Vegan Thanksgivings: A Retrospective | VeganMoFo 2018 Day Twenty-Four

Week Four: Occasions Week
We love a good celebration! This week focuses on those special occasions in your life.

Yes, we’re still a good two months out from (American) Thanksgiving, and no, I’m not planning for it yet. In fact, I think this year will be a relatively low-key holiday. We’re staying in Maryland and going to Steven’s mum’s and stepdad’s for dinner, and they are pretty good at providing animal-free alternatives (like butter-free mashed potatoes and a turkey-juice-free stuffing). I anticipate needing to bring a main, a side, and a dessert, and I’m totally OK with that approach.

Today, I thought I’d look back at my vegan Thanksgivings of the past! Not all of them are documented, but like any good little vegan who always wants to talk about food, I *did* snap photos of most. :)

2009

My first vegan Thanksgiving! Silly newbie food blogger that I was, I have just a single ridiculous photo of my sister and I baking in my parents’ kitchen… and then a long, photo-less post about everything we ate. (Ignore the eggs in that photo; the pie I was making was vegan!) Reading through this post also reminded me of non-vegan Thanksgiving of yore, like when I was newly vegetarian but didn’t think to ask my family to make a gravy sans turkey fat! A gravy-less Thanksgiving is a sad Thanksgiving indeed.

2010

Aww, little Kelly celebrated Thanksgiving alone! This was my first year living in Madison, Wisconsin, where I moved from Rhode Island for my first post-college job. I can’t remember whether my roommate also stayed or whether she flew home to New York State. I (apparently) enjoyed a pretty simple dinner of tofu, salad and some last-minute mashed potatoes I whipped up when the craving struck. I also apparently spent the day knitting and watching movies. That… sounds like a pretty darn good Thanksgiving, actually!

2011 

This was a good one! Steven and I were newly dating, and we somehow managed to host my parents, my two siblings, and Steven’s mom in my Madison apartment. They flew in from all corners of the country, and we prepared a massive feast. Too massive a feast, one might suggest in retrospect. I made three main dishes (?!?), five sides, two toppings, and three desserts. The three desserts are obvious and necessary, but three mains and five sides?!? What were we thinking?! But this event was most memorable because it was the first time my parents and Steven’s mom met one another, and it was the first time I prepared a big, all-vegan meal for family. The day taught me an important lesson about letting go in the kitchen and letting people help! No good ever comes from being a kitchen martyr. (I’ll also #neverforget that I clogged the disposal with potato peels and then had to enlist the help of multiple family members to unclog it. Ooops.)

2012

Ahhh, yes. That time Steven and I said “nope!” to making food, flying home, or lifting a finger at all during Thanksgiving and instead went to a big ol’ three-course vegan dinner at the Green Owl, our favorite veg restaurant in Madison. I can’t believe this meal was just $30… midwest prices! (Although we DID get a very measly slice of cheesecake. I would have gladly paid more for a larger piece of dessert!)

2013

Our first Thanksgiving after moving to Maryland. I remember nothing about it and can find no photos. I think we drove to Rhode Island but I have no idea! I do, however, know that we visited Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary earlier in November for their annual “Thanksgiving with the Turkeys.” It was magical. Hundreds of vegans, vegetarians, and veg-sympathetic people converging on a farm animal sanctuary for a potluck dinner. There was so much food! We stuffed our faces then watched the main event: feeding the animals! The turkeys got showered with veggies and other delights, and then the pigs got piles of pumpkins. We had so much fun watching these sweet, smart animals going to town on a feast. It was a frigid day, but it was worth it. A powerful reminder of why I don’t eat animals!

2014

This was a tough one! We’d planned to drive up to RI, but our apartment flooded (!) just before the holiday and so we stayed put. This was also just a couple months after we’d adopted Luna, and we weren’t sure how she would do in a big family gathering. Plus, she was recovering from an abscessed tooth and was a bedraggled mess (you can see her cone o’ shame in the above photo). We got the all-clear to head back to the apartment just in time for a very last-minute dinner, which I think was just a Field Roast and a few quick sides. We were just thankful our apartment and Luna were both on the mend!

2015

We started the season with another trip to Poplar’s Thanksgiving event. I remember this one as being much warmer than our first visit, thankfully! It was almost overwhelmingly crowded. While my crowd-averse self did not care for the hordes, I also realize how amazing it is that hundreds of people would come to a very pro-vegan event like this! We followed up our Poplar trip with a drive up to Rhode Island, where we enjoyed massive quantities of vegan food. The day after Thanksgiving was unseasonably warm, and we decided to #optout of Black Friday shopping (not that I EVER partake) and went for a family walk by the shore. My favorite memory from that day? My sister zipping Luna up in her vest when Luna got tired of walking. I miss my pup so much.

