Candied Fennel + Preparing for Thanksgiving

Like my last entry, this post is a combination of a recipe (which is at the bottom, if you just came here for that) and some thoughts that have been swimming (or darting...) around my head lately. A week from now, I will be in sunny South Florida, soaking up as much vitamin D as my sun-deprived skin can handle, eating nourishing and delicious foods with my loved ones, and also snapping quick remarks on the horrific history of Thanksgiving. Since this holiday isn't always easy, I wanted to share some tips that have worked for me in regards to preparing my mind and body for this often anxiety-provoking holiday. And since this is primarily a food-centered holiday, I wanted to throw in a few tips for those who struggle with food and eating, as this time of the year can be especially difficult.

 Vegan potluck amazingness that my dear herbal teacher, Holly Bellebuono, made for me for my going away potluck from herb school

Vegan potluck amazingness that my dear herbal teacher, Holly Bellebuono, made for me for my going away potluck from herb school

Gratitude for what we have, every day

The simple act of coming together to share food, to share that which gives us life and allows us to live, is a sacred act. Ideally, we should be grateful and express gratitude for the fact that we have food and loved ones on a daily basis, but if time slips between our fingers and we don't remember to be grateful until Thanksgiving, than so be it. Thanksgiving is still a great day to sit with your loved ones and share what you are grateful for, whether that be that you are alive (which its quite a feat for many of us, so pat yourself on the back for making it to another holiday season), that you have food to eat, and so forth. Vocalizing what we are grateful for is a great way to be mindful of all that we do have, as we so often focus on what we lack. Furthermore, research actually shows that sharing our joys and positive experiences can lead to "heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction, and even more energy," (x). 

A simple way to incorporate more gratitude into your life can simply be saying a prayer before every meal, not just at Thanksgiving and winter holidays. I have been practicing eating mindfully and praying over my breakfast for the past two years. I've found that it makes a substantial difference in both how I eat and how I feel in comparison to how I feel at meals that I don't give thanks or eat mindfully. Praying or giving thanks before a meal, especially if paired with a few deep breaths, is a helpful and grounding way to come into your body and be present before you eat, which is extra important if you tend to rush through meals or if you have a history of disordered eating. Below is the prayer I say before my meals, it helps me to remember to chew my food, to be grateful for the people who picked my food, and for the universe in general, for providing me with the nourishment I need to sustain my life.

"Thank you for this food I am about to eat. Thank you for all the energy that went into this food, and all the energy that I will get out of this food. This food nourishes and sustains me. I choose to eat mindfully and consciously. Thank you , I am grateful." 

I remember sitting at the 2013 Florida Herbal Conference with a friend who exclaimed, "I can't believe I have access to food every day! Every day I wake up and I can have food. How amazing and beautiful is that?" Her expression of gratitude inspires me to this day to be grateful for what I have, to look at life with rosy (but realistic) glasses, and to remember all the blessings in my life. Practicing gratitude - looking for the little things in life, like adorable puppies, changing leaves, dandelions growing in the cracks of a polluted city - is something that has made a significant difference in my outlook and how I feel on a day to day basis.

 Sharing a special breakfast brunch for Diego's birthday, last year in Florida

Sharing a special breakfast brunch for Diego's birthday, last year in Florida

Preparing our bodies for the abundance of ah-mazing Thanksgiving foods

This is a holiday that is centered around eating a lot of food, and I am not here to tell you to watch what you eat on Thanksgiving. Celebrate all you are thankful for and do it with an extra slice of cake if you want! Below you will find a few things to help you physically enjoy your Thanksgiving to the best of your ability

