thanksgiving / mashed cinnamon ginger sweet potatoes

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When I think of Thanksgiving, I envision pilgrims with buckle shoes and ridiculous hats gathering around wooden tables with a bunch of natives with headdresses, celebrating their most genuine “friendship” by feasting on a giant dead bird (with cranberry sauce and grandma’s pumpkin pie, obviously). However, because I’m highly educated, I know that this is a gross misconception of a holiday that has nothing to do with a dead turkey and everything to do with William Bradford (the badass governor of the 1620 American colony) proclaiming that all his puritan buddies should gather together and thank God for helping them thrive in America.
But let’s be honest, this is not interesting at all…
Turkey day (as I like to call it) is a time for families to come together and eat and drink as much as humanly possible, fall into a trytophan-induced coma, then wake up the next day and act like raving lunatics as they shop from 5am onwards to get the best deals on crap they don’t need.
When I was in fourth grade, we dressed up like pilgrims and sang songs with the “native americans” (fifth graders) about peace and corn and turkeys…then we cut out a giant paper turkey and offered it to the natives (fifth graders), which they happily accepted with “thanks”. This was followed by a feast in the auditorium with our teachers, but all I kept thinking (between mouthfuls of mashed potatoes) was how much I wanted to be a native (because they had cooler outfits and got to make their own walking sticks). A plump pilgrim nudged me in the ribs and said, “why did the turkey sit on the tomahawk?” I said I didn’t know. “To hatchet.” A blank stare. “Get it? Hatch-it?” Oh, right, I mumbled. Needless to say, it wasn’t until high school that I realized the sweet old puritans weren’t so “pure” after all…

“Wait, so they were escaping persecution from King James I and came to America so they could be socialists and practice their own religion?”
“Yea, apparently,” I said. “But then all the indians died from disease and-”
“Dude, you can’t say indians!?!” 
“Oh, forgive me. We butchered the Native Americans, then became a capitalist society and thrived. God bless America…”
“I know, right? He’s caused us more problems…”

So, what do I celebrate during Thanksgiving? Being with my family…because there’s nothing better. Nothing. 
Well, except perhaps mashed ginger cinnamon sweet potatoes! This is a simple recipe that’s a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving spread.

Mashed Ginger Cinnamon Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup coconut milk
2 T ginger pulp (= peeled and grated ginger root)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, add potatoes, carrots, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and onion and fill with enough water to just cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil and cover, then reduce heat and simmer until veggies are tender, about 20 minutes. Strain water out and remove bay leaf, then season with salt and add ginger pulp and coconut milk. Use an immersion blender or food processor to puree until creamy and smooth. Serves 6 unicorns disguised as pilgrims.

the devil is white & sweet (not in a 50’s housewife kind of way) / cinnamon-scented poached pears

