Friday, November 09, 2012

Thanksgiving -- The Vegan and Gluten-Free way.

Food Table.  Though there was no fruit on the actual table so the sign's a bit misleading.

I wanted to fill you in about our Thanksgiving meal, but things have been crazy around here the past month.  But it's almost American Thanksgiving, so this post shouldn't seem completely out of place in the blogosphere.

Oh what a Thanksgiving I planned!

This holiday is my oldest daughter's favourite holiday of the year.  She loves the smells, the colours, the flavours and the coziness of it all.  She is quite the traditionalist at heart, and really treasures the rituals of the day.

Next year, she will be on a school trip to Europe over the Thanksgiving weekend.  From what I understand the timing of this made things slightly cheaper, but she won't be here to celebrate with us on that weekend.

This year was to be the year that counted for two. 

It's also the first year where I've had so many food restrictions, and I really wanted to make it good.  I researched and researched to find gluten-free and dairy-free versions of our favourite foods.  I spent the entire day before the actual meal pre-cooking.  This meant things like baking the gluten-free bread and making the vegetable stock.  I made a couple dishes the night before, as we were having a lunch so I wouldn't have as much time the day of to prepare everything.

I was quite excited to find some great recipes online.  What a world we live in, a world where we can type in some very specific words into a search bar, click a button and literally have hundreds or thousands of answers appear on the screen before us.  I wanted to share some of these with you (and also leave them in a place I could easily locate them next year!).

I totally stole the recipes for "Celery Root and Squash Gratin with Walnut-Thyme Streusel" and "Tempeh Marbella" from here.  Both were SO delicious!

This was the gratin prior to cooking.  Basically it involved layering slices of celery root (or celeriac) and squash in a baking dish, and coating it with a very rich and delicious "cream" sauce.
 Next it is topped with the walnut and bread crumb topping and baked.
This is maybe not the best shot, but it sure was delicious!  Leftovers were great too, but I don't think it would freeze well (I didn't try, it's just a guess).   

The tempeh was so easy to make.  Since nobody seems to know what tempeh is, here's what it looks like at the store:
Tempeh is a fermented soy product, and comes in this block.  I get it from Goodness Me! and it's about $5 for the package.  I sliced it into little rectangles, then sliced each rectangle in half horizontally.  They were marinaded overnight, and then baked in the oven until nicely browned.  Yummy.
I made mashed potatoes, stuffing (both gluten-free and non gluten-free), roasted broccoli, and curried squash soup.  Our guests brought a delicious spinach & pomegranate salad.  We had turkey (yes I cooked it!) and gravy.  It was quite the spread.
Of course there was dessert.  I had to make a pumpkin pie, although I was very worried about making a gluten-free pie crust.  To be honest, I never really mastered the art of making a regular old pie crust, so the gluten-free thing was really daunting.  The solution?  A nut-meal crust.  Honestly, this was the most AMAZING pie I have ever made (if I was feeling braggy, I might even say that I have tasted).  I found the recipe here and holy cow, this lady does her research!  It turned out great, just look at it!
 Mmm.  Now I want pumpkin pie.

Back behind the pie you can see my bowl of Tofu Chocolate Mousse.  I also made a rhubarb crumble with the last of the garden rhubarb for the year.

We had a nice enjoyable time, with a mix of family and friends.  Despite having 6 of our guests not be able to attend at the last minute due to illness (all of whom were dearly missed!), I think I managed to create a Thanksgiving that my daughter will remember fondly. 

Friday, October 05, 2012

So a Vegetarian Walks Into a Butcher Shop...

Well, not a butcher shop exactly, more of a butcher counter.

Carrying a turkey.

A turkey that was tentatively poked by me in an attempt to gauge it for...what, freshness?

Like I know the difference between a fresh and a stale turkey.  You'd call it stale, right?  Like bread?

Having been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, this annual pilgrimage into the meat section of the grocery store feels extremely foreign.  I pawn off the turkey cooking when I can, but when I'm hosting the dinner I feel compelled to, you know, cook the main dish.

That's not really accurate, actually.  I like to think that dinner guests at our Thanksgiving don't feel that the turkey needs to be in the spotlight.  We have a table loaded with goodness, from curried squash soup to mashed potatoes, to stuffing.  Not to mention roasted veggies, gravies, salad, spiced cider and mulled wine.

We once hosted my in-laws for a dinner.  These are the folks who - despite having full knowledge of my being a vegetarian - can't seem to come up with any reasonable menu item to serve me at any given gathering.  My mother-in-law used to put a container of hummus on the buffet table, let me know that it was there, and then call it a night.  So I'd have mashed potatoes, hummus and a bun for dinner.  Now I just bring my own, despite their protests.

And that was before my going gluten and dairy free.  Now we don't even get invited. Ha.

