How to Have a Vegan, Gluten-Free, Sustainable Thanksgiving; and Still Love Your Family Afterwards

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

The Debates.

“Turkey is a staple of Thanksgiving dinner.  I don’t care who eats it.”

“But Evan is vegetarian.”

“Maggie is trying very hard to stay vegan.”

“On Thanksgiving?”

“We could make them a tofurky.”

“But, those are so processed.”

“Okay, forget the tofurky. What if we have a turkey, but we buy it from a local farm?”

“They’ll probably feel better about that. Evan might even eat some. Let’s talk stuffing.”

“How about Mom’s classic challah stuffing?”

“We have three gluten-free guests.”

“Three?  Which three?”

“Does it matter?”

“We could do a rice stuffing.”

“One in the bird, and one out for the meat-phobic?”

“And one stuffing without onions.”

“What?”

“And mashed potatoes?”

“Mashed sweet potatoes, they’re more nutrient dense.”

“With butter?”

“No, not vegan.”

“Rolls?”

“Those are gluten.”

“A starter course with soy cheese?”

“Someone’s breastfeeding.”

“…Pie?”

“One gluten free crust, one vegan crust, only natural sugars. Nothing store bought because of hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. Only organic apples, unshelled pecans, free trade brown sugar, egg-free, flour-free, dairy-free, environmentally conscious, well loved, well nurtured, well educated, three years into psychoanalysis, and sublimely happy.”

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Homemade BBQ Sauce? Yes Please.

Homemade Barbecue SauceA lot of vegetarians will tell you that what they miss more than anything on this now meatless earth is *bacon*. And they’ll say it with this faraway look in their eyes like strips of bacon wear little haloes and float in the sky. Ahh, but not this one. There are three veggie weaknesses for me:

  1. The Jewish girl in me longs for her people’s food of choice: bagels with schmear and lox.  Oy.
  2. Sushi… OH, how I long for fresh tuna.
  3. And the big summer kahuna — barbecue.

Luckily, the last is something we can work with. It’s not that I miss the slabs of meat or the taste of hamburger and hotdogs. Those urges are long gone. But the smell of smoke wafting through the air and the crowd that gathers around a piping hot grill and the community aspects to a barbecue strikes a deep-down cord.

There are a million alternatives that you can put on the grill, things I’ve blogged about many a time before. But grilling and barbecue somehow mean something different, and it’s only occurred recently to me that that might be due to… mmmm…. barbecue sauce.

Barbecue sauce comes in a godzillion (yes, that is the technical term) varieties and line the supermarket’s aisles with options. But I have come to find that the best way to eat BBQ sauce is to make it yourself. It’s shockingly simple and cheaper than buying it from the store. Add in the bonus of reducing the sugar and sodium levels, leaving out high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and other unpleasantries – not to mention getting to add the flavors that you like in particular – it ends up hard to argue with.

The staples of barbecue sauce are crazy easy:

  • tomato paste
  • mustard
  • garlic
  • onion powder
  • cider vinegar
  • some spices, a little sea salt
  • and liquid smoke  (the clincher).

The rest is fair game.

  • For sweetness, pick your sweet of choice: local honey, real maple sauce (please, come on guys), molasses, brown sugar. All good and all different.
  • Spices! Chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, you could try cinnamon… go nuts! (Ooh, nuts would be interesting.)Tomato Paste - pic borrowed from http://localfoods.about.com/od/condiments/ss/tomatopaste.htm
  • For liquids try a boozey variety: like whisky, or I like adding a really dark beer, or if you’re thinking a tangier concoction, how about tequila? With lime!
  • I used to use Worcestershire sauce until I realized it has fishies in it and then it was sayonara to the Woost. But definitely try some hot sauce or hot peppers.
  • Maybe soy if you’re feeling like a hint of the East.
  • You can also try making your own tomato paste, should the tomato harvest overwhelm you. This should give a bit of a fresher flavor, and there’s a good how-to here.
  • Add a few drops of liquid smoke at the end. If you just put your nose in it, you’ll get why it seals the deal.

Simply put all this in a pot and stir it around until it smells and/or tastes like you imagine BBQ sauce to. Or better, like you wish it did. Throw it in a jar and add your personalized label. Then slather it on tofu, seitan, tempeh, vegetables. Anything.

I can’t promise you won’t miss meat, but I can promise you won’t be thinking about bacon.