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In keeping with my seitan-ic theme, I will introduce you to the devil himself…the lord of dessert, candy and all things sinfully sweet. Yup, you guessed it…the devil’s name is Sugar. I know, I know…kind of a sweet (no pun intended) name for a supposedly badass fallen angel, but like so many things that sound deceivingly harmless (sanitary napkin, telemarketer, gynecologist, community marketing agent (see Hawaii post), department of motor vehicles, the I-95, enema, irreconcilable differences, “don’t take it personally”, “It’s you not me”, “I need to see you in my office”, “you’re not fat, just big-boned”, etc., sugar is the wolf in little red riding hood’s cape. And it comes in many forms to further confuse you: white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, raw suger, turbinado, sucanat, sugar cane, cane syrup solids, corn syrup, aspartame, fructose, and sucrose. Don’t be fooled by this little white powder. It is right up there with cocaine, heroine and all of my other favorite drugs…sounds great, right? Not so much…this little guy goes into your system, and like a drug, spikes your blood sugar and gives you a rush, a moment of bliss, a fleeting energy, and perhaps candy-coated wings & visions of purple bunnies hopping all over the yard (wait…that’s not sugar, that’s something else, and you should probably stop doing it right away). You’re probably thinking, fine I get it, but it’s not unnatural…I mean it comes from a plant, right? True, and if you gnaw on a piece of raw sugar cane, it’s not so bad because you’re eating a food in its whole form, which includes all of the vitamins, minerals and other things that your body recognizes, and can therefore assimilate for proper digestion and absorption. That is not, however, the form in which most people eat sugar. The sugar found in nearly everything from soda to cereal to gum (and even in those “natural” energy bars that you think are so good for you), is a crystalline chemical that’s been refined and processed to the point of being an “anti-nutrient” (translation: your body leaches vitamins and minerals from itself in order to absorb the sugar). The sugar cane (or beet) is pressed into a juice, then refined into molasses, and then further refined into a crystalline chemical that is NOT food, and is completely alien to our body. So what? Well, it’s one thing when you take a drug and know that it’s harmful to your health, but it’s quite another to blindly consume mass amounts of something that you think is okay. Sugar is a slow poison, but it’s as addictive as any narcotic. 95% of all Americans are addicted to sugar in one form or another, whether it’s artificial sweeteners, so called “natural” sweeteners, or good old white sugar. Consumption of sugar causes weight gain, tooth decay, and a slew of other illnesses that would take me half the day to list including diabetes, hypertension, many types of cancers, deterioration of major organs, and suppression of the immune system.  Solution? Stop eating it.
Easier said than done, I know. Like any addiction, it’s hard to stop…
Say goodbye to your venti, no whip, extra hot, nonfat chai latte in the morning with a low-fat blueberry muffin. Wait…WHAT?! I know, I’m totally ruining your whole day. But I’m telling you, sugar is the reason you can’t lose weight, the reason you feel like a truck hit you at 3pm everyday, the reason you become irritable (actually, I’m not sure about that…you might just be a pain in the ass naturally), and the reason why you think you’re just one of those people who “have a sweet tooth.” You don’t have a sweet tooth, you have a full on, psycho drug addict “I must give into my cravings” / “I eat cake behind closed doors, under my blanket with a flashlight” sugar addiction!

The good news? There are some sweeteners out there that aren’t as evil (they’re frenemies with the devil…it’s complicated), and may be incorporated, conservatively, into your diet.  They include: raw honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, and coconut nectar.

Craving something sweet already? Don’t worry, I have the perfect solution: a dessert recipe without sugar in it! Hooray! Every unicorn you serve this to will be convinced that the sticky, syrupy goodness dripping off of the sides of your cinnamon-infused luscious pears is caramel or some other sinfully sweet sugar demon, but rest assured, it’s just fruit! Yes, fruit contains naturally occurring sugar, but it also has vitamins, minerals, and all the goodness needed for your body to happily absorb the sweetness without causing harm to you!

Cinnamon Poached Pears

2 pears, peeled & stems left in place, then cut in half lengthwise
1 small container of Organic Apple juice (without any added sugar, just apples!)
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1/2 cup fresh blueberries (optional)
fresh mint to garnish

In a medium saucepan, place halved pears cut side down in pan. Pour apple juice over top until pears are almost submerged, about 3/4 of the way. Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves and turn on flame to high.  Bring up to a boil, then turn down flame to low, and simmer to a poaching temperature (a little higher than a simmer with a few bubbles popping occasionally) for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick can easily pierce each pear. Remove pears, cloves, and cinnamon sticks from poaching liquid and place on serving dish. Turn up flame and bring liquid to a boil and reduce until liquid becomes a thick syrup. Serve pears as is or slice from stem to bottom and fan out, then drizzle with syrup and garnish with fresh blueberries and mint. Makes enough for four unicorns suffering from sugar withdrawal.

Still need convincing? Consider this: cancer cells need nourishment to survive and grow…and guess what their favorite thing to eat is? Yup, you guessed it…sugar. In fact, many people undergoing treatment for cancer are encouraged to go on a sugar-free or sugar-moderated diet. Why not start now?