Roasted Butternut Squash Smørrebrød with Spicy Harissa Mayo and Pepitas

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Remember that very traditional new potato smørrebrød I shared with you recently?  This is a somewhat unconventional take on that concept.  The same dense rye bread, butter and greens for a base, but this time topped with buttery roasted squash half-moons, spicy harissa mayonnaise, cilantro and pepitas.  A complete break from tradition, but delicious in its own right.

Roasted Butternut Squash Smørrebrød with Spicy Harissa Mayo and Pepitas

Makes 4 small sandwiches (which serves about two people)

 4 thin slices dense rye bread, a little over 1/4 inch thick

Butter, preferably salted

A handful or two of baby arugula leaves

Roasted Butternut Squash Half-Moonsrecipe below

Spicy Harissa Mayonnaise, recipe below

a handful of cilantro leaves (removed from their stems but left whole)

1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), toasted in a dry skillet

Butter each slice of bread.  Place a layer of baby arugula leaves on top.  Arrange squash slices artfully over the arugula.  Spoon Spicy Harissa Mayo over the squash.  Scatter cilantro leaves and roasted pepitas on top.  Serve.

Roasted Butternut Squash Half-Moons

Adapted from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen

Depending on the size of your squash, makes enough for approximately 4 sandwiches.  Plan on about 6 slices of squash per sandwich.

1 Medium-sized butternut squash

2 tablespoons butter

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Cut the neck portion of the squash from the rounded bottom (ideally just above where the seeds start).  Peel the neck portion of the squash using a y-shaped vegetable peeler.  You can surely peel and use the bottom of the squash as well, cutting it in half and removing the seeds from the cavity with a spoon before proceeding with the recipe.  I save the unpeeled bottom of the squash for my backyard chickens.  They think it is about the best treat ever.
  3. Carefully cut the peeled squash in half lengthwise, and then into 1/4 inch thick half-moon shapes.
  4. Melt butter in a large bowl.  Place squash slices in the bowl with the butter and toss until coated.
  5. Lay squash slices in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the squash slices are soft and slightly caramelized on the bottom.  Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

Squash can be prepared up to three days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  The squash is best if it is not cold from the fridge.  Take it out 30 minutes or so before assembling sandwiches to warm slightly before using.

Spicy Harissa Mayonnaise

Makes approximately 1/4 cup

1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise

1 tablespoon prepared harissa (I use the one from Trader Joe’s)

Combine mayonnaise and harissa in a small bowl.  Add more harissa to taste.  Can be prepared up to two days in advance.

Roasted Pear Compote with Cardamom, Vanilla and Fresh Ginger

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Roasted Pear Compote with Cardamom, Vanilla and Fresh Ginger on crispbread spread with cream cheese.  An excellent fika treat!

It’s time we had a little chat about cardamom.  Citrusy, spicy, floral….it is, shall we say, a very complex and exotic spice.  Although native to India, cardamom has somehow managed to find its way into many traditional recipes for Scandinavian baked goods.  The Nordic countries are famous for their cardamom buns, cakes and cookies.  How did this far-flung spice find its way from India to Scandinavia?  Some claim that the Vikings brought it north with them after encountering it on their travels to the Byzantine Empire (now Turkey) or possibly Constantinople (now Istanbul).  Others say it was first brought to mainland Europe when the Moors established a presence on the Iberian peninsula, and it made its way to Scandinavia from there.  Whatever the circumstances, cardamom is the darling spice of the Nordic baking world.

It is not, however, beloved by all.  I once bought my daughter a large cardamom-laced sugar cookie from a Scandinavian bakery.  She eagerly took a big bite, unaware of the cardamom lurking inside, and spit it out, disgusted.  “Mom, why does my cookie taste like soap!?”  Oh, how my Swedish, Norwegian and Danish ancestors must have rolled in their graves upon hearing this!  Clearly I had not done as good of a job raising her as I thought I had.  Not enough exposure to cardamom and now the taste was unpleasant, foreign and apparently soapy to her.  We joke that it might make a good title for her memoir someday:  Why Does My Cookie Taste Like Soap?  Discovering my Nordic Heritage the Hard Way (coming to a book store near you in 20 years or so).  As I said, not beloved by all.

