by Stephanie Perkinson
Food is one of the best storytellers I know.
When it was time to go grocery shopping for Thanksgiving last year I was in a great state of mind, despite the fact that everyone at the table but me, was connected by blood. We had planned to keep everything really simple and share the cooking duties. We were organized and prepared with a list. We came early to avoid the crowds ... the plan, it worked. I was practically Martha Stewart!
Then I got to the area where the turnips lay, all nestled up together in a big pile. I stopped, admiring all the colors and shapes. I love turnips. Mashed to be exact. My entire family does. It’s the dish everyone has to have on their plates so we can all ruminate about how well it turned out that year. We get to laugh about how much butter is in it as we go for second helpings.
The late and great matriarch of my family Evy Perkinson, or Gram as she was known to me, was an expert event planner. When she cooked for our huge family, she cooked and looked like a movie star while doing it. Diamonds, fur and rose colored lips were a must even in the kitchen. Everything placed on the beautiful dining room table always tasted amazing and turnips ... they were her signature dish and what still feels like the glue that holds us all together. Gram’s turnips. The ones that she would sweeten with a bit of brown sugar but insist it was just her good cooking that made them so tasty. “There’s no sugar in there!” she would say indignantly as she stuffed away the evidence in an almost bursting cupboard nearby.
So much has changed since she passed away but those bitter roots remain one of my touchstones to her and her legacy. Something safe and predictable. Completely grounding and nostalgic. No matter where my family has scattered or what house I find myself in, if the turnips are there, my Gram is there in spirit and I am home for the holidays.
I believe with my whole heart that food is magic. It has the ability to transport us back to the kitchens we grew up in and the tables we sat down at. It has the power to unearth memories that have been long buried. It can make us small once again and flood our souls with a sense of wonder and fresh hope ... emotions that are so easy to dismiss and disconnect from with each trip around the sun. We feel all of this deep in our core. This type of emotional eating and attachment is so real, so human and I think ... so incredibly beautiful.
So there I was, looking at all the options for turnips and realized we hadn't planned for that dish in the meal. My heart sank to the floor. I felt like I had abandoned my grandmother. How could I have forgotten something so important? I considered for a moment to just buy them and make them, but the whole goal for us was to have a really easy and simple Thanksgiving.
So I made the choice to keep walking. It dawned on me that the opportunity was mine at any point to celebrate her. The turnips would still be there next week. As beautiful and important as I think food traditions are, equally important is the ability to build our own unique traditions. Start something new and specific to us. It was time for me to create my own legacy.
When you pass on, what do you want to leave behind?
I'm hoping that the landscape on my family’s table will include a signature dish of mine and perhaps, some turnips nestled in between my children and grandchildren's dishes.
I'm delighted to share one of my signature holiday dishes with you today. A departure from the traditional mashed and sweetly spiced squash, yet vibrant comfort food all the same. Deep nourishment from my kitchen to yours. There are so many option's to play with in this dish. In this version I am using cream, but feel free to experiment with nut-or-seed milks or swap the ghee for olive oil if you'd like. You could even try using collards or mustard greens in place of the kale. Enjoy!
Creamy Butternut and Kale Gratin
2-3 bunches of kale, chopped, tough ends discarded
2 TB organic ghee from grass-fed cows
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp sea salt
A few good cranks of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup organic cream from grass-fed cows
1 large butternut squash, peeled, quartered, and seeded
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add your kale in and stir well. Once it all wilts down, drain and rinse with cool water. Squeeze your kale in small handfuls to remove excess water, chop and set aside. Next, melt your ghee in the same pot used to cook the kale. Toss in the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent. Take off heat and add your kale, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cream. Stir well to combine and set aside.
Put oven rack in the upper third part of your oven and preheat to 400°F.
Begin to cut your squash thinly, into about 1/8 inch thick slices. I use the slicing disk on my food processor to make short work of this task. Once it's all cut you can begin to layer your gratin in a large casserole dish. Begin with the squash, layer in your kale mixture, then more squash, alternating until you end with the squash on top. Sprinkle with your cheese and cover with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes and then remove foil and broil until the top is golden. Serve warm or room temperature.
Stephanie Perkinson is a certified holistic health & lifestyle coach and owner of Wellness by Design. She teaches women how to live “in-season” by introducing them to the magic that each earth-phase holds. She gently guides her clients back to balance on their plates, in their bodies and around their homes. She believes that with loving support, every body can find it's way home and become deeply rooted wherever it may be.