Thanksgiving is one of the few holidays that remains unadulterated. It's about coming together, eating brightly-colored, comforting food, and taking some time out to reflect on what we are most thankful for. I've always loved it.
When I was little, it meant getting up early to watch Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade on our livingroom TV. The big balloons were the best part, and I'd get giddy when Snoopy or Kermit rounded awkwardly about the city block corner, bobbing down at the elated crowd. The woodstove would be crackling and sending off comforting waves of heat and I'd dance around to the marching band music in my footie pajamas. All was right in the world.
My mom was a whiz at making the house cozy. She'd make Fat Lady's Dessert in the morning and I'd watch the parade while consuming a heaping bowl of it. (It was a mixture of a homemade strawberry whipped cream mixed with lots of fruit -- pineapples, mandarin oranges, bananas, frozen strawberries, apples -- and walnuts. It was a delightfully naughty way to begin a holiday! (It got its name, I'm told, when my mother ate an entire serving bowl of it when she was pregnant with me and uncomfortably overdue.) The whole house would smell of happiness as the day's meal cooked.
I think Thanksgiving was exciting too because it was like the Start-Your-Engines time for Christmas. From Thanksgiving until Christmas (and even later), there would always be a Christmas album playing, usually Nat King Kole, Bing Crosby, Gene Audry, Johnny Mathis, or Andy Williams. And the Muppets John Denver Christmas album of course. My grandparents, like clockwork, gave us grandchildren advent calendars on Thanksgiving, which officially began the exciting countdown. Gramma always found the coolest, sweetest calendars, always covered with silvery blue glitter. She had an eye for that kind of thing.
And Thanksgiving Night at my grandparents house? Talk about cozy. The house was filled to the brim with loud, laughing relatives who seemed to adore us kids. We were well-loved children! We'd usually play a few violent games of Spoons*, force mountains of dessert in our already-full bellies, and then Jane Riley, my grandmother's best friend since they were girls, would finally get pushed into the living room to play the piano. At this junction, she'd usually protest that she wasn't any good -- she was -- but someone would inevitably force her to sit down at the old upright piano. Then her amazingly nimble fingers would run across the keys and she'd lead everyone into enthusiastic Christmas caroling, which we'd belt out for two hours or more. (Made possible because my organized Gramma had typed up Christmas carol books with all the verses to all the songs. So a person had no excuse not to sing!)
People say that the whole Norman Rockwell family is a myth, but my friends, I was the lucky gal who landed in that picture, though there were probably more plaid shirts and inappropriate jokes in our version. Our family gatherings were such wonderful times, full of raucous laughter, playful teasing, and endless hugs.
In the past few years when I was considering vegetarianism, a small part of me was afraid that if I gave up meat (read, turkey) then I'd be turning my back on those irreplaceable memories. That I'd somehow be turning my nose up at my family, particularly those who were no longer with us. As I've mentioned before, though, seeing the reality of the animals' plight wiped those worries from my brain. And now that I've been vegan for 7 months? I can't believe I worried about breaking tradition. The tradition for me wasn't about the turkey. (You're probably thinking "Duh!" but bear with me -- I'm a bit slow.) It was about the memories and the wonderful smells and tastes of all those vegetables! The tart "ping!" of the homemade cranberry relish, the buttery squash (vegan butter tastes the same!), and, oh lordy, the party potatoes.
Party potatoes. We had those at every family get-together. A carryover from the 60's/70's, it is a mashed potato dream, with butter, sour cream, and cream cheese. You cringe, but you never tasted such wonder. Though it sounds heavy, it wasn't. It was the perfect blend of flavors. Party potatoes were what happiness would taste like if you could somehow serve it up. I decided to give it a whirl with vegan products.
Now, I should point out that I was not holding my breath. As I plopped all the ingredients together, I did not have a good feeling about how things would turn out, and had prepared myself for a disappointing culinary disaster. But I had to try! :) Much to my absolute delight, though, this new version tasted (drumroll.............) exactly like my grandmother's! Wow! And no cows hurt! Double wow!
Here is our beloved recipe if you'd like to try it yourself and have a serving of heaven on your Thanksgiving plate!
1 cup vegan sour cream (Tofutti is awesome)
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp onion salt
vegan butter (Earth Balance is the best)
8 oz of vegan cream cheese (Tofutti or Follow Your Heart are both good)
Preheat oven to 350. Peel, boil, and drain potatoes. Beat sour cream and cream cheese. Add potatoes gradually. Add spices. Put in a 2 qt. ungreased casserole dish and dot with butter. Sprinkle paprika on top. Bake until brown on top. (About 30 minutes? I forgot to time it.) Makes enough for about 6 small servings.
We've also test-driven a couple of grain-based meats that we both like. Ryan's favorite of the two was the Gardein Stuffed Turk'y, which you can find the the freezer section. And my favorite was the Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute, also in the freezer section. Both are great! You can't go wrong.
I had mentioned yesterday that there were ways you could help the turkeys who suffer unimaginably for our palates. First off, don't eat them. (Life goes on, I promise. In fact, it gets way better!) Second, consider following the lead of Ellen DeGeneres and Adopt/Sponsor a Turkey through Farm Sanctuary. (There is probably a similar program at an animal sanctuary near you!)
Here's a fun video of a woman who helps place rescued turkeys. (It gets intense at 1:32 - 2:26, so skip that part if it's too much for you. But don't miss the rest of it! The kids snuggling with these turkeys is too much and seeing them enjoy a nice blow-dry simply has to be seen to be believed.)
So -- what are fun old or new traditions that you enjoy on Thanksgiving? What is your favorite dish?
*Sometime before Thanksgiving, I'll post the game Spoons. You absolutely must play this game with your own family!