2016 

We again drove up to Rhode Island to celebrate. These days, holidays in Rhode Island are spectacular since my mostly vegan family members contribute all sorts of delicious veg dishes. My planner of a mother comes up with a list in advance, but it usually has a few blank spots: “Ian: ???” Although my brother doesn’t always make it back to RI for Thanksgiving (nor do I, for that matter), when he does, he’ll whip something up nearly at the last minute. That usually involves a quick run to the grocery store the day before. I say “quick,” but if you’ve ever hit up an American grocery store just before Thanksgiving, you know that it is never quick. I refuse to make those ingredient runs and always provide a list of what I need ahead of time! This year we had a Field Roast and plenty of sides, along with some beautiful sweet treats.

The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook: Entertaining for Absolutely Every Occasion

2017

Steven and I hosted at our place; it was our first time hosting at our new(ish) house. Steven’s mom and stepdad came and seemed to enjoy all the food. I cooked almost exclusively from Isa’s Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook and had sooo many leftovers… which is always a good thing! We tried a veg roast from Trader Joe’s and it was not bad at all. Other highlights included creamy whipped potatoes, green bean casserole, and an orange-y cranberry sauce.

So, there we go. Nine years of vegan Thanksgivings, all of them special in their own way. And all of them delicious.

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A Very Isa Thanksgiving

Happy Tuesday, friends! Before we get too deep into the holiday season, I thought I’d share a quick recap of my very tasty — and shockingly stress-free — Thanksgiving. But first, a few housekeeping notes:

  • A sincere thank you to everyone who commented on my post about losing my cooking mojo. It seemed to resonate with quite a few of you! I guess that shouldn’t surprise me, but I did feel relieved to realize that I’m not the only one who gets worn down with meal prep. On my end, Steven is still going strong with the cooking (and cleaning). A few recent highlights included a creamy tomato-basil bisque with GARLIC BREAD GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES! on the side; tacos with TVP chorizo, spicy black beans, cheese sauce, avocado, and a tangy slaw; and a super comforting samosa soup. I even roused myself to make a mid-afternoon snack on Sunday: poutine! Featuring store-bought waffle fries, Steven’s homemade cheese sauce, and a quick brown gravy I whipped up. I’ve never had poutine — vegan or otherwise — and I suspect a cheese sauce isn’t the best choice, but it was still a decadent delight.
  • Second, a gentle reminder to check out my Q&A with Nancy Lawson, aka the Humane Gardener. The book giveaway closes at the end of this week and is open to everyone!

https://vegga.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/img_2888.jpgNow, Thanksgiving! Spoiler: We rocked it! Steven’s mom and stepdad came for dinner, and they seemed to thoroughly enjoy our animal-free spread. In the name of simplicity, I had the genuinely good idea to cook all our sides from a single source: Isa’s fabulous The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook: Entertaining for Absolutely Every Occasion cookbook. I don’t own it, but I do own a library card! Here’s what we made — and how it all turned out.

  • Creamy whipped potatoes, p. 341. This recipe employs an immersion blender to whip up cashew cream with tender russet potatoes for an ultra-rich and creamy side. They were quite tasty, but Steven (who handled this recipe) said that the immersion blender wasn’t quite up to the task. I didn’t notice too many lumps, but the taters also weren’t particularly creamy.
  • Green bean casserole, p. 346. This classic dish was actually never a staple in my family’s Thanksgiving spread, but Steven’s a fan, so we decided to include it. YUM. Mushroom-y, creamy, bean-y goodness, all topped with Trader Joe’s fried onions. Perfection!
  • Caramelized onion and cauliflower casserole, p. 330. Oh dear. This did not turn out. I know my proportions weren’t quite right (my tofu block was a few ounces larger than called for, and I didn’t have quite enough cauli for the topping), but I don’t think that’s entirely to blame. We just didn’t care for the texture of the casserole base, which was kind of mousse-y and unexpected. The flavors were also a bit off, a little too acidic and just generally not enjoyable. Alas!
  • Orange-scented cranberry sauce, p. 344. You cannot go wrong with homemade cranberry sauce. If you’re still eating the jellied stuff from the can, I encourage you to try making it yourself! It’s a no-fail process and the results are so tasty. Isa’s recipe was, of course, delicious. Tangy and zippy and the perfect topping for a plate piled high with savory goodness.