To be honest, I didn’t like cardamom as a kid either.  I now enjoy it in small doses ( a little goes a LONG way), and I feel like some of the recipes I encounter are a bit heavy handed with this potent spice.  If you are new to cardamom or are trying to convince your children of its deliciousness, I would suggest a light touch at first…a quarter or half teaspoon of it here or there.  I also recommend buying the pods and grinding the seeds inside yourself rather than purchasing ground cardamom.  You will be rewarded with a much truer flavor.

This pear compote is delicately laced with whole cardamom seeds, and I absolutely love it.  It makes a delicious topping for toast, crispbread, porridge and granola served with filmjölk, yogurt or milk of your choice.  Or you can just eat it with a spoon!  According to Live Lagom:  Balanced Living the Swedish Way by Anna Brones, compotes are a very common way to serve fruit in Sweden.  This one is my take on a pear compote I made in cooking school some years back.   In class we used it as a filling for a gingerbread cobbler, which is something to consider.  The combination of pears and gingerbread is utterly magical.

Roasted Pear Compote with Cardamom, Vanilla and Fresh Ginger

 Makes approximately 12 ounces

 5-6 small to medium-sized Bartlett pears, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 tablespoons honey

Seeds from 2 crushed cardamom pods, pods discarded

4-5 thin slices of fresh ginger (no need to peel)

a pinch course salt

½ vanilla bean

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all ingredients except vanilla bean and lemon juice in an 8 or 9 inch square baking dish.
  3. With a small sharp knife, split vanilla bean down one side of the pod.Open up the pod and lay it flat on your cutting board. Using the back of your knife, remove the black seeds from the interior of the pod by scraping from one end of the open pod to the other.  Place seeds and empty pod in the baking dish along with the other ingredients.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring half way through, or until pears have softened considerably.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven.  Using a spoon, remove and discard the vanilla bean pod and ginger slices.  Mash pears with a potato masher or the back of a fork until they are create a chunky, rustic mash.  Add lemon juice.  Taste the mixture and season with additional lemon juice, salt or honey to taste.  Once the compote has cooled, transfer to a clean jar and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

 

New Potato Smørrebrød with Garlic Aïoli and Crispy Shallots

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A confession….I am not from Sweden, Denmark or Norway.  I am an American with Scandinavian roots.  My grandmother on my Dad’s side was Swedish, my grandmother on my Mom’s side was Norwegian and Danish, and my grandfather was Norwegian.  Growing up here in the United States in the 1970’s and 80’s, my family ate a very typical American diet.  The only time that we really prepared foods that reflected our Scandinavian heritage was during the holidays.  Beginning with lefse (Norwegian potato flatbread) at Thanksgiving and continuing on through Christmas with rommegröt (Norwegian sour cream pudding), pickled herring, stirred lingonberries, Swedish meatballs and pancakes (just to name a few), we managed to pack a lot of Nordic recipes into a short 6 week time frame.  But the rest of the year…not so much.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve wondered about this holiday-centric approach to celebrating one’s ancestry in the kitchen, which I’m sure is not unique to my family.  I began to be curious about what Scandinavians ate on an every day basis, not just at Christmas.  I’ve done a lot of reading, cooking and baking on the subject and I’m hoping to share a bit of what I’ve learned here on the blog.  Know that what I share here in terms of recipes is simply my take on what I’ve read and learned about Nordic cuisine over the last few years and through my experience of growing up in a family with Scandinavian heritage.  I don’t claim to be an expert (I’ve never even travelled to Scandinavia!), but I will share with you the unique ways in which I am inspired by Nordic cuisine in my own kitchen.  And I’m sure I’ll share a family recipe or two along the way!

In my last post, we covered the basics of smørrebrød.  Let’s get down to business with this classic example of the Nordic open face sandwich.  My research suggests that Scandinavians are fond of putting cold potatoes on their sandwiches.  This might sound odd but it is actually quite delicious and a fabulous use for leftover boiled potatoes from last night’s dinner.  Thinly sliced potatoes with a garlicky mayo sauce and crispy shallots that taste like little baby onion rings.  What’s not to love?

