thing about my condition: diet did not cause it, diet cannot prevent it, and diet cannot cure it. So I accepted the myriad prescriptions and went on my way, only to have my symptoms worsen with burgeoning side effects. I spent years in and out of hospitals, incapacitated and on very high doses of medications. I was unable to be a mom to my infant son, and I took medical leave from my job. My sickness ruled my life until I discovered that dietary changes could,
in fact, make my symptoms subside. I adopted a Paleo diet, which is based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans, before the agricultural revolution changed the way much of what we consume is grown and processed. It consists chiefly of grass-fed or pasture-raised proteins, fish, vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, and healthy fats, and it excludes dairy, legumes, grain products, and processed food. Many people who follow this lifestyle see improved blood lipids, weight loss, and a reduction or elimination of the symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases. (For an in-depth account of my health journey and the different stages I went through to find the Paleo diet, read my blog at againstallgrain.com/my-journey or take a look at my first two cookbooks, Against All Grain
and Meals Made Simple
After overhauling my diet, I spent quite some time avoiding parties and was apprehensive about hosting my own for fear that my guests would not enjoy the type of food I had to prepare. I was embarrassed to be a dinner guest with special requests and would often eat before leaving the house, or wait to eat until late at night when we returned home.
I will always remember my first Thanksgiving just weeks after switching to a Paleo diet. I longingly looked at other diners’ plates full of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy; my plate had only turkey, salad, and a deflated, runny mashed cauliflower that I had brought for myself. Watching everyone enjoy all of the traditional pies and desserts after the meal was even more torturous. I debated between breaking my new “rules” or foregoing the special dishes I looked forward to year after year to preserve my health. I wondered if eating those foods, just this once, would affect me, but remembered from past experiences that it was not worth the risk.
It was after that disappointing dinner that I set out to re-create all of my favorite celebratory dishes in an attempt to give myself and my readers the gift of food traditions and to banish deprivation during holidays and special occasions. I forced myself to remember what had brought me joy before my diagnosis, and consciously committed to going against the grain in order to revive that joy.
I hosted my own Thanksgiving dinner the following year and proudly served all of my newly created recipes. My family and friends loved how fresh the food tasted. They even admitted that they felt better after the meal than in years past and didn’t have the standard post-turkey fatigue. The next year, and every year after that, my guests arrived at my home for Thanksgiving bearing dishes cooked from my recipes. Although none of them had an autoimmune condition like I did, their love for me made them want to accommodate my diet. Beyond that, they continued to make my recipes for special events throughout the year and served them in place of the standard American classics. Try a recipe: Green Bean Casserole with Crispy ShallotsSERVES 10 TO 12
1 cup (about 150g) whole raw cashews
2 tablespoons ghee or extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, halved
1 shallot, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons sherry (optional)
1 cup water
1 3⁄4 cups chicken stock
1 1⁄2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 pounds haricots verts (thin green beans), ends trimmed topping
1⁄2 cup palm shortening, bacon fat, or ghee, for frying
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
Place the cashews in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Soak for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat the ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot, and garlic and sauté for 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms and shallot have softened. Pour in the sherry and simmer for 5 minutes to reduce the liquid.
Drain and rinse the cashews, transfer them to a blender, add the water, and blend until very smooth.
Add the mushroom mix, half of the stock, and the salt, pepper, and thyme to the blender and pulse a few times until the mushrooms are bite size. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the remaining stock. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine the mushroom mixture with the haricots verts and spoon into a casserole dish. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, until the beans are tender and the sauce is bubbling. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more.
Meanwhile, to make the topping, heat the palm shortening in a small, deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, panfry the shallots for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Drain and cool in a single layer on a plate lined with paper towels.
Top the casserole with the crispy shallots and serve warm.
Copyright © 2016 by Danielle Walker. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.