  1. Bitters. If you can swing it, start taking bitters now rather than just on Thanksgiving. Bitters (i.e.: literally anything that taste bitter - arugula, dandelion root, elecampane, endive, etc) trigger our gallbladder to secrete digestive bile so that we can better breakdown our foods, especially fats. An important taste that has pretty much been taken out of the SAD diet, bitters make a real difference in our ability to digest foods and to absorb vitamins and minerals from our foods. Take bitters 10-15 minutes before a meal, and if you feel so inclined, after you finish your meal as well. (bonus- bitters can also help curb sugar cravings, and I have seen them work to help curb binge eating urges as well).
  2. Carminative herbs. If you struggle with digestion issues, or if stress gives you digestion issues (whatsup fellow anxiety folk), here are a few herbs to get to know this holiday season:
    • Ginger root - warming, makes a great breakfast tea (especially with a pinch of black pepper or cayenne, woo!) to help get your digestion movin', relieves cramping and is especially helpful for nausea, fresh ginger decoction is especially useful for those who are perpetually cold and who have dry, stagnant constipation
    • Chamomile - a classic tea that pretty much every household has, chamomile is also a mildly bitter herb as long as you let it steep longer than 15 minutes, and it helps to reduce inflammation in the gut and get your food moving along. Chamomile also helps reduce irritability and hyperactivity (aka children who ate all of the marshmallows off of the sweet potatoes...), and can be useful for stomach problems right before bed
    • Catnip - indicated for digestion problems caused by emotional/nervous tension, safe for children, pair this odd little herb with a pinch of mint as it isn't necessarily delicious
    • Other carminative herbs include lemon balm, anise seed, and fennel (see recipe below).
  3. Walking. If you can, try to go for a walk the morning of Thanksgiving to get your head in the game, or at least to help you relax a little before the big event - and definitely try to walk after the meal. Walking helps to stimulate our digestion and it's a great activity to do if your loved ones are getting a little too nosy or if you simply need a breath of fresh air. For those with a history of binge eating, taking a walk after the meal is an excellent way to avoid going into full-fledged binge mode. Walking is also a great way to get your mind settled if you are uncomfortably full and that feeling is triggering for you. While walking, take time to be grateful for the food you just ate and to admire the changing of the seasons.
  4. Relax. Don't stress about the food- enjoy it. For those with body image problems, a history of disordered eating, or who are obsessive about eating "healthy" - the stress of worrying about what that slice of cake is going to do to your body is more harmful than eating the cake, and the stuffing, and whatever else. Balance is key and this is a holiday where it really is ok to not be completely balanced! If you struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, make sure you have a friend or loved one you can talk to or call before/during/after the meal to vent to, discuss your triggers, etc. If you want to be alone, be alone! Go for a walk or play with an animal. The holiday season is challenging for everyone, but especially those who struggle with food (and family,) so be sure to take care of yourself as best as you can <3

// Coconut Candied Fennel Seeds \\

This recipe is inspired by Sheila Kingsbury's recipe from her AHG 2014 class.

Due to the carminative (stomach soothing) and flatulance-reducing properties of fennel seeds, these sweet and nutty seeds are a great post-meal snack to have around on Thanksgiving. They're also great to have around the day after Thanksgiving, when all the leftovers come out and it's basically round 2.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup honey (or maple syrup, I used honey)
  • 2 tsp coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Add the oil to a pan and warm on medium heat
  2. Mix the fennel seeds and coconut into the oil until well-coated, then add your honey
  3. Toast until the seeds and honey are slightly browned and aromatic, about 5-7 minutes
  4. Lay out the mixture in a thin layer on wax paper, the thinner the layer, the easier it will be to break into pieces
  5. Once cooled, break into said pieces and place in the kitchen or on the table!

Eat a few seeds after a meal, and chew thoroughly!

>> For a fun twist, you could try throwing in a few tablespoons of dried coconut or mixing the candied fennel with chopped candied ginger <<

I hope this brief guide to surviving and enjoying Thanksgiving was helpful. If you make the fennel seeds, let me know how they turn out! I brought them to herb class this week and people were shocked at how easy they were to make. I hope you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving, that you think about all you have to be grateful for, and that you can enjoy your holiday and day off work (unless you are being forced to work on Thanksgiving, which is evil).

In love and cheesecake (which I am making for Thanksgiving),

Blaire