A Thankful Heart

The holidays can be such a magical time of year… family, friends, feasting!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thanksgiving this year and how to stay healthy during the holidays without sacrificing tradition or stepping on anyone’s toes. Holiday traditions vary so much from family to family, person to person. Part of the joy (and stress) of the holidays is finding ways of meshing your vision and tradition with others. Everyone has a different vision of what makes a holiday perfect and that’s ok! The key to making it a happy one is focusing less on the perfect table setting and more on taking time out to be together.

If anything, I have a bit of a non-traditional approach to Thanksgiving after so many years dancing with NYCB. My life as a pro ballerina meant that from age 16 on, Thanksgiving was all about the Nutcracker for me. Performances, opening night and endless rehearsals… It was rewarding, exhausting and repetitive, too. My parents generally made the trip to NYC so that I wouldn’t have to celebrate alone. Instead of watching the Macy’s parade at home in North Carolina, we would bundle up, buy steaming cups of coffee and walk over to Central Park West to see the parade live! My mom would often cook a toned down version of our meal at home in my tiny kitchen and we might go to the movies in the afternoon. While I was sad at first to give up my traditional Thanksgiving, over the years I came to see that this holiday is about so much more than roast turkey and pumpkin pie. It’s about taking time out to celebrate the gifts in your life with family and friends!

Just setting aside a day to give thanks is like a gift in itself and an awesome reminder to us all.

As far as practical advice goes for keeping the holidays healthy, I think it’s important to use your substitution principle when preparing meals to keep things as balanced as possible. Remember that turkey is perfectly healthy (unless it’s fried. Please, do not fry or consume fried turkey!). I might take it a bit easier on the gravy (generally prepared with butter and white flour) and focus more on healthy sides. Side dishes like roasted carrots and brussel sprouts (see my super simple recipe below), steamed green beans and sweet potatoes are all healthy and terrific ways to fill up your plate and your tummy without tipping the scale. I often sneak in a salad as well. This gives you room to enjoy some extra stuffing, fresh rolls or other heavier holiday carbs. I always have to save room for one of my mom’s buttermilk biscuits with country ham! Try to avoid cooking or eating anything with cream (sour cream and cream cheese included) and go as easy on the butter and salt as you can.

 Dad’s apple cake with boiled custard

When it comes to dessert, my absolute favorite is my Dad’s apple cake with boiled custard. I’m working on getting a recipe for the apple cake and am including the boiled custard recipe below. It’s also incredible on fresh berries or fruit if you want to keep things light. If I’m having the traditional pumpkin or pecan pie I might eat around the pie crust (yes this can be embarrassing around serious foodies, but so what?!) and enjoy with a glass of skim milk.

What are your favorite Thanksgiving traditions? Can’t wait to hear!

Sending love and best wishes for a very Happy Thanksgiving this year!


Roasted brussel sprouts with carrots & walnuts

Roasted vegetables are one of my favorite side dishes. These simple but yummy brussel sprouts are the perfect side dish at any holiday meal!

2 cups brussel sprouts
1 cup baby carrots
1/2 cup raw walnuts, unsalted
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wash and cut brussel sprouts in half. Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix brussel sprouts, carrots and walnuts into large baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste. Toss in pan to coat everything evenly.

Bake 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees or until vegetables turn golden brown. Stir as needed. Place on a plate and serve!

Boiled Custard

4 eggs
1 quart of skim milk
1/2 – 2/3 cup of sugar

Beat eggs well and add milk and sugar.  Cook in double boiler. Bring to a boil and turn down, stirring constantly. When custard coats the spoon, turn off and let sit to cool. Add 2 teaspoons vanilla. Yum!!