Vegan Thanksgiving plate

We also cooked up a Trader Joe’s vegan roast as the main and found it quite tasty. This roast is, somewhat bizarrely, breaded! I was dubious, but it actually worked quite well. This roast was tasty, juicy, and affordable! We also picked up some store-bought stuffing mix; I think it was Pepperidge Farm. Call me uncultured, but I don’t want fancy homemade stuffing on Thanksgiving: I want the kind that comes in a bag and is salty and savory and comforting. Same goes with the rolls: We got Wegmans-brand crescent rolls and have #noregrets.

On the homemade front, I stirred up a big ol’ batch of gravy using a C’est La Vegan recipe that doesn’t appear to be online anymore. (I was working from a printed recipe my mama keeps on hand — she sent me a photo of it.) I added lots of poultry spice and a (not so) secret ingredient for umami deliciousness: Gravy Master! My mom has an ancient bottle of this delightfully retro browning sauce that comes out every Thanksgiving, and to me, gravy just isn’t the same without it. It’s accidentally vegan, so I picked up a little bottle of my own this year.

Vegan Thanksgiving appetizersFor dessert, our guests brought two vegan pies (apple and pumpkin) from Roots, our favorite local/ independent grocer, and I made a cranberry-orange loaf that isn’t worth mentioning — it was too sweet, and the orange was barely detectable. Oh well! Our guests also brought appetizers: samosas, crackers, rolled-up Tofurky slices, and a wheel of Miyoko’s cheese. Perfect for snacking while I wrapped up all the cooking.

In terms of said cooking, everything went eerily smoothly. No burnt roast, no lumpy gravy, no messes. I credit my obsessive levels of preparation: Steven and I chopped, diced, and prepared nearly all our ingredients the night before; I even blended up all the creamy elements for the various dishes (the cashew cream for the potatoes; the creamy sauce for the green bean casserole). That meant all I really had to do was bring it all together on Thanksgiving day. We ate almost exactly at 3:00 pm as planned, everything was hot, and I felt bizarrely relaxed sitting down to dinner. I’m not complaining!

I also had a brilliant idea for holiday breakfast: a massive, protein-rich smoothie that you can drink throughout your entire food prep process! It’s a quick, healthy meal that will keep you full until it’s time to overdose on savory sides. (Although I made a peanut butter-banana-chocolate-oat smoothie, so the “healthy” descriptor is arguable.)

So, all in all, a very successful Thanksgiving with LOTS of leftovers for Steven and me… and a reminder that even omnivores can enjoy a meat-free Thanksgiving. No turkeys need be harmed in the making of your belly-filling dinner!

Holiday Plans | VeganMoFo 2017 Day Thirty

VeganMoFo 2017

Week Four: Entertaining
Practice-run a dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another upcoming holiday.

Dudes, I cannot even think about the holidays right now! But I have to. Steven and I are hosting a (very low-key) Thanksgiving this year for his mom and step-dad, so we’ll have to come up with a Thanksgiving dinner menu. It’s not the first time we’ve hosted — back in 2011, back when we were in Wisconsin, we hosted Thanksgiving for my immediate family and his mom, all of whom flew in to join us. I’m a little shocked we did that, now that I think back on it — we’d only been dating for nine months, yet we tackled a holiday dinner together. And it was 100% vegan! And we didn’t strangle one another!

If I learned anything from that experience, it was to keep things simple. I made three main dishes (including my first-ever Tofurky), and it was overkill! This year, I think we’ll offer one main dish and a whole bunch of sides. I might tackle some kind of turkey Wellington… or maybe we’ll just stick with one of the commercially available ones. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy are a given for the sides, and I’ll probably do some roasted garlicky Brussels sprouts. Maybe I’ll add something new, like this cauliflower gratin or even this roasted kabocha squash. For dessert? My sweet potato pie, for sure, and whatever else catches my eye.

Boring? Maybe. Also classic and no-fail. No need to bring added stress onto a laidback Thanksgiving, right?

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Creamy Vegan Butternut Squash Gratin

VeganMoFo 2016 graphic

Week Four: Memories and Traditions

Memories and traditions! An appropriate theme this week. Today I bring you a recipe that’s not quite a tradition, but does hearken back to a dish my family served pretty frequently at holidays: scalloped potatoes. But this version features squash instead of potatoes, and a creamy cashew-based sauce instead of cheese.

