Giving Gratitude, Accepting Change

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Changing Times, Changing Celebrations

Yesterday I hosted an early Thanksgiving with my kids in my newest home. I quite happily spent several days preparing a more or less traditional feast, but having lived in three houses this year, I sometimes found myself reaching for a cupboard that isn’t here, or looking for a pan that has passed from my hands. We were gathering in honor of my birthday, but for me at least it was a day of deepest thanks and gratitude for healthy, wholehearted relationships with family and friends. That hasn’t always been the case and it felt richly beautiful for us all to be fully at peace and accepting of each other as is.

On Thursday, I’ll honor the day in a different way. Many cultures have a tradition of commemorating lost people, causes, and more by placing an empty chair at a feast table. A candle is set on an empty plate in front of the chair in memory of those who have died, someone who might be estranged, travelers who are far from home and family, or some tragedy great or small. Last year, I wrote the words below and I feel their truth more strongly than ever.

“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. “

Gathering In New Ways And Old

Like so many families, mine has expanded as my kids reach adulthood. Since they now have complex schedules and multi-family events to attend, I’ve found it more satisfying to swap traditional celebrations for smaller gatherings. 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. I am happily rediscovering how refreshing it can be to allow changes to reshape traditions that have become reflexive habits. After several years spent clearing out crammed closets and drawers to re-home an embarrassing amount of unneeded and unused things, it feels natural and soothing to renew the way I celebrate holidays by emptying myself of expectations and making room for something more spacious and new.

Instead of the sometimes frenetic round of events and occasions, of endless gifts and parties, I’m finding more fun in the small and the simple. At four and not quite two, my grandkids’ presence lets me keep some treasured traditions while releasing any that feel unsatisfying or outgrown. We are also creating pleasant new traditions based on the interests and abilities of these little people who are experiencing holidays and happenings as fresh and fascinating. If my perfectly round Santa Snowball cookies turn to asteroids that are splatted on the baking sheet, well, why not? If it’s great fun to trim and re-trim and play with a small fake tree (made of inventively recycled materials, of course!), well, why not that too?

Food, Glorious Food

Both the little kids like to cook and we’ve spent many happy hours making whatever they dream up. Yesterday, they stood on chairs to help make both classic and dairy free mashed potatoes, using my favorite small masher left over from a child’s kitchen set. These days, some adaptation is also needed to accommodate the varying dietary issues of any extended family, and I’m once again offering you a sampler of very tasty treats suitable for any feast. Some are vegetarian or vegan, some dairy- and gluten-free, but all taste wonderful even to those who can eat anything they want. Enjoy each other and be swift to love, for time is short!

Sugar Free And 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.

Best Vegan Mashed Potatoes

Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes with gravy? This truly delicious vegan version is 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 potato cooking water and avocado oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mushroom gravy (see below).

Rich Vegan Gravy

Buttery avocado oil gives everything a fuller, warmer flavor, and umami-rich mushrooms give this plant-based gravy depth and savor. Flaked nutritional yeast adds protein and a salty (though salt-free), nut-like flavor as well. While any mushrooms will do, porcini offer the most antioxidants and apricot-scented chanterelles the sweetest flavor.

Vegan Leek & Mushroom 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 porcini or any mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup flour (any kind that will thicken a sauce)
4 cups fresh vegetable broth
1/2 cup red wine
2-3 teaspoons flaked 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 flour and stir in gently, then cook, covered for 2 minutes. Add broth and red wine and simmer until mushrooms are tender (20-30 minutes). Serve as is or puree with an immersion blender to desired consistency and serve hot. Makes about 6 cups.

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 Jazz 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 (10-12 minutes). Serves 6.

Aromatic Pumpkin Pie (Dairy-Free)

1 unbaked pie crust
3/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, coriander and ginger
2 large eggs
2 cups (15-ounce can) cooked pumpkin pulp
12 ounces coconut milk (1 can)

Line a pie dish with crust, crimp edge, set aside. In a bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir well. Add eggs and stir until foamy. Stir in pumpkin pulp completely, then coconut milk. Spoon into 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 light, fluffy vegan version is more like a cream pie than baked 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.

Crunchy 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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3 Responses to Giving Gratitude, Accepting Change

  1. Deirdre says:

    Lovely ideas for our vegan family member!

  2. Jill Anne Hamilton says:

    Thank you. I love your gardening books. I look forward to trying some of the recipes. New and interesting as they might be to be.

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