I grew up with one of those families. The kind with parents who are only satisfied if you’ve eaten everything on your plate and then some. The kind who shows their love by making sure you’re completely stuffed by the time you leave the table. Food as a sign of hospitality and love is a time honored tradition in many cultures, my own included.
Around the holidays and Christmas it gets even more out of control. It just isn’t December for me unless I’m eating my mother’s shortbread, which is actually my grandmother’s. The recipe is written in her beautiful penmanship, probably in the 1940s. The shortbread quite literally melts in your mouth. It brings me a sense of “all is right with the world”. But it’s got more butter in one piece than anyone should eat in a week. And I just found out that I have a cholesterol problem–like quite a major one–that’s crept out of nowhere in the last 12 months.
I am on a mission to review and reassess many of my favorite things in the world so I can eat more healthily, and that includes during Christmas. My kids need a healthy mother. Beloved needs a healthier wife. I’m not a lot of good to my family and friends if I’m not taking care of my nutritional needs. Now there is not one miracle on this earth that can make my mother’s shortbread less deadly. If I am wise and eat it in tiny, careful amounts, I can still have some. But in order to do that, I’ve got to make changes elsewhere.
The American Cancer Society challenged me to find a favorite recipe and see if I could make it a little healthier. I decided to share my number one winter comfort food. We often have it as a starter on Christmas Day, and of course, with some chunky wholegrain bread and a salad it’s a perfect meal on it’s own. I’m afraid the quantities are a bit of a guess, as I have been making it for many years and never had a written recipe.
- One medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped.
- 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed.
- Sautee onion and garlic in a non-stick skillet in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.*
- One large butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks in a large saucepan.
- Add cooked garlic and onions, then fill the pan with water until the squash is barely covered.
- Bring to boil, then simmer.
- Add 1 cup of chopped fresh sweet basil. In a pinch you can used dried basil, but the flavor and texture are definitely altered.
- Add 1-2 vegetable stock cubes, mix and simmer on a lowish heat for about 25 mins.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Bring soup off the heat.
- Using a wand blender, I usually just smoosh (yes, that’s a technical term!) the soup directly in the pot.
- Add 1/2 cup of milk. I use 1%.** Sprinkle with a sprig of fresh basil and serve hot.
- This soup keeps well in the fridge and the flavors improve over a day or two.
* Healthy change #1 – I used to do this in butter in a saucepan. Makes zero difference to the flavors!
** Healthy change #2 –I’ve always used heavy cream for this step. Honestly, there’s so little difference to the texture, I don’t know why I haven’t done it before!
You can upload your own healthier holiday recipe here or get lots of ideas from others. What do you love to cook and share during the holidays? Can you switch out a couple of things to make it a smidge healthier?
Gathering around a table with loved ones feels more important than ever this year, as we cling to who and what matters most in our lives.
Blessings and love to you,
This post was written at the invitation of the American Cancer Society. I received no compensation and this recipe, as well as all views expressed, are my own.
Photo credit: Chrysula Winegar