Saturday, November 26, 2011

Vegie Wednesday on a Saturday: thanksgiving

Thank you, so much, for your comments on my last post.

Thank you, so much, for sticking around. I am so grateful for that, and for you. I hope to be around for you as much as you have been for me.

I suppose this is a beginning, then? Where I declare Loving to Learn to be about Everything and Nothing and all the bits in between.

I am so glad for that.

And thank you, in advance, for reading a Vegie Wednesday post written on a Saturday! (I think it's clear to everyone now, that my attempts at living a predictable life are futile. Which I think—actually I believe—is okay.)

Thanksgiving: different but the same

Nine years ago, we began a tradition of having Thanksgiving dinner here in Australia. We did it with our neighbours and friends who had lived in the US for almost 2 years. When we decided to do it, we consulted our American expert, my husband, for the Official Thanksgiving Menu. He said:

"There's one way to do it. I'm going to give you a list. These things HAVE to be on the table."

There had to be mashed potatoes. Then some sweet potato dish, and gravy—there had to be lots, no, oodles, of gravy. Cranberry sauce needed to be there, but it didn't need to be fresh. Out of a can was fine. Plus we needed to have "some sort of green thing," my husband said. "It can be green beans or peas. I won't necessarily eat them, but they have to be there."

Of course there would be pumpkin pie. It had to be served with whipped cream AND icecream. And without question, there would be a big old turkey. The turkey was not negotiable.

So that's what we've eaten. Year after year, with this family and various invited friends, for 9 years.

Last year, we were vegetarian, but my husband was on the fence. He was still a meat-dabbler, a turkey nibbler. Last year, the kids and I ate the vegies, and my son and I tasted a single turkey slice each. (And then decided it was not for us, ever again).

This year we are committed vegans (well, that is, if you don't count our eggs from the backyard chooks and the honey we still eat. We're never very good at fitting completely into labels).

Our friends are committed carnivores. Yikes. What would we do? Would we have a big old bird on the table or not? Such a quandary!

Then our friends decided to go away camping for the rest of the year. The turkey/no turkey dilemma was avoided for another year, but it left us wondering what we should do on this special day. Celebrate it? Ignore it? Try and replicate the menu using vegan alternatives? (Tofurkey anyone?) Invite friends, or not?

I have loved our Thanksgiving menu in the past. Who doesn't love knowing that on a single day, every year, you'll put the same delicious food on the table, and share it with loved ones? It's the same fizzy, delighted feeling you get when you put the Christmas tree up. You pull out the decorations, the home-made ornaments, the tinsel. You dig out the stockings. And every single year on Christmas day, you give presents. It's a tradition. 

Like all the other important holidays, in every culture, there's a way to do it. There are particular foods you eat, rituals you follow. And I have never ever celebrated a Thanksgiving and not had a turkey sitting on the table when we sat down to eat.

So what did we do this year?


We decided to re-invent.

We decided that Thanksgiving didn't actually have to have a turkey.

(Crazy, I know!)

We decided, actually, Thanksgiving wasn't about my husband's long ago list of Must Eats.

(But it was such a good list!)

At its heart, we decided,

Thanksgiving is about sitting together with loved ones, sharing gratitude, sharing a meal.

This is true, isn't it? As yummy as the food is, as delicious as that turkey leg used to be for me, and the lashings of whipped cream all over that pie, it's the sitting and the sharing and the thankfulness that matters most.

I can't think of anyone who wouldn't agree.

(At least in part! All you Thanksgiving turkey lovers would say: Yeah. It's that, AND the turkey.)

So this year, for our Thanksgiving, we invited two new families over. Two families who are very dear to us. Two Australian families who had never done Thanksgiving before in their lives. Luckily they had no tradition to be attached to, so we could experiment on them with our very own Vegan thanksgiving menu. Lucky, unsuspecting them :)

Ah, it was a beautiful night.

We had home-made guacamole and corn chips for appetisers. Then for dinner, there was loads of garlic bread, and a roasted pumpkin and sweet potato salad with chick peas. Plus an enormous Vegan Shepherd's pie with green lentils, tons of vegies, and a crisp mashed potato topping. For dessert? Fresh mangoes and mango sorbet.


not my pie, but it's pretty, no?
I got the recipe from here and then tweaked it a lot.
Our pie wasn't spicy. Our pie had lentils.