Greener Thumbs Prevail

Zinnias in NYC

As we blithely told some apartment-hunting friends recently, “You’re not the first people in New York City to want outdoor space.”

New Yorkers do what they can with the minuscule amount of space the landlord gods grace them with, generally something resembling a shoebox with a toilet. As you might remember from last year, Pygmy Goats - http://blog.sfgate.com/pets/2010/01/26/pygmy-goats-the-new-it-pet/for Evan and me doing what we can means utilizing the two windows in our studio apartment with happy, fanciful window gardens, bringing the farmin’ to city as per usual.

In our dream world, we would have a rooftop garden, or even a rooftop farm. We’d have a city-cow for dairy and some city-chickens for eggs and maybe a city-pygmy goat. Because – I mean, look at them – who can resist a pygmy goat?

We have yet to build our city farm, but we are still desperately trying to keep our teenie-weenie garden alive and well. This year we still have our happy little lemon tree, as well as sage, mint, chives, basil, zinnias, johnny-jump-ups (which bring me unreasonable joy), and tomatoes again, both cherry and beefsteak.

IMG_0528

IMG_6127There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning, rolling over in bed, and seeing our city street framed by our garden.

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(Our friends, by the way, landed a lovely one-bedroom, with in-building laundry and gym, rooftop access, and outdoor space on their first day hunting… So who am I to talk, really.)

Thorncrest Farm’s Milk House Chocolates

Milk House Chocolates at Thorncrest Farm

A couple weeks before our chronicled trip to Europe, my wonderful in-laws took Evan and me to a dairy farm in Northwestern CT called Thorncrest Farm. As you probably know by now, visiting small sustainable farms near New York City is our favorite way to spend a weekend and to supplement whatever comes that week in our CSA. This farm in particular, was ambrosial. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry Kimberly the Chocolatierdairy farm might sell milk, but few will tell you which cow (by name) you are being fed from, provide cheese, butter, and yogurt-making classes, and have their very own chocolatier.

Kimberly, my new absolute favorite person on earth, is the self-taught mastermind behind the small chocolate operation in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere. (Picture winding back roads, copious forestation, and maybe a handful of suspicious looking deer.) Kimberly was kind enough to methodically walk me through her case full of chocolate, telling me stories about her progress and her cows as she did so. After some introductions, Kimberly explained to me that certain cows produce milk that is better suited for specific chocolate flavors, and making chocolates on the farm allows her to use that to her advantage.

Trust me when I say, this precision pays off.

Her chocolates – be they milk, dark, with mint or peanut butter (a combination that in no way resembles Reese’s), caramel, ginger, pumpkin, creamy vanilla, mango, or hazelnut coffee – are all exquisite. When you walk into her kitchen-barn and are greeted by the chatty Kimberly in her charming chef’s costume the scent of cocoa and milk wafting through the air is truly penetrating. And the artistry involved in her work is simply unreal.

Milk House Chocolates, Thorncrest Farm

Harper's Mango ChocolateKimberly told me about her deep unbridled affection for her cows, tearing up as she shared a story about having sold one of her favorites to another farm.  Apparently when the cow’s milk production dropped soon after being sold the farmers prepared to slaughter her, and Kimberly promptly cut her losses and bought her cow back. The cow lived out her happy life on Thorncrest Farm.

Below is a picture of a very recent Mama-Cow, looking pooped but proud.

One of Kimberly's CowsSurrounded by the scents of chocolate it was hard for me to resist dreaming about following around Kimberly for a summer and learning about life on her farm, not to mention witnessing the process of creating her elegant artisan treats. And I felt so enchanted with her world that I found myself too shy to admit to her that I tiptoe on the fence of being vegan. That I’m so frustrated by the meat and dairy industries and the scandalous treatment of animals in factory farms that I often have vegan weeks, and have weeded out foods that seem tarnished by the trade. In the quiet of my own home, where I’m blissfully not tormenting others, I have replaced dairy milk with almond milk, eat little to no cheese, and miss butter terribly. But places like Thorncrest give me hope for future dairy consumption. That day I had a delicious sip of Victoria the Cow’s milk, and succumbed to more than a few breathtaking pieces of chocolate.

Thorncrest Farm Milk

Thorncrest Milk

The Dangers of MSG

Felix Lulu and Me, circa 1996

I have a poignantly relevant story to share with you about nutritious food. It involves the time in which my father drove his wife, daughter, and three cats into a pond.