But I digress.  We hosted them for Thanksgiving one year and they were shocked that the turkey was the only thing on the table containing meat.  I'm a dang good cook when I want to be.

Still, when I'm hosting a mixed crowd of meat and non-meat eaters, I like to be fair.  Especially during such a traditionally meat-centered celebration.  I've done it without the turkey, but feel a little like I'm not doing anything different than the hummus bit.

Back to the grocery store.  I'm choosing a turkey.  Mostly by size, because I count on not having too much left over.  I've learned that I prefer to cook a turkey that has already been cut up.  It not only cooks faster, it also allows me to not waste  reserve the stuffing to be cooked meat-free in a casserole dish.

I take it to the butcher counter.  And I swear, the conversation goes EXACTLY like this every year.

Me: Um, excuse me?  Could you please cut this turkey up for me?
Meat cutter man: Sure, how would you like it cut?
Me: Um, smaller?
Meat cutter man: Sigh.

This year, he took my turkey back to the saw (seriously people, did you know that they use power saws back there?  That freaks me out!) and then started shouting questions at me.

Meat cutter man:  How small do you want the breast?
Me: Uh, I don't know.
Meat cutter man: (holds up a hunk of turkey) Like this?
Me: Sure?
Meat cutter man: Sigh.

After several of these exchanges, he finally gestures me back into the cutting area.

This may be a good time to tell you that my paternal grandfather immigrated here to Canada and opened a butcher shop in our downtown.  I have distinct memories of being no older than 5-6 years old, and being shut up in the meat fridge by my father who thought it was hilarious to leave his little girl all alone in the dark with hanging dead cows and pigs.  It may have only been a few seconds that I was locked in, but it certainly felt longer.  It was maybe a little bit traumatizing.

So the meat cutter man calls me back into the meat cutting place.  All I can see are the hanging dead cows and pigs in the fridge behind him.  He looks exasperated, and maybe a little disappointed.  I feel obligated to explain away my ignorance, and I apologize and tell him that I'm a vegetarian.  But I also feel like maybe that's insulting to him, given his chosen career. So then I ramble on to say something like "not that there's anything wrong with meat, and my grandpa was a butcher so I come from a long line of meat eaters, it's just that I stopped eating meat so long ago and now I probably wouldn't digest it anyway, but I do want to try and make a turkey for Thanksgiving for my guests to eat and I like to cook it after it's already been cut up so it cooks faster and..."

Then I had to take a breath.

He took that opportunity to cut in.  And laugh at me.

And then pull Every. Single. Piece. of turkey out of the bag and explain to me what it was.

He put the pieces in a giant bag, handed it to me and wished me luck.  I turned around and saw that a small crowd had gathered in the meantime, and were watching me get schooled on turkey.

Meat cutter man turns to the crowd and yells out "she's a vegetarian!  What can I say?", then looks at me and asks "so, I gotta know.  What are you going to eat on Thanksgiving?  Please don't tell me it's tofu."

"It's not tofu" I say.  Which is sort of true.

Then I got the hell out of there.

I'll let you know how the meal turns out.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Unexpected Consequence of Teen Pregnancy

 A piece of writing from 2 years ago.  Having new blog projects means I am going back through my old blog projects and re-reading them.  It's not plagiarism if I wrote it to begin with, right?  Even if I feel like I'm a different person now? 

"So, I was 15 when I became pregnant with my oldest daughter, 16 when she was born. The world did not come to an end for me, I did not drop out of school and I do not have a rotating crop of men coming in and out of the house. Shocking?

Actually, overall, things are good. My kids are 13 and 9 years old. I graduated, went to college, have a fantastic job. The girls are well behaved and well adjusted. I guess you could say that we beat the stereotypes.

My biggest challenge though, for the last 13 years, has been loneliness.

Nobody warned me about that. Everyone told me how hard it would be to raise well-adjusted kids. How hard it would be to get my life "back on track" (whatever that really looks like). How tough it would be to overcome the hardships of life. But not about loneliness.

This has just been weighing heavy on me as I'm approaching my 30th birthday. People have always called me an "old soul". And thirty has always been a psychological milestone for me. Like once I hit 30, my actual age will have caught up with my "mental age". I figured that at 30, most of my friends would have kids, partners, homes, all the trappings of adult life. And that we would be able to relate again.

Because being 16 and taking a parent role seriously leaves you pretty out of sync with your other adolescent friends. They were doing all the normal adolescent stuff, and I was breastfeeding. I had a routine to maintain, and was in the house every night after 7pm. So I was a pretty boring friend to have.

Even at that age, it made sense to me. I knew it was a sacrifice that I had decided to make so that my daughter could have the best upbringing I could provide. And it didn't even really feel like a sacrifice. But somewhere in there I did think that one day it would be different.