There were 15 of us, and we somehow fitted everyone around two tables, kids mixed in with adults. I had to borrow a pie dish and 8 plates from a friend, and one of the tables had a bedspread for a table cloth (don't tell anyone). We served the sorbet in coffee mugs because we didn't have enough bowls. The 9 kids tore about deliriously all night, and I think a 2-year-old guest might have swallowed the fooz-ball balls (we can't find them anywhere! I hope my friend doesn't find a strange surprise in her boy's nappy. Sorry 'bout that).

We were full, and more to the point,

we were so happy.

As we ate, we took turns saying what we were thankful for. The kids spoke, and the adults spoke. We spoke when we were moved to. We spoke from the heart.

The words we said were beautiful.

They floated.

Thankfulness lay itself on our skin.

It shifted inside us, finding room like children snuggling into laps.

We were thankful all the way through. We were joyous inside and out.

What a wonderful Thanksgiving it was.

What lucky, blessed people we are.

What a lucky, blessed person I am.

(And I nearly didn't go through with this wonderful night. I nearly let my recent health and possible diagnosis, overwhelm me. It would have been understandable if I'd just taken it easy. I lay in bed that morning, after writing my last post, and I thought, I'm not sure I can do this.
My son came and found me, as my kids always do. He lay down and wrapped his arms around me. He knew about my visit to the doctor and he knew some of what the doctor had said.
He said, "Mum, on a scale of one to ten, how much do you want to just lie in bed today, and read, and crochet?"
I said, "I think about an 8, or 9."
"So that's what you should do, Mum. You should do that."
But then I said, "But if you ask me how much I want these friends over, who I really want to spend tonight with, then I would have to say a 10."

Which meant we went for it.

It meant I chose love. I chose joy. I always will. To the best of my abilities, I always will.)


  1. :-) Ahhh so thankful you found a 10! Mind you crochet and reading is very hard to beat! Big smiles over here my lovely! Big smiles! <3 Hugs and smoochies xoxoox

  2. Love that you set out and began a new Thanksgiving tradition. We learned that turkey was not served at the first Thanksgiving. Lobster, fish, vegetables and maybe venison were more likely choices. I am not a huge fan of turkey myself. I did have one small piece though......

    You are right, it is not about the food, it is about the company we share the holiday with. I am glad you found joy in the day! Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Wow.
    Such an inspiring post in so many ways.
    Thank You.

    (& thank u for your sweet comments on mine ;) X

  4. I'm here trying to maintain a Thanksgiving tradition with some compromises, too. We're doing it today, not on Thursday because dh was working all day. It's not totally about the food, though maybe if we stick to the colour scheme that could make it closer to our sensory-memories. Yes, having loving people at the table is key.

    Here's an idea for your sorbet for next year: Pop it into a hollowed out orange for a beautiful presentation(cut off the top, scoop out the fruit, fill with sorbet and refreeze for half an hour). Looks a bit like a festive orange pumpkin!

    Wish me luck, I'm cooking our feast right now! Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Helena,
    Being one of those blessed and thankful 15 at your house for Thanksgiving...this post brought tears to my eyes! The food was so so yummy (little did we know what we were missing out on!...which just goes to show that sometimes having no expectations makes life a bit more interesting and exciting!!) My family and I are really so thankful you chose 10... instead of settling for 8 or 9!! (although lying in bed with a book all day on a rainy day is a pretty good 8 or 9!)

    Sending big love, and big thanks your way :)

    Love Deb

    P.S I had not idea it was a bed spread!!

    P.P.S I have not found any fooz balls hopefully they might turn up somewhere else!!

  6. Helena, this post makes me feel so happy! I am glad that you had such a lovely Thanksgiving celebration!! The turkey means nothing at all. My sister has been a vegetarian for many, many years and she always creates a great Thanksgiving meal. (We actually wanted to join her this year, but our work schedules prevented us from traveling.) It's all in the love, the gratitude, and the sharing :)

  7. I just loved the idea of in Australia celebrating Thanksgiving. The turkey is the LEAST of it, it is love and family and friends and you have that so much! I told Kei about this and we talked about how we would love to do some sort of "Australian" tradition that you do. Any ideas?

    Lovely day my sweet friend.

  8. "It meant I chose love. I chose joy. I always will. To the best of my abilities, I always will.)"
    Beautiful, just beautiful :)


I love hearing from you! Thank you for your heartfelt, thoughtful responses—they lift me, and give me light.