After our smallest Thanksgiving ever last year (just Cute W, J, and me — M was away in Colorado), we hosted Thanksgiving again this year for a total of what ended up being 19 of us.
Along with the return of guests for Thanksgiving, we also brought back our Thankful Tree tradition. A few years back I was getting just absolutely no buy-in from the girls and no one was contributing thankful leaves and I got irritated and was like, “That’s it. No one has enough gratitude for this tree and it’s just depressing me.” But this year J urged a revival and swore that she’d contribute.
There were a lot of variations on gratitude for the vaccine and modern medicine in general. Plus, we’ve been feeling particularly grateful that our kitty Ruth is okay. A few weeks ago she was sick and she looked really, really bad — she’d just lie quietly all day and barely ate or drank at all. It was super-stressful, including three different vet visits, bloodwork, an ultrasound, and prescription medicine to get rid of what we think was pancreatitis. In the process, one of our big struggles was attempting to get her to eat anything at all by making all kinds of food available all the time. We offered up little buffets of her usual food as well as special cat food provided by the vet and human baby food. Mostly, she ignored all food, but then her brother, Dave, was happy to suck it all up. The vet suggested that we try to separate them, but they were both so sad and stressed-out that we couldn’t bear to keep them apart from each other. So Ruth is still looking a little dainty and frail and Dave is even chunkier than usual. But besides that, they’re back to normal.
Between Ruth’s recovery and the prospect of getting so much family together for a happy occasion, we had some thankful leaves this year!
One of the challenges for this year is that some of our family who were formerly vegetarians have become vegans, which meant that I had to tinker with the menu a bit. In fact, I was very pleased with myself when I came up with the plan to list what was what on a whiteboard for easy reference.
Our snacks and appetizers tend to be very cheese heavy (including our traditional cheeseball), but we added some veggies and hummus, mixed nuts, and dipping sauces from Tara Kitchen to supplement the usual cheeses.
Dinner was really pretty easy, since I’ve historically made vegetarian stuffing and gravy that just needed Earth Balance Buttery Spread instead of butter in their recipes. Of course Cute W’s turkey and gravy were the same as usual (actually, this year’s turkey was excellent for some reason). We did make two different versions of mashed potatoes, but then my sister brought several vegan vegetable sides from Whole Foods. to supplement the platter of roasted vegetables and Cute W’s carrots. I was a particular fan of their Brussels sprouts and corn pudding while the green beans were also super-popular.
The dessert course required a bit of extra thought, especially since a couple of our old reliable items just could not be converted to vegan. I was most excited about the vegan pecan bars I found on Nora Cooks. These were super-delicious whether you were a vegan or not.
The only change I made to the recipe was that I swapped half maple syrup and half Karo syrup in place of brown rice syrup. Also, I did a test batch of these, and for the first batch, the pecan topping pooled a bit in the middle and overwhelmed the shortbread crust. For my Thanksgiving batch, I was very careful to level out the first layer as much as possible, pressing a rectangular storage container to prevent pooling, and that worked.
I also tried a chocolate pie from the same website that didn’t pass muster among my immediate family and therefore didn’t make it onto our Thanksgiving menu, but because I’m loathe to waste food, I popped it in the freezer and pulled it out for my vegan niece to taste it. She was very enthusiastic and brought it home, confident that her family could polish it off over the weekend.
But I was a little concerned because I wanted a hard-core chocolate option that was vegan, and this turned out to be more of a Shopping Triumph than a Baking Triumph. Little did I know that many brownie mixes, including varieties from Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines, are “accidentally vegan,” meaning that they just happen to not include animal products. The recipes generally call for water, oil, and eggs, so then you just need something different for eggs. Even though there are many, many ways to substitute eggs, I decided to go easy on myself and just use Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer, which managed to even look like a beaten egg. I was also a little concerned because I am pretty brand-loyal to the (non-vegan) Ghiardelli brownie mixes, so for extra chocolatey goodness I threw in some vegan Guittard chocolate chips that I found at Target. I was unaware of these vegan chocolate chips before, but they’re absolutely delicious. Then, since brownies didn’t feel special-occasion enough for me at Thanksgiving, I decided I was going to make brownie pie, which put me on a quest for store-bought vegan crust. Again, I could’ve made vegan crust with my butter substitute, but when I made this it was entirely experimental and I didn’t know if the results would be edible, so I went for easy just in case these ended up in the garbage. My quest for a vegan crust took me to Trader Joe’s, where the gluten-free crust I found turned out to be vegan as well (I was doing a lot of Googling of specific products as I shopped). It was good, but the real discovery at Trader Joe’s was the Sweet Rose Coconut Whipped Topping, which I thought was dee-lish-ous! It’s absolutely coconutty, so if you’re anti-coconut, it’s not for you, but if you do like coconut, it is a spray can of sweet and creamy deliciousness that makes you feel slightly less sick than if you consumed the equivalent amount of whipped dairy cream. Anyway, I ended up dividing the brownie mixture into two vegan crusts, added walnuts to one of them, and baked them until they were firm, and they were super-rich and delicious vegan brownie pies. If I do say so myself.
And then, of course, after all of my dessert fussing, we ended up getting extra desserts arriving with guests, but I don’t consider too many dessert choices a problem.
So! I was a super-busy few days of cooking and entertaining — the first guests arrived on Wednesday afternoon as we were still juggling cooking and work calls, and our last guests left on Saturday so early that I missed the final goodbyes. And then we basically had a full weekend to recover and continue eating leftovers, which was lovely. It was excellent to get together with my family for a purely happy occasion. Especially since our last gathering was the emotionally exhausting funeral-vacation combo. I don’t think anyone even cried at all. But we sure did laugh!
I hope that you found yourselves with much to be grateful for last weekend.