Orange Spiced Cranberry Sauce

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how long it took me to realize that one could actually make cranberry sauce from scratch. For some reason, the thought had lodged in my brain through habit and advertising that cranberry sauce came from a can. Every Thanksgiving I would anticipate the slurp of the jellied cranberry sauce as it slid out onto a plate. I would designate myself the “cranberry sauce slicer” and happily slice up the jello-y, ruby-colored cylinder using the ridges from the can as a guide. These experiences account for my confusion as to why it was called “sauce.” Cranberry sauce is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving because it’s one of those “Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving only,” foods. We might enjoy turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, or gravy throughout the year, but let’s be honest, the cranberry sauce makes Thanksgiving.

Growing up, my family was less fortunate and relied heavily on cheap, packaged foods that mostly came in the form of donations to the needy. Mine was a childhood mired with Velveeta cheese, Spam, and neon-orange colored, powdered juice mixes. Thanksgiving was one of the few occasions where fresh foods were prepared, but even then they were limited. Freeze dried potatoes were an abomination on the holiday, and my father would make gravy from the drippings of the turkey, but my family still preferred the pre-made pumpkin pie found in the grocery store, along with whipped cream from an aerosol can, stuffing from a bag and any combination of frozen corn, beans and peas.

It was only a few short years ago, while working at a natural foods grocery store (where I learned more about whole foods than I ever could have on my own) that I got my first taste of homemade cranberry sauce. It was that very moment when I realized that the “delicious,” jellied cranberry sauce in the can was nothing more than corn syrup* with some cranberry flavoring. Now that I know the difference, there’s no substitute for homemade. Over several holiday seasons I have spent time perfecting my own recipe for cranberry sauce. I don’t much care for like the leathery cranberry skins that seem to stick in your teeth all day, so I strain them out to get a velvety texture.

I learned the basic recipe from watching over the shoulder of a chef in the natural foods deli where I used to work circa 2006. I have added fragrant orange zest and crystallized ginger. The sugar can be adjusted to taste, as the orange juice will add sweetness as well as flavor.

Orange Ginger Cranberry Sauce
16 oz cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1cup/ 8oz fresh orange juice
1 Tblsp grated orange zest
3 large pieces of crystallized ginger (or to taste), chopped
Pinch of sea salt
1 – 1 ½ cups evaporated cane sugar (or other natural sweetener)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp of cornstarch (I use non-GMO) added to

Rinse the cranberries. Add orange juice, orange zest, ginger, sea salt and cinnamon to a large pot over medium heat. Let the juice come to a slow boil, this infuses the liquid with the ginger and cinnamon. Add cranberries and slowly add the sugar to dissolve. As the cranberries begin to heat and turn bright red, begin mashing or blending. I personally using a potato masher and it works just fine. A hand blender would also do the trick. As the mixture begins to boil and the berries are mashed, the juice will thicken. I add a little cornstarch to make a more jelly-like sauce, it’s completely optional.

Once the sauce has cooked and thickened (5-10mins). Turn off heat. I strain the sauce with a fine wire sieve. Chill 1 hour to overnight. Serve. See how easy that is? Who needs a can of sugary, processed cranberry jelly when you can make something as good as this.

The spices in this recipe make me think of Christmas. I can almost hear the jingle bells off in the distance.

*There is a lot of information on the web about high fructose corn syrup. In my personal opinion, it is not healthy to consume in even moderate amounts. See this study done at Princeton. This is one example of many that provide reasons to drop corn syrup from your diet. And again, this is not professional/medical advice but only a personal opinion informed by research.


Zen and the Art of Seaweed Salad

Chris has been in Germany for four weeks, and I really thought I was going to get more work done. Alas, with a full time work schedule and a giant chunk of my day devoured by my commute, I get home with two hours to myself before bedtime. My weekends are booked with laundry, grocery shopping and housekeeping duties. I miss having a partner to help out around the house.

I’ve begun to realize that I spend most of my time running around, worrying about what needs to get done. I think that can be said for most Americans. The very American concept of “efficiency” demands more of people for less in return. I don’t consider myself a “spiritual” person, but throughout my life I have found comfort in Buddhist philosophy and thought. I find particularly poignant the Buddhist emphasis on “mindfulness,” or the importance of awareness in the present moment. How often do we stop and really think about our existence, or our place in the world?

My most meditative moments tend to happen when I’m cooking. There’s something to be said for that. Food is more than nourishment, it is an intrinsic part of being. Which is why I prefer foods that are close to their origins, prepared simply and true to their being. Obviously that doesn’t mean that I limit myself to raw vegetables, or eliminate all flavor enhancing seasonings, but I aim for simplicity. And I’m finding that when I pay attention to the nature of the food I’m preparing, my meals are healthier. When I eat vegetables with the intention of tasting the vegetables and not dousing them in butter or cheese or salt, the outcome is a healthful, meaningful meal.

I personally think it would serve our best interest to meditate over our meals and really think about what we put in our bodies. We live in a culture where everything needs to be done faster, where a meal comes from a box or a microwave, where cheaper is considered better. What would happen if we all took five or ten minutes to sit in front of our dinner and ask, “How will this meal nurture me?” People work to own a bigger home, a bigger car, a lifestyle of more. What would happen if we said, “I want less?”

Mindful Seaweed Salad
1-2 cups dried Arame seaweed
1 small carrot, peeled and grated
2 scallions, sliced
1 tsp ginger (powdered or fresh)
1/2 tsp ume plume vinegar
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp sesame oil
Sesame seeds to taste

Arame has a wonderfully mild flavor, it tastes of the sea without being strongly flavored like nori. It also has a firm texture, almost
like al dente pasta. Like all sea vegetables, arame is naturally high in iodine, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin A. It is a truly nurturing food.
To make this salad, boil the arame for 10mins. Drain and set aside to cool, or plunge into an ice bath.
Toss the arame with the remaining ingredients. Ume plum vinegar is not a true vinegar, its the brine from umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum). Umeboshi are a common
Japanese snack food, they are extremely high in sodium but are a good source of probiotics.

I recommend eating this with a hot cup of green tea while reading the Lotus Sutra.