Sometimes I think that squash varieties don’t quite match their names. With gorgeous, ethereal names like butternut, delicata, and pattypan, you expect something light and, well, delicate. Instead, you get an oddly thick, bulbous, often warty fruit that is decidedly not delicate. But it’s what’s inside that counts, and squashes lend themselves so well to dozens of applications.

Creamy vegan butternut squash gratin // govegga.com

This savory butternut squash recipe would not be out of place doubled and served as a side for Thanksgiving dinner. Roasting squash brings out its inherent sweetness, and seasonal herbs (sage, thyme) add a complementary savory note. A beautifully simple yet complexly flavorful cashew cream sauce elevates the dish, and a sprinkling of toasted panko adds just a little crunch. Thanks to the coconut milk and cashews in the sauce, this dish is surprisingly filling and nutrient-rich; you might be surprised that you’re full after a small helping! Eat straight out of the oven for optimal deliciousness.

Creamy Butternut Squash Gratin

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish

For the squash

1 butternut squash
5-7 fresh sage leaves, rolled and sliced into ribbons
2 tsp fresh thyme
1/2 tsp salt
fresh black pepper
1.5 – 2 T olive oil (start with less and add more if needed for a larger squash)
2-3 T panko

For the cashew cream sauce

1/2 cup whole raw cashews, either soaked for 6 hours ahead of time or boiled for 15 minutes
1/3 cup full-fat coconut milk
1 large clove garlic
2 T nutritional yeast
1/2 tsp salt (or more, to taste)

Method

Preheat the oven to 400˚F.

Using a sharp knife, cut each end off the squash, then cut it half both vertically and horizontally. Stand each piece on end and use your knife to cut off the peel, then scoop out the seeds with a fork. Slice the squash into half-moon shapes about 3/4″ thick.

Combine the olive oil, sliced sage, thyme, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper to a large mixing bowl, then add the squash slices. Stir to coat evenly, then add the squash to a 9 x 13″ glass casserole dish.

Bake for 20 minutes while you prepare the cream sauce.

Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender or food processor and blend/process until you have a smooth, creamy sauce. It will be fairly thin — that’s okay. Taste and adjust for salt. Set cream aside while the squash bakes.

At the 20 minutes mark, use a fork to check whether the squash is done. You want it just about tender. Remove from the oven and pour the sauce over the squash; aim to drizzle it and don’t worry about coating each piece.

Return the dish to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until the sauce thickens and starts to bubble. Remove it from the oven and sprinkle the panko on top; you want a nice layer. Broil the casserole for 2-3 minutes and remove just as the panko begins to turn golden brown.

Let sit for about 3 minutes, then serve.

 

Sweet Potato Pie in a Pecan-Date Crust (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

VeganMoFo 2016 graphic

Week Three: Rainbow Week

A few years back, the phrase “sweet potato pie” would’ve made me pull a face and retch theatrically. I became a sweet potato fan in my mid-twenties after side-eying them dubiously for much of my life. (That ol’ sweet-when-it-should-be-savory distaste again!) But after going vegan and encouraging myself to try foods I thought I didn’t care for, I found that with the proper preparation, even previously off-limits ingredients like squash and sweet potatoes could be — shocker — quite enjoyable.

So today I’m bringing a beautiful toasty orange color into rainbow week with a creamy sweet potato pie ensconced in a nutty pecan crust. Sweetened by dates and maple syrup, this pie elevates the humble sweet potato to Thanksgiving dessert status. If time isn’t on your side or you’ve got someone with a nut allergy at the table, feel free to substitute your favorite regular ol’ pie crust. (And pardon my cake tin in the photos below — I didn’t have a “real” pie pan when I first developed this recipe!)

Gluten-Free Vegan Sweet Potato Pie with a Pecan-Date Crust // govegga.com

This pie comes together surprisingly easily after you’ve measured out the ingredients and pitted the dates. You actually won’t need any mixing bowls: the crust ingredients are whizzed up in the food processor, while the pie filling gets combined right in your blender. The hardest part is probably waiting for it to cool! But make sure you do; you want it to solidify so it cuts well and doesn’t melt onto your plate.

Bonus: Assuming your oats and cornstarch are certified gluten-free, you’re on your way towards making a beautiful vegan, gluten-free sweet potato pie sure to please everyone.