When I was 12, somewhere in the vicinity of the mid ‘90s, my parents thought a weekend out of the city would be nice, and schlepped me from New York City to a house in Connecticut in a fire-engine-red Volvo station wagon named Felix Lulu.

My dad has a tendency to over-pack, so you can imagine our Volv crammed with L.L. Bean tote bags smooshed to the brim with books on libraries of the Northeast, museums of New England, and guides on how to track appropriate animal poop.  Also something on birds.  Not to mention a leftover chicken (mostly carcass), a carton of milk stapled shut, toilet paper, shampoo, and a lifetime supply of Total Whole Grain cereal. Somewhere in there was my backpack and possibly my mother’s purse.

On the way, we found a place to stop for pizza and stretch our legs. I remember ordering the “Salad Pizza” distinctly, because I couldn’t for the life of me tell you why a 12-year-old would choose the slice of pizza that was topped with iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, and black olives. But therein lies the mystery of our blog. The pizza was dynamite, though we haven’t been back since.

Soon after the old man had begun driving again I curled up in the back seat and fell asleep on Johnson’s cat box (Johnson got his own box due to his size, while Claire and Fred were forced to share. I was lucky enough to be stashed between the three of them). My mom settled in for a nice nap in the front. And not long after, my dad at the wheel, decided to join in the snoozing. The three of us awoke about the time the nose of Felix Lulu was headed directly into a shallow body of water, at which point my dad swerved. (Good instincts, Pop.) So the passenger’s side of the car was several feet in water, sinking slowly, while the driver’s side managed to bank somewhat off the pond.

For what seemed like a few minutes the three of us stared at water splashing on the windshield not discussing said events – maybe enjoying country life: tweeting birds overhead, blubbering bass passing by our right-side windows – before a tiny voice in the backseat suggested, “Shouldn’t we get out of the car?”

My folks seemed to think this was a good enough idea and my dad and I clambered out the left side of the car and shut our doors. Leaving my mother descending with Felix Lulu.

And my mom, being of strong will and enjoying the occasional farce, managed to crawl over the seats to let herself out all on her own. An Amazon, that one.  Then, as seemed to be our demeanor, we all stood on the bank watching the car sink slowly down into the muck.

Whereupon the 12-year-old chimed in again: “Shouldn’t we get the cats?”

So we all climbed back in the sinking car to retrieve three fat fuzzy animals who really hate the water and would not have appreciated a swim.

Eventually the local fire department showed up and addressed our complete lack of injuries and the comedy of three New Yorkers standing on a country road with several cats and more than a few boxes of Total cereal. My dad likes to tell me that one of the firemen politely offered to throw my backpack back into the pond for $10, whereupon I retorted: “Hell, for $10 I’ll throw it in myself.” But this is a complete fabrication. Possibly water poisoning hallucinations.

We survived to tell the tale, but this promptly ended my love affair with the countryside.

Oh, and how is this relevant to food, you might ask?  Dad insists there was MSG in the pizza which put him to sleep. MSG in pizza. Really bad news. Beware.

Portland Foodies

This year we took a late-summer trip to Portland to visit the magnificent duo, Kaila and Ethan, and to eat heinous amounts of Maine grub. And in looking back on the thousands of pictures we took, it is nearly impossible to find a single photograph in which we aren’t dutifully stuffing our faces. Portland is Foodie Heaven.

Our favorite times were nuzzling up together in Kaila and Ethan’s home, cooking and exploring their tremendous garden and whimsically eclectic barn. But when they actually managed to get us out of their cozy home (which bring us exclusively warm and fuzzy feelings), we went to more restaurants in a week than we had in the past year. On the restaurant list was: The Farmers Table, Vignola, Eventide Oyster Co., Figa, and more.

At Eventidethe seafood-lovers amongst us got stacks of oysters and we drank beer and ate zucchini fritters and swooned over the dreamy man behind the counter (if said man should potentially see this post, he should know I have several friends who’ve requested we find you).

Some of us unabashedly ate salt.

Whilst some of us drank Dogfish Head 90 Min.

All of us giggled and had food comas.

More to come on the Portland trip, including pie-in-the-sky pictures of cooking in K and E’s kitchen.

