The First Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the holiday that so often gets the cold shoulder during the holiday season because there’s nothing too commercial about it. I guess you can’t really make money off a holiday that’s sole theme is to be thankful for what you have. No one ever promotes the holiday and far too often, people skip straight from Halloween to Christmas, as if Thanksgiving doesn’t even exist!

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This year in particular, I feel that I have so much to be thankful for. The past 3-4 months have reeked havoc on my world and completely flipped it upside down. In short, I all but lost the life that I knew and the future that I had planned for us. Although I did have the choice to stay and keep that life, I felt that I was no longer meant to be a part of that and that staying would only cause more problems.

So, instead of spending what would have been our first Thanksgiving at home (instead of with family as we’ve always done the past 4 years), I spent Thanksgiving with my family. Instead of cooking our first turkey together in our gorgeous and spacious kitchen, I monitored the turkey that my mom made in our slow cooker. And instead of happily watching the Macy’s Day on television as we’ve always done, I instead went for a run in an attempt to forget that I was alone. Alone on the one holiday that I should be celebrating how thankful I am for you.

But enough of that. I’ve already spent too much time re-hashing all that’s happened or how upsetting it is that I am not with my partner this year. Instead of dwelling on all that has gone wrong these past 3-4 months, I chose to focus on the positive. Was it easy? No way – not in the slightest. I had to consciously tell myself my affirmation for the day: “Love did not create this.” Thank goodness for Gabby Bernstein – I don’t think I would’ve made it through the holiday half as well without her words of positivity and encouragement. And as the minutes and hours slipped by, I found myself focusing less on what was absent and more on what was present. And that’s all that Thanksgiving is about, isn’t it? Giving thanks and gratitude for what is present in our lives – right now. And boy, do I have so much to be thankful for.

 Thankful for the phone call that I made that changed my life completely and allowed me to be here today.

 Thankful for the support system spread across the continental U.S. that’s kept me going – reminding me that this is for the best.

 Thankful for my job for understanding what I’m going through and allowing me to continue my role within the company.

 Thankful for my family for understanding and offering me a chance to break down and (ultimately) re-build my life.

 Thankful for my vehicle for carrying me all the way home.

 Thankful for my mind for sticking with me through this entire ordeal. Trust me – it felt like just throwing in the towel

 Thankful for my body for also sticking it out. At any point, it could’ve just collapsed from the amount of stress, anger, anxiety, pain, and lack of rest that I put myself through.

 And last, but certainly not least, thank you for this extra time with family.

So while this wasn’t the Thanksgiving that I had planned on having, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I was able to spend the morning with my mom in the kitchen, preparing the family meal. We were able to try out at least 5 new recipes this year, which admittedly may not have happened had we not been together! We seized this opportunity to try healthier versions of some family classics, as well as meal prep so we didn’t have so much to do on Thanksgiving Day. At one point, we looked at each other and my mom said, “Well, I think we’re ahead of ourselves.”

And dinner was a success! I was able to enjoy time at dinner with my grandparents, who I only see once a year when I come home. Neither of them eat that much, but they both seemed to enjoy everything they put on their plates! Even my dad was impressed with the new dishes – the lightened up sweet potato casserole was his favorite and he couldn’t tell the difference from what we normally make! And the amount of vegetables served increased significantly, which we can never get enough of those, right?


Proteins

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Crockpot Turkey

1 boneless turkey breast (3 to 4 pounds), halved
1, 14 oz. whole-berry cranberry sauce
½ cup sugar
½ cup apple juice
1 T cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground mustard
½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
2 T all-purpose flour
¼ cup cold water

  1. Place the turkey, skin side up, in a 5-qt. slow cooker.
  2. Combine the cranberry sauce, sugar, apple juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, cinnamon, cloves and allspice; pour over turkey.
  3. Cover and cook on low until a thermometer reads 170°, about 3-1/2 to 4-1/2- hours.
  4. Remove turkey to a cutting board and serve fresh!

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash with Cranberries

2 cups Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, yellow leaves removed
2 T olive oil
Salt, to taste
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed into 1-inch cubes 
4 T olive oil
3 T maple syrup
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup fresh cranberries
½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease.
  2. Make sure Brussels sprouts have trimmed ends and yellow leaves are removed.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine Brussels sprouts and 2 tablespoons of olive oil; toss to coat.
  4. Place onto baking sheet, cut side down, and sprinkle with salt.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine cubed butternut squash, remaining olive oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Toss to mix.
  6. Place butternut squash in a single layer on the baking sheet, next to Brussels sprouts.
  7. Roast in over for 30-35 minutes, turning once half-way through baking, until softened.
  8. Remove from oven and pour sprouts and squash into a greased casserole dish. Top with pumpkin seeds and cranberries, then return to over for 10-15 minutes.

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Roasted Broccoli with Panko Breadcrumbs

1 ½ lbs broccoli
2 T olive oil
½ tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 T coconut spread

  1. Preheat the oven to 450F. Lightly coated a baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Meanwhile, chop up broccoli into florets and place into baking dish.
  3. Toss broccoli with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  4. Melt coconut spread and pour over the broccoli. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and mix to coat evenly.
  5. Cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are slightly toasted.
  6. Serve immediately with your favorite fall entree!

Fruits

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Last-Minute Cranberry Sauce

1, 16 oz. can of whole very cranberry sauce
1, 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp apple pie spice
Pinch of ground cloves

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Refridgerate until ready to serve!