Serve with your favorite vegan whipped cream (coconut, aquafaba, Soyatoo) for a decadent treat. <3

Sweet Potato Pie in a Pecan-Date Crust

For the crust
  • 1 cup pitted medjool dates (about 16 dates)
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1 T coconut oil (solid)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
For the pie
  • 2 cups sweet potato, baked and mashed (measure after baking)
  • 1/3 cup aquafaba
  • 4 medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 T coconut oil
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 – 1 tsp ginger (depending on how much of a kick you like)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Dash cloves

Method

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

First, make the crust. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until crumbly. The mixture should hold together if you scoop it into a ball and press it between your hands; add a few more pecans if it’s too soft. Prepare a pie pan by spraying liberally with oil, then use your hands to press the crust into the pan, pushing it up the sides by 1/2″ to 3/4″.

Next, prepare the filling by blending all ingredients in a high-speed blender. (A regular one will likely work, but I’d recommend soaking the dates first.) Pour filling into the crust and use a spatula to spread evenly.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is set. Chill for at least three hours before serving.

Notes

  • If maple syrup breaks the budget, feel free to substitute agave nectar instead. Brown sugar would also likely work, though I haven’t tried it.
  • I recommend baking the potatoes a day in advance to save time. Just put them in the oven alongside anything else you’re cooking, then on the day you make the pie, they’ll be cool and easy to pop out of the skins. Baking is crucial to get a really caramelized, sweet flavor; don’t try to steam the sweet potatoes as a shortcut!
  • I got the idea to use aquafaba from another blogger who made a pumpkin pie using it, but I can’t recall who it is. Thanks for the tip!

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Gluten-Free Vegan Sweet Potato Pie with a Pecan-Date Crust // govegga.com

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Nutty Quinoa-Stuffed Delicata Squash

LVV MoFo 2014 main

On the drive home from work this evening, S asked me what I was planning to make for the last day of Vegan MoFo.

“Something with that Delicata squash that’s been sitting around for a week,” I said. “Maybe stuffed squash. Any ideas?”

He barely had to think about the question before answering.

“Nuts! And dried cranberries!”

Nuts and dried cranberries it is. For the last day of September, I put together a dinner that’s pretty to look at and fun to eat. Quinoa gets an autumnal makeover as the filling for the melt-in-your-mouth Delicata squash, and the spice combo evokes all the best fall flavors. A hint of cinnamon and maple syrup adds a touch of sweetness, and the toasted nuts provide a little crunch. The filling would make an excellent gluten-free Thanksgiving stuffing alternative on its own! As written, though, this recipe is a surprisingly satisfying and filling dinner.

Nutty Quinoa-Stuffed Delicata Squash

Nutty Quinoa-Stuffed Delicata Squash
Serves two

  • 1/2-1 tablespoon Earth Balance
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • A couple grinds of fresh pepper
  • Dash cinnamon
  • 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts (I used a mix of hazelnuts and walnuts)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened dried cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 Delicata squash, split lengthwise, with the seeds and stringy bits scooped out
  • A little extra Earth Balance or coconut oil

Preheat the oven to 425˚ and fill an 8″ x 8″ (or 9″ x 9″, depending on the size of your squash) baking pan with a thin layer of water.

Melt the Earth Balance in a small pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and celery and cook for about 5 minutes until they start to soften. Add the spices and maple syrup and stir so that the onion and celery are coated. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, then remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix together the quinoa, toasted nuts, dried cranberries, and the onion and celery mixture. Scoop into the cored Delicata squash and pack tightly. The filling can come up over the edge a little bit, but not too far. You’ll have extra, but that’s okay. Dot the filling with a little coconut oil or Earth Balance. Place the squash halves in the prepared pan, add the remaining filling to a small baking dish, and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the Delicata squash is browned on top and is pierced easily with a fork. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before eating. Drizzle with a little extra maple syrup if you’re feeling indulgent!

Nutty Quinoa-Stuffed Delicata Squash

Besides being my favorite squash for its ease of preparation (you can eat the skin, so no need to remove it!) and its creamy texture, Delicata is rich in vitamin A and vitamin C. Quinoa, of course, is a phenomenally healthy little seed, and it’s really what gives this dish its nutritional punch. One serving (one filled half squash) provides 24 grams of protein, 41% of your RDV of iron, and 11% of your RDV of calcium. That’s a pretty darn strong finish to my “Where do you get your protein?!” month, wouldn’t you say?

And what a month it’s been! I’ve really enjoyed myself. Sure, I had a few lazy days, but overall I’m proud of the recipes I created and the consistency with which I was able to put them together. And, for the first time in a while, I’m feeling inspired to keep creating recipes and to continue blogging. Hold me to it if I don’t!