I'm figuring out that it's not. And I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that it probably never will be.

The parents of my childrens' friends are all 10-15 years older than I am. There is a world of difference in psychological development between 30 and 40 years old. So I'm never really a part of their world. Sure we can talk about how fast the kids are growing up, their highschool choices, how to handle adolescence...but I'm not able to identify with their increasing sense of mortality. Of approaching middle age. Of perimenopause. I don't understand their cultural references, have never seen the TV shows they remember from their childhood and was just a kid when most of them were graduating college. Some of their classmates were my teachers.

And when they are all talking together -- like ladies do-- I just feel...apart. I hate the comments they make about how I'm "just a baby", or how much they miss their 20s. I can't stand the shock in their faces when they remember how much younger I am. And the dismissive, slightly smug comments that are sometimes made when I talk about my personal struggles drive me crazy. That I will "understand it better when I'm older" or that I'll "learn to mellow out with age". Not because these statements aren't true, but because I am only progressing down the normal path of identity development and they make me feel like I should be all caught up to them.

And people my age are usually at a completely different stage. They are raising young children, are exhausted, are still trying to figure out the rhythm of family life. Or else they haven't gotten there yet --perhaps never will-- and are still out partying it up every weekend, sleeping in until 2pm, working to pay the basics and then enjoying the rest.

There is little common ground when one person is potty training, and the other is trying to figure out how much freedom a 13 year old needs in order to be safe, but still feel independent. Or when one is planning how to pay for their child's University tuition in 5 years, and the other is starting to pay off their own student loans.

And I don't feel like I'm better than others, or like I've achieved more, although I can understand how it may come off that way. On the contrary, I think that where they are is the norm, the proper place for people in the 25-30 age group. But again, I am...apart.

And lonely.

Happy birthday to me.

I should note that over the past 2 years I have worked on both accepting and changing the "loneliness" piece of this.  Mostly accepting it, as there is only so much that I can do about changing it.  This sense of being apart remains the most fascinating aspect (to me) of starting out as a teen parent, and I wonder if others feel the same way?  Do others experience the same kinds of feelings for different reasons?  I'm curious to know!  Please comment and share.  Thanks for reading.    

Friday, September 28, 2012

First Post! Fail!


This is a blog that I actually created about seven years ago, mostly because I thought it was a cool name.  Sadly, most of my bitterness and acerbic wit has mellowed with age.  But, no use in letting it all go to waste!  Since I've been keeping you all wonderfully apprised of my digestive woes here, I thought it would be nice to round things out a know, give you something more appetizing to read?  So let's start!

Have you seen this?  All over Pinterest?  And the rest of the web?

Image from here
"Four Simple Steps to Grow a Hundred Pounds of Potatoes in a Barrel"

Yes.  I'll let that sink in for a minute.  A hundred pounds of potatoes.  Basically you take seed potatoes, plant them in the bottom of the barrel and cover them with a few inches of dirt.  As the plant grows, you keep adding more dirt until your barrel is full.  The potato plant will continue to produce potatoes as you cover up the vine, resulting in a bountiful harvest.  Even cooler is that you will have big giant potatoes at the bottom of the barrel, and tender baby potatoes at the top.

Of course I had to try this!  Who doesn't love potatoes?

Ok, so I didn't have a barrel.  But I did have some large-ish sized pots.  I wasn't really aiming for a hundred pounds anyway, I don't think we'd be able to eat that many potatoes.  But I thought that maybe if I could get 15-20 pounds of potatoes out of the deal we wouldn't need to buy any throughout the winter.

I bought some seed potatoes, which seemed a bit expensive to me at $8 for 5 potatoes.  But for variety, I got a package of white potatoes, and a package of red potatoes.  Planted them, watered them, added soil as they grew and smiled at my potato green forest! 

Today I was out in the yard, harvesting.  My veggies are doing really well this year, particularly the cherry tomatoes and the peppers.

I was feeling cocky.  Like a master gardener.

"I should harvest the potatoes!", I thought.

You can probably guess where I'm going with this.

I shimmied the pots over to where I could dump them out.  They were quite heavy (must be loaded down with all those potatoes!) and I struggled to move them but I managed.  I tipped the first pot over, and as soon as I poured out the first inches of soil I came across a little potato!

I still get all giddy whenever I realize that I actually grew something edible, so I excitedly dug my way through the rest of the pot.

And then the second one. With probably a little bit less enthusiasm.

Laughing, I hauled my harvest into the kitchen, where I took these photos:

Just for fun, scroll back up to the "inspiration" photo.  Are you laughing?  Even just a chuckle?  Because this was quite possibly the single most expensive potato harvest in this history of humankind.

Let's hope that they taste good!