Emergency Rations

As you may (or may not) have guessed from the complete lack of posts recently, things have been hectic.  The consequences of this stretch of mayhem are as follows: our regular writer’s fingers are officially tapped, so this post will be brought to you by the “ever supportive husband”; some posts in the next series may look like they happened weeks ago, and they did; cooking has been hard, and the time spent in the kitchen has been total utility; and we have accumulated a giant pile of food that needs to get used, stat.

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Since we both got a glorious work free night, which happened to coincide with our share pickup, we decided to take care of this food pile all at once by making a couple of soups and sauces and freezing everything.  The one night cooking marathon included:

  • Cucumber-melon soup
  • Summer squash soup
  • Tomato sauce
  • Zucchini and cherry tomato frittata with mashed potatoes (dinner)

We’ll post updates on the rest of the things soon, but here is the recipe for the squash soup:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Pounds Pattypan Squash (commonly known as Flying Saucer Squash)
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • Cumin
  • Curry
  • Ginger (powdered)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves
  • 4 Cups Vegetable Broth
  • Salt and Pepper

Start by toasting the cumin a little, then add the olive oil, garlic and onion.  Sauté until the onions are translucent and then add the curry and ginger.  Add the squash and cook until softened.  Add the vegetable broth and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and puree (an immersion blender really comes in handy here).  Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste.

This was really pretty simple to do, and since we had an ingredient surplus we were able to freeze enough for a few meals.  The next time the blog goes silent, you can bet we’ve hunkered down and are breaking into our new emergency stockpile.

Farm Friends

Sometimes new friends come in your CSA!

Don’t be startled, they come with the territory.  And if you let them, they’ll tickle your thumb.

Above is Albert. As we have a window garden there’s a convenient place for Albert to live when he accidentally arrives in our tote bag. Albert’s made several friends since: Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein, Buttersworth, and Swarthy. They all live happily in the soil and throw bug parties and watch passers-by.

I suggest you burrow through your goodies from your share and make sure you don’t have any new pals nibbling on your vegetables. We had the alarming experience of almost cooking Buttersworth on Tuesday, and have since been more thorough in our searches.

Anyone have a suggestion on where to put farm friends when you don’t have a window garden? (Flushing not an option.)

Patriotic Muffins

Patriotic Muffins

We’ve gotten blueberries three weeks in a row from our share, which can only mean a clear blinking roadside sign that says “MAKE MUFFINS”. Which we did.  And are glad about it.

Blueberry muffins are the happiest way to celebrate the summer, and an even happier way to celebrate our independence. And brilliantly, our farm had a muffin recipe up on their website. We skipped their lemon-sugar topping, but used their ingredients as inspiration and were granted a spirited flag to top ’em off.

Our Share’s Muffins:
•    2 cups fresh blueberries (from the farm!)Patriotic Muffin Insides
•    1 1/8 cups sugar plus 1 teaspoon
•    2 1/2 cups of flour
•    2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
•    1 teaspoon table salt
•    2 large eggs
•    4 tablespoons of unsalted butter , melted and cooled
•    1/4 cup vegetable oil
•    1 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup of yogurt)
•    1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Num num num…

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden. Serve with sparklers and a side of fireworks.

Fireworks on the Lake

Grill Master Evan

My better half is a grilling maniac.  And he always does a beautiful job.  Evan will throw anything on a flame, and I’ll eat anything that comes off it. (Except for the slab of meat that he’s cooking above, a photo taken when he was still a carnivore.)
But truly, you can put anything on a grill that comes out of your CSA, and I encourage you to try everything!  Little salt, some olive oil, maybe a marinade.
This summer, try grilling:
Grilled Broccoli
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes
  • watermelon
  • zucchini
  • broccoli
  • asparagus
  • anything
  • or anything that’s not leafy rather
  • and TOFU.

I’ve found that many people who violently dislike tofu, of which there are many, actually enjoy it when it’s been thrown on a grill because it’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Marinate slabs of tofu for a few hours in a ziplock bag with whatever flavors you like — soy-sesame concoctions are usually a favorite — and then put it on the grill and let it get a little on the blacker side. Meanwhile, cook down the leftover marinade. When the tofu starts to blacken a bit pull it off and eat it with the leftover sauce. It might (just maybe) surprise you.

Grilled Tofu

And ask Ev to come over and fix you a meal.  There’s a good chance he’ll do it, and there’s an even better chance you’ll like it.

Ev at the Grill

For a few more coal-tinted ideas, check out Olaf and His Meals from last year’s harvest.