And with that, I bid this year’s Vegan Month of Food a truly fond farewell.

What’s your favorite squash? If you participated in Vegan MoFo, how did it go?

A Very Laid-Back Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving could not have been more different than last year’s (short of not celebrating at all, I suppose). Last year, S and I didn’t live together, but we invited our immediate families to join us in Madison. They flew in from all over the country and helped me prepare dinner. My first-ever hosted holiday was a grand success, and I thoroughly enjoyed crafting the menu and preparing the meal.  It was so gratifying to see my loved ones sit down to a filling, healthy, animal-friendly meal on a day that typically centers around a dead bird.

This year, our families stayed in their respective homes, so it was just S and I. Sure, we could’ve made a feast for two or invited friends to join, but we didn’t. Instead, we had another Thanksgiving first – dining in a restaurant. The Green Owl hosted their first-ever vegan Thanksgiving, and I just couldn’t resist going. The meal was only $30, and it included three courses, dessert, and passionfruit iced tea. Plus, a portion of their profits benefited a local animal-rights group. Sold!

Dinner began at 1:00. S and I arrived a few minutes early and loitered outside with a quickly growing crowd waiting for the doors to open. We were surprised that many of the other guests were older, ranging from the high end of middle age to bona-fide elderly. How exciting to see older folks, who you’d probably expect to be more traditional, taking part in a vegan feast! The crowd didn’t have to wait too long until the doors opened and a cheerful server wished us a “Happy Thanksgiving!” and welcomed us inside.

S and I were seated at our own table, and we eagerly perused the menu (which we’d already seen online) and ordered drinks. S got a brandy-spiked hot apple cider and I ordered a tart, berry-infused vodka cocktail.

Top-down view of a small white laminated piece of paper with the Thanksgiving menu on it.

Looks promising!

It took a little longer than expected for our first course to arrive, no doubt because there were only a few actual Green Owl waitresses on hand. Instead, three volunteers helped bus tables and serve food, all for the promise of a free meal after the paying patrons were served. The volunteers were, um, older, and were a little slow on their feet. The seasoned servers were admirably patient, though, even when their helpers got in the way or swung open the kitchen door without a warning. (S and I were seated right in front of said door, so we got to witness a bit of the behind-the-scenes madness.) We didn’t mind waiting, though – it only made us hungrier and readier to devour our meal! Soon, the first course arrived. They’d opted to serve the salad first, not the soup, but we didn’t mind.

Bed of baby spinach leaves with a quinoa salad studded with dried cranberries.

Fresh.

Truth be told, I was a little worried about this dish. I’m no fan of balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of any variety, really), and salads I’ve gotten here in the past often have a rather heavy-handed application of vinaigrette. I needn’t have worried – everything was just right with this dish. The spinach was lightly dressed, and the pomegranate portion of the vinaigrette masked any unpleasant vinegar aromas. I really loved the cranberry-quinoa salad, too. Even S, who is no fan of quinoa, enjoyed it. The lightly caramelized pepitas were a perfect touch on top.

Next up was the soup course. There was a bit of a delay between salad and soup, but nobody seemed to mind.

Small white bowl of a translucent orange soup topped with chives.

Cheeky shiitakes, peeking up!

This was one of the best butternut squash bisques I’ve had in a while, probably because it was a bit non-traditional. I’m not a huge bisque enthusiast (see: texture issues), so I really appreciated the diced chives and lovely slices of shiitake in this one. And the truffle oil added a wonderful nuanced flavor. I only wished the portion had been a bit larger! It’s probably for the best that it wasn’t, though, or else I wouldn’t have had room for the main course.

Round white plate filled with green beans, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, tofu turkey, and cranberry sauce.

Thanksgiving!

Frisbee-shaped plate aside, ain’t this just a beautiful sight to see? It was the quintessential traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The mashed potatoes, tofu turkey, and cranberry-pear (!) sauce were my favorite elements – the potatoes were wonderfully fluffy (and totally lump free!) the tofu turkey was surprisingly un-tofu-like, and the sauce was a perfect mix of whole berries, pear pieces, and more liquidy portions for smearing on potatoes. ;) The the sweet potatoes with candied pecans were also a stand-out element, and the green beans almondine were a refreshingly simple side. I didn’t really notice much about the stuffing, and the Brussels sprouts were a bit of a disappointment – I couldn’t discern maple or mustard, and they were a little mushy for my taste (S remarked that my sprouts are better – win!). All in all, it was a wonderfully satisfying meal, and I made sure to save about 1/3 of my plate for leftovers… and so that I’d be able to eat my dessert.

