Celebrating & Remembering

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Giving Thanks & Acknowledging Sorrow

This weekend, I met with a group of friends, all students of Pat Moffitt Cook, who gather more or less monthly to offer an hour or so of traditional sacred healing chants we learned through Pat’s Spiritual Health & Sound programs. During the chanting and later as we met around the table to share a meal, an empty chair sat waiting for whatever guest might come our way. In the Hebraic tradition, an empty chair is placed at the Seder table for the prophet Elijah. In some families, a chair is set at celebrations to honor those who have died, someone who might be estranged, or travelers who are far from home and family.

I’ve been swamped with feelings of deepest grief for the past two weeks, and realize that I feel the recent election results like a big, resonating death. Today marks the first anniversary of my mother’s death and I’m remembering watching her take her final breath, gently and peacefully and then simply stopping. It is not my mother’s death that grieves my heart, but what feels like the death of my country, land of liberty and justice for all. So this year, my celebration table will have an empty chair, and the empty plate will hold a candle. When we sit, we’ll extinguish all the lights, have a moment of recollection for all we have lost, then light the candle to remind us of what we still have in abundance, and what will remain when we ourselves are gone.

We Gather More Or Less Together

Thanks to complex schedules and multi-family events, my family often replaces traditional celebrations with several smaller reunions. It can be refreshing to allow change to reshape tradition as well as habit. Just as clearing out crammed closets lets us re-home a host of unneeded and unused things, renewing the way we celebrate holidays lets us keep whatever is most treasured, let go of stressful parts, and make space for pleasant new experiences. My own thanksgiving is really about sharing gratitude and celebrating belonging–to family, community, or the fellowship of humanity–not spending most of a day (or more) making a heavy, rich meal that will be over in the blink of an eye.

I still enjoy making the traditional foods (especially because the leftovers are so much fun to work with). However, my extended family now flows into others, presenting an interwoven net of connection and sometimes obligation. As my sons reached adulthood, I made a clear decision that I do not ever want being with me to be an obligation for my family or friends. That sometimes means that on the actual day of certain events, I am cooking for just one or two, which requires some imaginative adaptation.

Graceful Change

There is an art to changing up long standing patterns, and new ways to celebrate are best introduced as intriguing innovation, not some sorrowful second best. Though I can still enjoy the friendly chaos of large gatherings, I find myself increasingly more comfortable when there are just a few guests at our table. Though the huge dinners-for-dozens had their own crazy joy, this new holiday pattern lets conversations be relaxed, rich, and rewarding.

Most families have an established menu for each holiday, but these days, we are very apt to need to tweak some of those basics to accommodate various dietary needs and desires. The tweaks can seem the most difficult to manage, so here’s an array of vegetarian and vegan treats that complement each other beautifully, some rich, some tart and citrusy, some crunchy, some like edible velvet.

Sugar Free But Scrumptious

This sparkling, tart relish relies on super-sweet oranges for flavor balance, but if need be, add a tad of maple syrup to taste.

Sugar Free Orange Cranberry Relish

2 organic Cara Cara Oranges
1-1/3 cups organic cranberries
few grains sea salt
1-2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)

In a food processor, grind oranges and cranberries, add salt and maple syrup to taste. Chill for 2-3 days before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

Vegan Happiness

Everybody loves mashed potatoes with gravy, so here’s a really delicious vegan version made with buttery-tasting avocado oil. Reserve some potato water (the cloudy stuff at the bottom of the pan) for the gravy, and recycle any leftovers as potato cakes.

Vegan Garlic Mashed Potatoes

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
3-4 tablespoons avocado oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Peel and chop potatoes, cover with cold water, set aside. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add drained potatoes, garlic, and half the salt and cook until tender (12-15 minutes). Drain, reserving cooking liquid, and mash or put through a ricer (it gives a lighter texture). Thin to desired thickness with avocado oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mushroom gravy (see below).

Rich Vegan Gravy

To give plant-based gravy a fuller, richer flavor, use buttery avocado oil, and umami-rich mushrooms, adding a little nutritional yeast to round it out. Use your favorite mushrooms, or a mixture of white buttons (highest in antioxidants) and tasty brown field mushrooms, or chanterelles or shaggy manes, or whatever you like best.

Leek & Mushroom Vegan Gravy

1/4 cup avocado oil
1 large brown or yellow onion, chopped
4 medium leeks, chopped (white and palest green parts only)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2-4 cups fresh vegetable broth or red wine
2-3 teaspoons nutritional yeast

In a wide, shallow pan, combine oil, onion, leeks and salt over medium high heat and cook until soft (10-15 minutes). Add mushrooms, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes to sweat mushrooms. Add broth or red wine and simmer until mushrooms are tender (20-30 minutes). Puree with an immersion blender to desired consistency and serve hot. Serves 4-8.

Winter Sparkle Salad

2 cups Savoy cabbage, finely chopped
2 cups Napa cabbage, finely shredded
1 bulb Florence fennel, finely shaved
2 clementines, sectioned and peeled
1 Honeycrisp or Opal apple, chopped
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup stemmed cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped roasted hazelnuts
2-3 tablespoons flavored rice vinegar

Toss all ingredients and serve. Serves 6.

Roasted Cauliflower, Sweet Potatoes, & Cranberries

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced (1/4 inch)
2 tablespoons avocado or high temperature oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups raw cranberries, washed and picked over

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss vegetables with oil and spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (or two). Sprinkle with salt and roast for 30 minutes. Stir with a spatula, add cranberries and roast until well caramelized (15-20 minutes). Serves 6.

Pilgrim Pumpkin Pie

This tastes rich and old fashioned, perhaps much like the early Thanksgiving pies made when sugar was scarce.

1/2 cup dark molasses or maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, coriander and ginger
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups (15-ounce can) cooked pumpkin pulp
1-1/2 cups plain almond or hazelnut milk
1 unbaked nut crust (see below)

In a large bowl, combine all but crust and blend well. Spoon into unbaked nut crust and bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 350 and bake until set (40-50 minutes). Let stand for an hour or more before serving.

This vegan version is more like pudding than custard.

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

1/2 cup dark molasses or maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, coriander and ginger
12 ounces silken tofu
1-1/2 cups cooked pumpkin pulp
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pre-baked nut crust (see below)

In a food processor, combine all but crust and blend well. Spoon into baked nut crust and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Vegan Nut Crust

1-1/2 cups almonds or walnuts
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
few grains sea salt

In a food processor, grind nuts coarsely. Add remaining ingredients and process briefly to blend. Pat into a pie dish. For chilled filling, prebake at 350 degrees F until golden (20-25 minutes), cool before filling.

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4 Responses to Celebrating & Remembering

  1. Diane L. Hooper says:

    Hi Ann,
    I really liked your column and will be sending it onto my kids. I feel the same way you do and this is a great way for me to explain it to them.
    Thank you for this and a very happy Thanksgiving Ann, know it will be special.

  2. Leesa says:

    Thank you so much for so eloquently expressing what I’m feeling. I too feel like a death just happened and I feel this dark ominous cloud covering everything. These moments of togetherness with family seem especially sweet and important now. I’m fearful for our country’s future but I’m trying to hold on to what I have and be grateful.

  3. Cynthia says:

    Thank you for your words. Having just watched a video from the alt-right, my heart is hurting, as I imagine is yours. Thank you for going “off topic” long enough to comment on the grief many of us are feeling.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Hi Cynthia,
      Nothing is really off topic here, as you may notice, and certainly nothing so central to our daily experience can be ignored. Sorta wish it could, but no such luck. So we go onward, trying to be light bringers to the best of our ability.

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