Smørrebrød with New Potatoes, Aïoli and Crispy Shallots

Adapted from The Scandi Kitchen by Brontë Aurell and Open Sandwiches by Trine Hahnemann

Serves 2

 4 thin slices dense rye bread, a little over 1/4 inch thick

Butter, preferably salted

A handful or two of baby arugula leaves

4-5 new potatoes

Quick Aïoli, recipe below

Crispy shallots, recipe below

1 Tablespoon chopped chives or dill, and/or microgreens

Salt and freshly ground pepper

  1.  Place new potatoes in cold water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are tender but not falling apart.  Smaller potatoes will obviously cook more quickly than larger potatoes.  Check doneness by piercing a potato or two with the tip of a sharp knife.  It should slide in and out easily without much resistance.  Drain potatoes and rinse with cold water.  Set aside to cool.  Potatoes can be prepared up to three days in advance.  Store in the refrigerator.
  2. Butter each slice of bread.  Place a layer of baby arugula leaves on top.  Slice new potatoes into thin (1/4 inch thick) slices and arrange artfully over the arugula.  Salt and pepper the potato slices to taste.  Drizzle aïoli over potatoes (I like to place the sauce in the center between the two rows of potato slices) and scatter crispy shallots and herbs and/or microgreens on top.  Serve.

 

Quick Aïoli

Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

Makes 1/4 cup

1 small garlic clove

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Mince garlic clove and let sit in lemon juice for 10 minutes or so to mellow out the raw garlic flavor.  Add mayonnaise and olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Aïoli can be made up three days in advance.  Store in the refrigerator.

 

Crispy Fried Shallots

Adapted from The Scandi Kitchen by Brontë Aurell

Makes approximately 1 cup of shallots

3 medium-size shallots, sliced into thin rings, rings separated from one another

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon fine salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup canola, peanut or vegetable oil for frying

Course sea salt for sprinkling

  1.  Combine flour, salt and a few grinds of pepper in a large ziploc bag.  Add shallots, seal and toss around until shallots are coated with flour mixture.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan until it reaches 280 degrees.  It’s worth using a thermometer here if you have one.  If the oil is too hot, the shallots will burn and if it is too cool they will be soggy.
  3. Remove half of the shallots from the bag, shaking off any excess flour.  Place in pan and fry until golden brown and crispy.  This may take as little as two minutes or as long as five.  Keep your eye on them and look for the visual cues.  Remove from oil using a slotted spoon.  Place on paper towels and allow to drain.  Sprinkle with sea salt and allow them to cool slightly and crisp up.  Repeat with the other half of the shallots.

Shallots can be used immediately or stored in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.  Mine usually stay pretty crisp, but you could warm them in a 200 degree oven to crisp them up if necessary.

The Basics of Smørrebrød

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Roasted Butternut Squash Smørrebrød with Goat Cheese, Pecans and Maple Cayenne Drizzle

“The fastest way to understand the Nordic region’s food culture is to eat an open sandwich topped with butter and hard cheese.”

-Magnus Nilsson, The Nordic Cookbook

The Nordic region’s food culture is largely based on bread.  According to The Nordic Cookbook, before potatoes arrived on the Scandinavian mainland in the early 1800’s, most people ate one to two pounds of bread a day!  It’s no wonder that the open sandwich (smørrebrød in Danish, smørbrød in Norwegian and smörgås in Swedish) became a staple of Nordic cuisine.  The origins of the Nordic open sandwich can be traced back at least as far as the Middle Ages.  At that time it would have been a rather simple affair….probably some kind of fat (butter or animal fat) spread on a dense rye bread with leftover meat or vegetables piled on top.  As fresh ingredients became more available, the open sandwich evolved into something more refined and elegant, particularly in Denmark where smørrebrød is now practically an art form.  There are entire restaurants devoted to the open sandwich in Denmark, and it is even possible to attain the a professional qualification known as, “Open Sandwich Master”.  But not all open sandwiches are fussy restaurant affairs.  Generally speaking, Nordic cuisine has an elegant simplicity to it, and a sandwich made at home might be as basic as a buttered slice of rye bread and a few slices of cheese or last night’s leftovers arranged on top.

