Sunday, November 27, 2011


I love Thanksgiving. I mean, seriously, a day devoted to preparing and savoring a long meal with friends and family? We should do this more often as a culture, seems to me....

I shared the official holiday meal this year with mom, dad, my brother, his girlfriend, two of my uncles, and a tableful of food. No turkey, but still plenty of food. Dad started us off with some savory, free-range lambchops with cardamom and dried apricots in the slow cooker (a recipe from the Grassfed Gourmet cookbook I'd given him last year); mom went all out on the roasted brussels sprouts with pomegranate and the chestnut stuffing; I made decent work of the whole roasted duck with garlic, thyme, mustard, and tangerines with madeira gravy, and the sourdough baguettes put in a decent showing. As mom was serving up dessert, I scampered into the kitchen to get cracking on some duck soup. (What? You can't expect me to waste the best part of poultry! And she was taking too long cutting up my brother's belated birthday cake. Come on, I was back in time to sing Happy Birthday and scarf some red velvet cake before I went back to meddling with the broth.) That soup made for a lovely lunch the next day, let me tell you, with a couple of handfuls of purple stripey beans and a few carrots from the farmers' market plus a whole mess of herbs that dad and I kept tossing in. In case you can't guess, it is near impossible to leave my parents' house hungry. It gets a little heavy on the protein sometimes, though.

After all of that meat -- I come from a family of carnivores and still marvel at my ability to survive as a strict vegetarian for 5 years before my bacon relapse -- I needed a bit of detox. I had a stellar dinner of roasted root vegetables, a giant pear-walnut-bleu-cheese-red-lettuce salad, curried carrot salad (or as she and her husband refer to it, "Armenian New Year Salad" -- so delicious, who was I to point out that the onset of 2012 was more than a month away?), and chocolate pudding at cousin Sonia's last night. And as if reading my mind, my friend Abbie invited me to her co-op's annual vegan Friendsgiving potluck tonight. What a perfect ending to a long, sunny weekend filled with good people and food. And a welcome source of potatoes and cornbread and mushroom gravy and pumpkin pie after a long bike ride with my friend Ryan earlier in the day. (No, no, I packed snacks, of course, and we had a little picnic along the way, but I was hungry again after the 20-mile jaunt.) I had no idea what fun the large group meal would be, nor how delicious the offerings would be among the meatless crowd. Oh, that carrot soup! And the mashed potatoes with corn! And I must know who made that divine nut-based whipped cream! (I, lover of all things dairy, never thought the sentence "that vegan whipped cream sure was yummy" would ever come out of my mouth, but there you have it.)

My own offering was a simple curried butternut squash soup, which is fast becoming a staple of my culinary repertoire. Unfortunately, my attempt to bike it over to Abbie's place in Petworth was less than graceful, but nobody seemed phased when I dumped half of the soup that had puddled at the bottom of my pannier into the sink. The soup that remained in my malfunctioning tupperware warmed up nicely and in the end everything turned out alright. The various local beers on hand certainly didn't hurt the whole experience. (Hey, I said I'm taking a break from meat, not alcohol...though that might not be a bad idea, either. Maybe next week....)

Lest I be accused of being a full-time carnivore, I offer this relatively simple recipe, adapted from the wonderful, vegetarian Cafe Flora Cookbook (a birthday gift from my best friend Meghan last year, and also the source of the spectacular Portabella Wellington recipe):

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Dry roast 1 tsp cumin seeds + 1/2 tsp coriander seeds until fragrant. Grind with a mortar and pestle, then add in 1-2 tsp curry powder. Set aside.

In a large pot, saute 1 onion (diced) in olive oil for a few minutes before adding a head of garlic (peeled and chopped) and a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger (peeled and minced).

Add 3-4 cups of fresh butternut squash (peeled, seeds removed, and cut into chunks) and stir in the spice mixture to coat the squash. Add 4-6 cups of vegetable broth and a bay leaf, then simmer until squash is soft (about 20 minutes).

Puree soup -- I look for any excuse to use Mike's immersion blender, but a regular blender or food processor would work almost as well -- then stir in 1 can of coconut milk. Season with salt and pepper and serve. (Don't be shy with the salt, either. I think tonight's iteration of the soup could've used a bit more of it, to be honest.)

I like to eat this alongside a hunk of sourdough and a big green salad. It's delicious and vegan-friendly...if you're into that kind of thing.

(Er, sorry, no pictures this time. I was in a bit of a rush this morning making soup and cookies and some mini quiches before the bike ride.)

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