“A meal is only as important as the people you share it with”. Four years ago, I typed this sentence onto an Instagram caption of me and my close girlfriends all gathered around my kitchen counter in front of the Friendsgiving spread I had just cooked and served them. The words simply streamed straight from my consciousness to my fingertips before realizing how true and meaningful they were to both my beliefs and lifestyle. Yes, eating is an obvious survival necessity, but it is just as vital that you are enjoying these nutrients in a comforting, loving, and welcoming environment. Even better, surrounded by people you care about. In my mind, and stomach, this is what the holidays are all about. Designated days to spend time with your loved ones, whether family or friends, enjoy each other’s company, and enjoy great food. Not only delicious, rib warming, meals, but nutritious food. Dishes that leave you feeling nourished and well fed rather than sprinting to the other room to unbutton your pants (because, let’s be honest, we’ve all been there).
Five years ago, when my love for cooking and interest in health and nutrition sparked, I suddenly became a more permanent presence in my family’s kitchen. At first, I began to help my mom with the Christmas morning brunch; proposing we change our typical spread, which included some prepared foods in an effort to save time, to a more well balanced, nourishing, home cooked version. After receiving rave reviews from my family, especially from my health focused and hardest critic of an older sister, of my omelet bake and accompanying sides, something sparked inside of me. I realized how much I enjoyed cooking for those I care about. I loved providing people, especially those important to me, with the one thing that is the key to my heart: a delicious meal. If you have spent time with me, whether at a dinner table or not, you understand how enamored I am with the act of dining. I care about the ingredients, I am hyperaware to the décor, I aim to please those I am with (even if it means agreeing to share something I would love to enjoy all to myself, a characteristic trait I have worked on improving since the ripe age of 5), and I am truly interested in other’s experiences. I genuinely believe that the way to anyone’s heart is through his or her stomach.
After feeling a rush of accomplishment, and a surge of emotional gratification that I had not realized I was missing, that Christmas morning, I soon realized how much more involved I was going to be in my mother’s kitchen over the holidays (whether she liked it or not). That next year brought an Easter that I was responsible for hosting while my mom was away, many summer weekends at the beach cooking for a houseful of 15 plus guests, a revamping of our Thanksgiving menu, and a whole new meaning to Christmas eve and morning. With each year came more responsibility and more feelings of pride, confidence, and comfort in the kitchen. Shortly after I realized how rewarding this act was, I decided it was time to host my own Thanksgiving in my space: an NYC apartment with much less cooking square footage than the home I was used to in NJ. I vividly remember calling my mom after my first Friendsgiving with a smile on my face, beaming with a sense of accomplishment, and boasting about the fact that I successfully cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 plus people. I was proud of myself, no doubt about it, but I most importantly realized that just a few hours later, I was already itching for next year’s party.
With each Friendsgiving I have hosted, I have continued to grow and learn more about both myself and my cooking ability. I have realized not only how much I love providing for others and what a sense of fulfillment I receive by doing so, but also how much cooking has changed me over this most recent stage of my life. Cooking has provided me with an outlet of creativity that I never knew I needed, confidence I did not realize I was lacking, an interest and knowledge of the ingredients that I was so quickly overlooking, and an even deeper appreciation for those around me. Cooking has changed my life and I am extremely inspired to create content and recipes in order to help others experience these same emotions. This Friendsgiving, I am partnering with Simply Organic focusing on cooking for a change. I am aiming to change the connotation that good, delicious, comfort food cannot be made with healthy ingredients, to encourage people that cooking a holiday feast is an attainable feat, and to remind everyone how fortunate you are to potentially have both not only a plate of food in front of you but also people you love beside you. With this partnership, Simply Organic is cooking to inspire personal change and social good by donating one meal to the Ceres Community Project Healing Meals Program for each use of #CookForAChange. Their goal is to provide 1,200 organic meals to critically ill patients during the holiday season and I am honored to be a part of this project! Similarly, with the spirit of providing meals to those in need, I am also donating and fundraising for a foundation that is near and dear to my heart: No Kid Hungry, which attempts to put an end to the astounding statistic that one in six children in America struggles with hunger and focuses on ensuring children get the healthy good they need, every day.
To ensure you have the best and healthiest Thanksgiving spread, please download the below PDF that includes all of my recipes for the big day and a master grocery list. Enjoy!