As we all gather together this Thanksgiving, food will certainly take center stage. For many of us, however, what’s on the table may not reflect what is traditional. Choosing healthy ingredients, reducing carbon footprint and supporting agricultural sustainability are now as prominent in our recipe collections, as Grandma’s pumpkin pie and Mom’s holiday turkey. So menus have changed.

The recipe for eating clean and planet-friendly is a little complicated, though. Even a healthy dish such as baked fish can take a toll on the environment and, depending on its source, may not be all that healthy for you, either. Consider that nearly all ocean fish consume a fair number of plastic microbes that are then ingested by you when you eat the fish, and suddenly the claim that your salmon and cod are healthy choices seems…well…fishy.

Further, over-fishing of our most desirable seafood leaves fish populations depleted and unable to bounce back. “Gone fishing” takes on a whole new meaning.

And typical commercial fish farming…I won’t even go there. The problems in most standard fish farms range from high levels of pollution, sick and suffering fish, to the infiltration of escaped farmed fish into open ocean, adding a new level of threat to this massive but fragile ecosystem.

So here’s a thought—consider your local farms where ponds and streams of bluegill, trout, catfish, carp and crappie abound. Local fish, eaten with a responsible eye to sustainability, can be a great choice. If you get to know your growers, you can probably find incredibly fresh, healthy and clean fish with a very low carbon footprint and a super-reasonable price.

Of course, these aren’t the same critters as salmon and cod, and you can’t cook them the same or expect the taste to mimic their ocean cousins. So time to be brave in the kitchen, eh? And just in case there are no local sources for fish near you right now, note that you can find a suitable replacement such as Pacific Cod. See the Monterey Bay Aquarium website for more information and be sure to bookmark their Seafood Watch guide to weigh your greenest options, state by state. Then next spring grab that pole and net, pack a picnic, and head for the local pond—with your fishing license and the blessing of your local farmer/landowner, of course. You truly are what you eat.

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fresh Aleppo peppers and dried pepper in jarsMy Pepper Choices

What can I say, I’m a lucky green gal who claims amazing farmers as her close friends. My friends—Jackie Mills of The Family Garden and Frank Biver of Biver Farm—are the sources for my freshly dried exotic peppers. At my suggestion, Jackie grew fresh Aleppo peppers this past summer, and I took them over to Frank’s for drying. Frank is a genius in all things hot and peppery, so he dried the peppers—some for me and some for him. Then he retained some seeds for next year, while I filled up my spice drawer (That’s how food and friends are supposed to work, right?). Frank also offered me a new pepper variety called Lemon Drop. How could I refuse? So these are the two dried pepper choices I put in my bluegill dish. And I do think adding some heat was critical to the success of the dish–even a little will make it pop. But if you don’t have sources like mine, you can find an amazing array of peppers at Penzeys, including Aleppo.

A Word about Rosi Biver’s Dill Sauce

This dish actually began with the sauce, not the fish. I’ve gotten local bluegill from the farmers market and neighbors for several years now. What started this recipe rolling was an abundance of fresh delicious dill out at Biver Farm. Well, I couldn’t pass it up, so I sat down with Rosi to get her best dill sauce recipe. And at first I was sorta skepitcal—no butter, no cream, no kidding? Hmmmm……

“There is absolutely no butter or milk in this sauce,” Rosi stated emphatically, when I seemed unconvinced. “My Oma (grandma in German) never used butter or milk—she was very economical. But her sauce was always great,” Rosi said. Well, who was I to question a woman who can turn zucchini into apple cobbler? And, of course, Rosi was right: the dill sauce is smooth, fresh and perfect with fish. The dill sauce will be just as tasty on rye toasts, poached eggs, etc.–whatever is complimented by dill. Do give it a try!