Trine Hahnemann outlines a few rules for constructing smørrebrød in her book, Open Sandwiches.  I have included some of them here along with a few of my own to help you put together an open sandwich you can be proud of:

  1.  Barring a few exceptions, Nordic open sandwiches are served on dense rye bread which has been sliced quite thin.  I like my slices just a little over 1/4 inch thick.
  2. If you are using a dense rye, the bread is simply sliced, not toasted.  Sometimes I will do a light toast on mine just to freshen up the bread slightly without causing the exterior to get crispy.
  3. The bread is usually buttered quite liberally with salted butter.  If you don’t usually stock salted butter, you can use unsalted butter and sprinkle a little kosher salt on it after you spread it on the bread.
  4. There is typically one main topping and a combinations of condiments.  A well-designed smørrebrød has a variety of flavors and textures that come together to create a sandwich that is more delicious than the individual components might suggest.
  5. Smørrebrød doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be pleasing to the eye.  That’s part of the fun of the open face sandwich…with no top to disguise what’s inside there is much opportunity for creating something that is as beautiful as it is delicious.
  6. Season as you layer.  If your main ingredient is sliced cold potatoes or hard-boiled egg slices, you are going to want to season that particular layer with salt and pepper before adding the remaining condiments.
  7. Think about your layering, both in terms of visual presentation and what makes sense in terms of the temperature and shape of the main ingredient.  If your topping is warm roast pork, for example, you aren’t going to want to put tender arugula leaves underneath it.  That’s a recipe for soggy greens.  Layer in a way that lets each ingredient shine.
  8. If you really want to get serious about aesthetics, consider placing any sauces that you are using into a squeeze bottle, plastic piping bag or ziploc bag (with a corner of the bag cut off).  This allows you to squeeze the sauce onto the sandwich exactly where you want it. It can be difficult to artfully arrange sauces with just a spoon.
  9. Unless it really doesn’t seem appropriate, always add a shower of something small and green on the very top for garnish.  Chopped fresh herbs, microgreens, sprouts, or watercress are all good choices.
  10.  If you’ve created a lovely smørrebrød piled high with delicious ingredients, don’t try and pick the whole thing up and take a bite.  These sandwiches are usually a knife and fork affair.

Picasso once said, “learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.”  Make a classic smørrebrød or two (recipes to follow), but also get into the kitchen and play!  Let your bread be your canvas and get creative.  Anything goes when it comes to designing your own open face sandwiches.

 

Simple Seasonal Pleasures for November

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November.  We begin this month by setting our clocks back an hour.  The days are short and dusk falls early.  We bear witness to the final days of autumn in all of their fiery glory.  By the end of the month, a hush has fallen over the landscape.  The grass is brown and the trees are barren, skeletons against a gray sky.  We may even see a snowflake or two.  Winter is almost here.