Small sliver of a light orange cheesecake on a white plate, sprinkled with cinnamon.

Time fo’ sweets!

The Green Owl is well-known for its creative, decadent, vegan (and often raw) desserts, and this pumpkin cheesecake did not disappoint. It was spicy, sweet, and the perfect end to our meal. The portion size was a bit small, but I’m not sure I could’ve eaten much more!

S and I rolled out of the Green Owl nearly two hours after our arrival, stuffed to the gills with all the flavors of Thanksgiving. When we got home, there were no dishes, pots, or pans waiting to be cleaned up, and we spent the rest of our day off relaxing – a perfect way to celebrate a low-key holiday. :)

How did you celebrate Thanksgiving (if at all)? Have you ever gone out to eat on a holiday?

A Very Belated Thanksgiving Post

…now that we’re in full December-holiday-Christmas-merriment-festive mode, I’m going to talk about Thanksgiving! Pardon my tardiness, please. I’ll pepper my wordy musings with photos of food to appease you. :)

I want to talk about Un-Turkey Day because I learned quite a lot from hosting my first Thanksgiving. For example, I now know that if you’re serving three main dishes “to give people options,” it’s probably not necessary to double the recipe for one of those dishes. I also learned that a double oven would be mighty handy on holidays, and that garbage disposals really don’t like large amounts of potato peels. (I also know what potato-peel-laden water looks like when it comes pouring out of your sink pipes.)

My table! I made the napkins.

Most importantly, though, I learned that relying on other people is okay. Typically, I’m a do-it-myself kind of girl. I’m a little… particular, shall we say, about most things I do, and I’m of the mindset that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. But guess what? “Right” is subjective, and sometimes something done right is something done imperfectly. At the end of the day, after S’s and my guests flew back to their four corners of the country, any flaws in our meal didn’t factor into my lasting Thanksgiving memories. Instead, I’ll think fondly on my brother and sister acting as my sous chefs on Wednesday afternoon, chopping and prepping and handling sticky cranberry sauce overflows. I’ll remember my mom dutifully stirring the gravy so it wouldn’t get clumpy while I managed the vegetables. I’ll recall S masterfully mashing potatoes and seasoning them to creamy, delicious perfection while his mom painstakingly handled layers of phyllo dough for one of our main dishes. And I will never forget my dad and S crouching down to unclog my woefully clogged sink after dinner.

Me and some of my feast.

What these memories all have in common is their inclusion of other people, of my loved ones volunteering their time and help so that I didn’t have to do it alone. And although I initially didn’t want to let go of my control, to put my carefully crafted dinner into anybody else’s hands, I’m glad I did. I’m glad I quelled my martyr instinct and let them help me, not only so that I can have such fantastic memories and relax a bit, but so that I could realize that, hey, perfection isn’t necessary (or even attainable). And that realization – along with the people who helped bring it about – are what I’m most thankful for as I think about this past Thanksgiving.

Oh yeah, and the food. We had some damn fine food. Our menu:

Main dishes:

  • Ribollita
  • Tofurky
  • Sweet Potatoes and Cannellini Beans in Sage-Butter Phyllo Crust (Blooming Platter of Vegan Recipes, p. 120)

Side dishes:

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Stuffing
  • Oven-roasted shredded Brussels sprouts
  • Sweet & Salty Maple Baby Carrots (Appetite for Reduction, p. 105)
  • Rye bread

Toppings:

Desserts:

Bundt cake o' deliciousness.

Notice anything about this menu? Yep, every single thing is vegan. Our dinner included two vegans, two vegetarians, and three omnivores, and all of them were willing to give a vegan Thanksgiving a go. I’m so grateful for the chance to host an animal-free Thanksgiving, and I couldn’t be prouder of my loved ones for not bemoaning the lack of a turkey a single time. Instead, they all gracefully enjoyed our cruelty-free food. (The only non-vegan food item anyone consumed was some regular whipped cream, because Soyatoo is expensive, and I hoarded it for myself and my mom!)

An open-faced pie - how modern!

So, this Thanksgiving? A big giant awesome delicious animal-free success. I’m so happy to have hosted, and so happy to have celebrated it with some of the best people in the world. :)

And now I’m heading off on a 12-day East Coast road trip of awesomeness with S. I’ll report back about any delicious eats we encounter along the way!

How was your Thanksgiving? What are your holiday plans?

