Monday, December 08, 2008

Wholesome Holiday Feasts

I gave a lecture on this topic at The Big Carrot here in Toronto last week, but as most if not all of you who read my blog were not there, you get your own special web version.

You might have read this in Get It Ripe, but I first became vegan in late fall of 2000 when I was living on a small farm in Nova Scotia. And when I came home for Christmas that year, my family wasn't quite sure what they could feed me. Christmas dinner itself that year was hosted by my step-grandparents in Mississauga (west suburbs of Toronto, for those of you not too familiar with Ontario geography) and my step-grandmother, Sheila, was thrilled to be able to offer my dairy-egg-and-meat-free-self a portobello soup she had prepared as everyone's first course. I hungrily polished off three bowls while everyone else was digging in to plates of turkey and gravy, and after dinner I asked Sheila for the recipe. She began to describe: "You start with some chicken stock...." I was horrified, kicking myself for not being more thorough in my initial ingredient investigation.

...And my dietary needs have only gotten finickier since then, so I know about the challenges of eating in social situations, which is why I thought you might need a guide, too.


To start, let's talk about food choices and how to plan an awesome holiday feast.

Any well-balanced meal requires:
* Greens: Raw or lightly steamed, dark green veggies (kale, collards, broccoli, spinach, chard, etc) give you vital nutrients and freshness in an otherwise often heavy meal.
* Colour: The more naturally varied the rainbow is, the more micronutrients you're getting out of your meal.
* Something raw: Living foods put some important nutrients and enzymes into the mix to aid digestion and assimilation. Your whole meal doesn't have to be raw, but something raw - a salad, some sprouts on top of roasted veggies or soup, some raw veggies with dip - would be good.
* Protein: Vegetarians and vegans often load up on starch-heavy foods when in the company of meat eaters. Getting some legumes or other more concentrated sources of protein (nuts, seeds, more proteinous grains like quinoa and millet) will help satisfy and ground you, and keep you from gorging on too many desserts!

Specific considerations for vegetarian and vegans:
* Choose hearty flavours: roasted vegetables (Maple Roasted Roots!), mushrooms, sweet potatoes, etc.
* Make your own gravy: Get It Ripe's got great recipes for cashew and miso gravies, and at least one of my zines has one for rosemary mushroom gravy. (If you're dining elsewhere, it easy to make in advance and ask your host for a little saucepan to heat it up when you arrive.)
* Protein (yup, again): may be as simple as a cooked green lentils with onions and spices or herbs that compliment the meal, some pesto'ed white beans, chipotle black-eyed peas, or marinated and grilled tempeh.
* For pie crusts: use non-hydrogenated coconut oil in lieu of butter or lard.

And of course you know Get It Ripe's all wheat-free, and got lots of gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free and nightshade-free recipes that are sure to impress you and your guests should you need 'em (but of course you already know that!).

Advance food prep will keep things from feeling hairy in the kitchen on your days of festivities. Choose your menu NOW (Get It Ripe Chirstmas menu ideas are on page 255; The Healthy Hedonist Holidays or Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates are other great resource) and identify:
* what will freeze for weeks (like soups, pie dough and cookie dough)
* what will keep a few days in advance (dips, gravies, confections)
* what really can only be made on the day of (baking of pies, roasting veggies)

Are you someone who gets nervous about baking? Have you watched this? It might help.


...But I would be remiss if social dynamics didn't come up in a conversation about celebrating with food, when so many of you have some sort of "alternative" diet, so let's move on to that.

Advanced warning is important no matter which shoes your standing in for your feast. If you're a guest, be sure to present your food issue(s) to your host in a positive light. Something like "Oh, if you've got some veggies roasted in a separate pan from your turkey/ham/beef, that'll be great for me," is going to be far less daunting than "I can't have this or this or this or this....". And if you compliment the host of the feast on the nutritious things they have done, they may do more next year. I was watching an episode of Gilmore Girls (yeah, yeah, laugh it up) the other day where Sookie said: "I never go anywhere without a casserole," which is certainly another way to go. Bring something that is simple to set up in someone else's kitchen ("Mind if I slide this dish of stuffed peppers/squash au gratin/shepherd's pie/lasagna in your oven to warm up?") and will satisfy you even if nothing else on your host's table does... but do bring enough to share so you don't start panicking once everyone else discovers how delicious what you made is. If you're hosting, try to plan for what your guests would like. The fewer allergenic foods you have at the table (dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts), the more inclusive you’ll be for guests that may have sensitivities!

Digestion can be compromised at a big meal, and while you may not have control over the foods available, you can choose which ones at the table you might eat (no one's forcing you to have a third roll or cover half your plate with mashed potatoes when there are greens available), the speed at which you eat them (breathe between bites!) and in which order (if food combining is your thing).

No matter what's available on the spread before you, or how obnoxious your relatives may be, focus on the lovely energy of social eating and thinking positively about food. Do not comment negatively on the food or what's available. You want to be sure to stay positive (whatever you eat will be better digested that way anyway) and not make anyone else uncomfortable (emotions can run high when it comes to food).
Also to that end, avoid discussions about WHY you're veg/vegan/what ev. Nip it in the bud with a statement like "It seems to be the diet/eating style that feels best in my body/works for best me" – if you personalize it, people won't get offended. If you're going to convert them at said feast, do it with your stunning food, not a heated debate.

And remember, unless you find yourself feasting most of the time, eating a few less nutritious meals won’t kill you. So enjoy!

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"Domestic affair... do you think it's a funny title?" I asked a friend.
"Funny ha-ha?" she responded, "well, no not really."
"But 'domestic affair', it's like what's going on in the nation, but it's also me, being drawn to all these domestic tasks - knitting, cooking, caring for small children..." I tried to explain.
"I like that it has the word affair in it," she concluded.

jae's first book!

Get It Ripe cover Have you seen my award-winning whole foods cookbook Get It Ripe: a fresh take on vegan living (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2008)? Keep your eyes peeled for it!
To join the Facebook group for the book, go here.

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