  1. Create inner warmth.  As we lose heat from the sun outside at this time of year, it’s important to create an atmosphere of warmth in our homes and in our hearts and souls this month.  Light a fire in the fireplace, make sure your thermostat is set at a comfortable temperature, keep your favorite blanket nearby for snuggling up.  Set aside extra time for meditation, reading books, journaling or other introspective activities that comfort your soul.
  2. Embrace the darkness.  Just as we lose outer warmth in November, we also lose light.  There tends to be a lot of complaining about this, particularly right after we fall back to standard time on November 4.  This year, instead of wishing this time of darkness away, try making peace it, maybe even enjoying it a little.  November is a great time to practice slowing down, turning inward and spending a little more time being rather than doing.  Welcome the early evenings by lighting a candle or turning on a low lamp.  Cook something warm and nourishing for dinner while you sip a glass of wine.  Turn in early with a cup of tea and a good book.  Write in your gratitude journal (see 4 below).  Make a cozy ritual out of these early evenings at home.
  3. Visit a cozy café or coffee shop alone.  Find a warm, cheerful place you can go to fortify yourself with a warm beverage and soak in the presence of other souls without having to directly engage with them.  This can be especially healing if you work from home or in an office setting and need a change of scenery.  Bring some work, a creative project, your journal or a good book and bask in the warm glow of the company of strangers.
  4. Commit to writing in a gratitude journal.  Sarah Ban Breathnach famously introduced us to the concept of the gratitude journal in her 1995 classic, Simple Abundance:  A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (which I still read daily, by the way).  The idea is to write down five things you are grateful for each evening before bed.  “You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life, ” she says. “And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law:  the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.”  Sarah suggests having a journal that is solely dedicated to the expression of gratitude, a written record of the blessings and abundance that are already yours:  “As the months pass and you fill your journal with blessings, an inner shift in your reality will occur…As you focus on the abundance rather than on the lack in your life, you will be designing a wonderful new blueprint for the future.”  Ready to give it a try?  Find a journal or notebook and take a few moments at the end of each day to review and appreciate the good in your life.  Commit to this simple practice for the month of November, and see if it shifts your way of being.
  5. Go for a walk just for the pleasure of returning home.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of crossing the threshold of your front door, rosy-cheeked after a brisk walk in chilly weather.  The contrast of outer cold and inner warmth heightens our awareness and enhances our feeling of sanctuary as we make our way home after braving the elements.  Set the scene for yourself by making sure your house is toasty warm before you leave.  Have the makings for a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate at the ready.
  6. One word…slippers.  I haven’t had a pair of slippers in years, and this year I decided to go ahead and treat myself to this pair of boiled wool slippers from Garnet Hill.  What a luxury for my always cold toes!  It is so nice to know that they are waiting patiently for me next to the front door when I arrive home.  And a bonus….my floors are cleaner because I’m not wearing my shoes in the house.
  7. Establish a fika ritual.  Fika (pronounced fee-ka) is essentially the Swedish term for coffee break.  It is meant to be a sacred pause in the day, an opportunity to rest, reconnect and nourish ourselves with a hot beverage and possibly a tasty baked good.  The Swedish fika at least twice a day…usually late morning and mid- afternoon.  You can fika alone or with company.  At home or out at a café.  What is important is that you are stopping what you are doing and taking a true respite from the day (we don’t fika in front of the computer while we finish up some work or while we check our social media feeds, for example).  Try setting aside a little time in your day for a hot cup of tea or coffee and maybe a little treat to go with it.  Sounds like an excellent time to write in your gratitude journal!
  8. Make porridge for breakfast.  Did you know that there is a restaurant in Denmark that is solely dedicated to serving porridge!?  Yes my friends, porridge is hot right now (ha!).  Prepare something warm and comforting to fortify you for the day ahead.  Steel-cut oats are one of my favorites, but there are so many different grains that work in a porridge situation.  Rice, quinoa, barley, farro….the options are endless.  If you are tight on time in the mornings, do your future self a favor and prepare your grains ahead and simply heat them up at breakfast time.  If you are a savory breakfast sort of person, give this oatmeal with egg on top a try.  It’s quick as can be and one of my favorites.

The happiest of Novembers to you all!  I am so grateful to have this online space to write and share what I’m thinking and doing.  Thank you for stopping by!

Pathways: A Journaling Exercise

 

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Like spokes in a wheel with your present day self in the center, there are many paths that you could potentially follow with this very moment being your starting point.  This could be with respect to your general life direction, or it could be related to a specific topic…your choice of career, what to have for dinner, where you choose live or what creative project you want to pursue, just to name a few.  The possibilities are endless.  Possibilities are a beautiful thing, but they can also overwhelm us, leaving us feeling paralyzed by the prospect of choosing which direction to go in next.

The next time you are evaluating the options that fan from this present moment, try this:  Take out your journal and a pen and write ME in the center of a clean page and draw a circle around it.  This represents your present self.  From there, draw lines like spokes on a wheel outward.  At the end of each line, write a few sentences that describe a potential pathway that you can imagine leading forward from this present moment.   Continue until you have touched on all of the pathways you can envision for yourself.  As I said, this can be with respect to a general life direction or it can relate to a specific topic.