 

Starches

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Buttery Cornbread

⅔ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1⅔ cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
4½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease an 8×8″ pan.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.
  3. In a small bowl, combine eggs and milk.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine all dry ingredients.
  5. Alternate adding the eggs/milk and dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture.
  6. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 22-27 minutes.
  7. Cut into squares and serve warm!

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Homemade Mashed Potatoes

4 Russet potatoes large, peeled and cubed
½ – 1 cup of reserved potato water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Place potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Cook until fork tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. Strain potatoes, reserving 1 cup of potato water for mixing.
  3. Place the potatoes into a stand-up mixer and add 1/4 cup of potato water. Whip the potatoes until creamy, adding 1/4 cup additional water as needed.
  4. Once you’ve reached the desired consistency, you can add the butter and spices. Whip one last time and serve!

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Rosemary & Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

1 cauliflower, chopped into small florets
3 oz. low-fat cream cheese
2 T unsalted butter
1½ tsp minced garlic 
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped into small pieces

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to boil.
  2. Once boiling, pour in the cauliflower and cook until fork tender, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Drain cauliflower and place in stand-up mixer. Add remaining ingredients and whip until creamy.

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Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Casserole

2 sweet potatoes
½ cup light coconut milk
2 T pure maple syrup
2 T coconut oil, melted
½ T ground flaxseed
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup gluten-free old-fashioned oats
¼ cup almond flour
2 T coconut oil

  1. Peel and dice sweet potatoes into chunks.
  2. Place the chunks in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Once done, drain well and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350° and coat 8×8″ casserole or pie dish.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, pecans, oats, and flour. Cut in coconut oil with a fork until the oil is distributed evenly and looks like crumb topping.
  5. In a stand mixer, whip the sweet potatoes with coconut milk, maple syrup, oil, flaxseed, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Beat until everything is just combined and the chunks of sweet potato have disappeared. Be careful not to over-process or the mixture will become more like a puree!
  6. Pour the sweet potato mixtures into the prepared dish and sprinkle with the crumb topping mixture.
  7. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
  8. Serve warm with your favorite entree!

 

Dessert

Copycat Cheesecake Factory Pumpkin Cheesecake

12 T unsalted butter, melted
2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 ¾ cups sugar
1 tsp + 1 pinch salt
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
1, 15oz. can pure pumpkin
6 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1 T vanilla extract
2 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 10-inch springform pan.
  2. In a bowl, mix the butter, graham cracker crumbs, 1/4 cup of the sugar and a pinch of salt.
  3. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom sides of the pan, being sure to pack it tightly.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack.
  5. After cooling on a rack, wrap the outside of the springform pan with aluminum foil. Place the wrapped pan into a roasting pan.
  6. Meanwhile, in a medium pot, bring water to a boil.
  7. Using a mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add remaining sugar and beat until just light. Scrape down bowl sides and beaters as needed.
  8. Whip in the sour cream. Add the pumpkin, eggs, vanilla, 1 teaspoon salt and the spices. Whip until just mixed; pour into the cooled crust.
  9. Place the springform pan in the roasting pan. Gently place the roasting pan in the oven.
  10. Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
  11. Bake about 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the outside of the cheesecake is set, but the center is still loose.
  12. Turn off the oven and open the door briefly to let out some heat. Close the door and let cheesecake set for 1 more hour.
  13. After additional hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven. Carefully remove the springform pan from the roasting pan. Cool on a rack for at least an hour.
  14. Run a knife around the edges to loosen, then cover and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours (I usually do mine overnight).
  15. Twenty minutes before serving, bring the cheesecake to room temperature.
  16. Once ready, unlock and remove the springform ring.
  17. Serve as is or with a dollop of whipped cream.

 

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Pecan Pie Cheesecake

For the Crust:

1¾ cups vanilla wafer crumbs
¼ cup brown sugar
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted

For the Pecan Filling:

1 cup sugar
⅔ cup dark corn syrup
⅓ cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1½ cups pecans, chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Cheesecake Filling:

24 oz. cream cheese, softened
1¼ cups light brown sugar
2 T all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
⅔ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Topping:

3.5 T unsalted butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Crust:

  1. Line the bottom of 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine vanilla wafer crumbs and brown sugar. Stir in melted butter, then press the mixture evenly into bottom and up the sides of springform pan.
  3. Set in the fridge to firm the crust while making the filling.

Pecan Filling:

  1. In a medium saucepan combine all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer stirring constantly until thickened, 5-7 minutes.
  3. Pour into prepared crust and set aside.

Cheesecake Filing:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add brown sugar and flour; beat until fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating just until combined after each addition. Do not overbeat!
  4. Stir in heavy cream and vanilla, then pour cheesecake mixture over pecan filling.
  5. Place springform pan on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven and reduce the heat to 325 F.
  6. Bake for 60-70 minutes (until toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean).
  7. Turn off the oven and leave cheesecake in with oven door closed for 1 hour.
  8. Once the hour is up, remove from oven. Run a knife around edges of cheesecake but don’t take out of the pan until completely cooled.

Topping:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until very bubbly.
  2. Stir in cinnamon, heavy whipping cream, and chopped pecans.
  3. Cool to room temperature.
  4. Release the sides of springform pan and spoon the topping over cooled cheesecake.
  5. Serve immediately and store leftovers in the fridge.

 

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