P.S. Here is a BONUS PICTURE – Moria, all tucked in!

Don't worry, she doesn't really sleep like this.

Happy Vegangiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, American friends! Happy Thursday, non-American friends!

So far I’ve had a lovely day of movie-watching and knitting. My family called and my phone-self got passed around from family member to family member, which was lovely, if slightly tedious by the time I got to family member #4. I was totally fine with not eating a Thanksgiving-ish dinner until around 5:30 tonight, when I suddenly decided I needed some mashed potatoes in my life. One thing led to another, and soon I had a Thanksgiving-inspired meal for one.

And I made enough for seconds, too!

Featured here is a veganized version of Averie‘s Pumpkin Honey Tofu, garlicky mashed taters, a bastardized version of the Mighty Miso Gravy from How it All Vegan, and a mixed greens salad topped with walnuts and dried cranberries. Delicious, full of traditional Thanksgiving flavors, and totally painless to make – no oven-slaving for this girl. :)

Hope you all had a fantastic day! Now I’m off to have a mini-Lost marathon with the roomie. :)

Reflections on Thanksgiving

You’d think – what with the fact that Thanksgiving is a pretty food-centric holiday – that I’d have some photos of our T-day spread. But do I? No, no I do not. But trust me on this – it was a good one.

Since going vegetarian ~4 years ago, Thanksgiving and I have had a bit of a rocky relationship. There was the year when Mom didn’t realize that I wouldn’t want to eat gravy made from turkey juice, and then the general lack of interesting side dishes (my family keeps our veggies simple, for the most part) made Thanksgiving a bit boring. So it was no wonder that I was a bit apprehensive about my first Thanksgiving as a vegan. But then I decided to take matters into my own hands to make sure I wouldn’t be dissatisfied when we all sat around the table, forks in hand, ready to dig into our plates heaped high with yummy food.

First, I decided to add a new veggie to our traditional side dishes. I was inspired by this post on shredded and roasted Brussels sprouts, so I decided to give it a try. Then I wanted to make a vegan pumpkin pie, so I checked out VegWeb and decided that with so many five-star ratings and good reviews, this one looked promising. Finally, I wanted to make a vegan version of the cranberry-orange bread that is an appetizer-table staple at our Thanksgivings. VegWeb provided me with the recipe for Sweet and Spicy Cranberry-Orange Bread, which I happily made on Thanksgiving Eve along with the pie.

This year, my family was lucky in that my aunt from Colorado is staying with us for a couple of weeks. Since she is also vegan, I knew I’d have an ally in the kitchen. My mom is also mostly vegan these days, so between the three of us we made darn sure that there was enough cruelty-free mashed taters, gravy, and stuffing to keep our plates full even during second helping time.

So, the results? I have to say, this was the most delicious and satisfying Thanksgiving experience I think I’ve ever had. My plate was so full of colorful, beautiful vegetables and the other aforementioned Thanksgiving accoutrements that I couldn’t help but smile at it. Besides my Brussels sprouts, we had broccoli, corn, homemade cranberry sauce, and an absolutely delicious roasted yam and apple dish that my aunt made. I ate two big plates at dinnertime, but when dessert time rolled around, I still had room to test out my pumpkin pie.

Happily, the pie was really yummy. I’d been a little concerned about it because it sort of separated from the sides while baking, but it tasted just fine. The tofu wasn’t noticeable at all, other than a tiny textural weirdness I noticed after each bite. I wish I’d gotten an omni’s reaction, but between the non-vegan apple pie, lemon meringue pie, and cheesecake, the omnis in the family had their mouths too full to try some humble pumpkin pie. And the cranberry-orange loaf was phenomenal! My vegan aunt especially loved it; she doesn’t do a lot of baking and was surprised at how easily it could’ve fooled an omni.

I was also gratified when my cousin’s wife asked for my Brussels sprouts recipe. I didn’t season the sprouts with anything more exciting than olive oil, salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic, but I think shredding them made them easier to eat and allowed for lots of more of those crunchy bits to form. Yum!

Of course, there were some less than-pleasant-moments when my omni cousin felt it necessary to comment on the alleged quality of vegan food and the superiority of stuffing cooked inside a dead bird’s body cavity, but I made a conscious effort not to let it get to me. I wanted to enjoy my food, my family, and the day itself. I’m happy to say I did just that.

So, Thanksgiving? Greeeat successss! :)

Sorry for the boring, picture-less post! I’m making cupcakes for my sister’s big 18th birthday party, so I’ll be back with those soon.