Once you have finished, have a dialogue with the self that chose each path.  Ask him or her to describe the experience of taking that path for you.  What does he or she enjoy about having chosen this path?  What has been challenging about it?  Let each “future self” have a chance to offer you a glimpse of their experience along their particular pathway.

You may find, as some of my students did, that as soon as you start writing about a particular pathway it becomes a dead end.  Others will feel alive, juicy and full of promise.  Choose the one that feels the most appealing to you.  Go back to the self that chose that pathway and ask him or her for some words of advice or wisdom.  What kind of message does he or she have for you as you are just beginning the journey in that direction?  Let his or her voice flow through your pen onto the paper.

Now, guided by the wisdom offered to you by your inner voice, choose your pathway.  Start moving in that direction.  Let the other pathways fall away for now.  You can move as slowly as you need to, and you can always reevaluate as you move forward.  Come back to this exercise anytime you need help sorting through the possibilities that lead outward from here.

 

 

Honoring Our Ancestors

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We are in extricably woven with our ancestors.  My belief is that if we tap into that fertile unseen world much healing wisdom will surface.

-Gigi Stafne

The timing of Halloween coincides with several ancient holidays and festivals which not only marked the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice, but also served as an opportunity for people to remember ancestors and departed loved ones (The Day of the Dead in Mexico, All Souls’ Day in the Christian tradition, the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Norse festival of Winternights).  It was believed that the veil between the world of the living and the ancestral realm was particularly thin at this point in the year.

In the modern western world, we don’t have many formalized rituals that help us honor our ancestors.  We might display photographs of them in our homes or own cherished heirlooms that they passed on to us.  Maybe we occasionally get into the kitchen and prepare old family recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.  Or maybe we share fond memories and stories about our grandparents and great-great grandparents around the dinner table.  You might have been fortunate enough to grow up in a family that placed some importance on reaching back through time to connect with those that came before you through food, stories, heirlooms or genealogy research.  But what if you didn’t?  Maybe that information was never made available to you, or maybe, through complicated family dynamics, the connection with your ancestors was deliberately severed at some point along the line.  It is not uncommon to not particularly like or agree with those that came before you.

And yet, we sense that there is something about our ancestral connection that matters, regardless of the complex human relationships that come with it.  I recently heard a podcast interview with John Lockley, author of Leopard Warrior:  A Journey into the African Teachings of Ancestry, Instinct, and Dreams.  Mr. Lockley is a South African healer and shaman who writes about the importance of our ancestral connections.  He writes:

“To forget one’s people represents a sadness beyond words.”

He goes on to explain that it’s not about liking or agreeing with your ancestors.  It’s simply about having an appreciation for the life that they have passed on to you.  I love this idea of stripping down the honoring of our ancestors to a very basic practice of gratitude for the gift of life that we received from them.  Maybe your grandfather was a real jerk and you would rather forget that you were related to him altogether.  But by simply honoring the life that he passed on to you, one can set aside his imperfect humanness for a moment and see that he is just one in a line of many that made you being here possible.  When we can find this basic gratitude for the life force that flows through our body, we can see that this ancestral connection runs deep.  Everyone descends from someone else.  This realization brings with it a sense of peace, humility and interconnectedness that runs through all of life, not just the direct line of people we came from.  Suddenly it’s easier to sense our connection to the ground beneath our feet and the humans, animals and plants with whom we share this Earth.

As this season of remembrance begins, honor your ancestors in any way that speaks to you.  Make your grandmother’s cookie recipe or tell your children the story of your great-great grandmother fighting to save her home from a raging grass fire on the desolate windswept plains of the upper midwest.  If you are sketchy on what your roots are, ask your living relatives for help or join http://www.ancestry.com and do a little research.  They offer a free two week trial which is plenty of time to get a basic idea of your family history.  If you really have no idea about your lineage, take an online DNA test (also available through http://www.ancestry.com)  and find out where you come from.  Do some research on those cultures and see what resonates with you.  But most importantly, be willing to take a moment to offer gratitude for the roots of your being, regardless of what they look like.  See if that simple act of appreciation opens you up to a greater sense of connection with all of life.