Our Thanksgiving, Behind the Scenes and Lessons Learned!
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We're back! We took a little one week hiatus from the blog and podcast because we were soaking up the sun, and enjoying a little family reunion after almost 4 years without seeing each other. We went to Panama City and Playa Blanca in Panama, and you'll be hearing all about it soon, including of course an in depth post all about whether Panama is vegan friendly or not (cliff hanger!), which you'll get to read in a little guest article we'll be writing for The Nomadic Vegan. In the meantime though, I owed you our behind the scenes post and episode of our little vegan Thanksgiving. Although it feels like it was ages ago, it's actually perfect timing because the ideas I'll share with you, and the very important lesson I learned, will help you a ton if you're planning to host a vegan holiday dinner or lunch, and even if you're planning to take vegan options with you to your holiday gatherings. I sometimes call Thanksgiving the test run for Christmas, since I tend to experiment a bit more for T-day and have everything perfectly rehearsed for Christmas when we usually have more guests and more food will be served.
Prep and Decor
As you heard me mention in our big Thanksgiving Tips post and episode, the more you can do the day before, the better. For me this included a BIG task, thinking of the decor and setting the table, since some of the things I decided to include were homemade and DIY.
I decided to go for light grays, and jewel tones for the table, with lots of brown and evergreen since the whole theme was extremely woodsy. Pieces of wood, whole walnuts and hazelnuts in their shells, dried seeds, little tree branch slabs, and the cutest DIY napkin rings which I made with a little piece of twine, some pine needles, rosemary and cinnamon sticks.
Candles were a must, and the whole thing came to life with some of the flowers from my garden which had just bloomed and were the brightest shade of violet. So pretty.
All eyes were on the little menus I printed out and the initials on wooden disks I stamped for each place setting.
This gave people lots to do and look at (and take tons of photos of!) while I warmed up all the food and was going insane in the kitchen (which no one noticed... more on that later). So much of our food starts long before people even try the first bite. It starts with making them feel special, making them feel like their little spot at the table is just for them and no one else is supposed to be there. It starts with preparing their little hungry mouths with a written visual of the goodies they're about to eat. Hence the menus:
Side note: As a little girl I used to imagine that one of the best jobs in the world was to come up with the special names for colors in the clothing catalogues my mom used to shop from. Periwinkle blue, safari brown, Caribbean blue. They all painted the perfect picture and I've since developed an obsession with naming things. We even have names for our appliances at home, our cars, our dogs' toys. Yeah. Creative names for dishes is one of my favorite things to do when I print out little menus. It gives people the complete picture of what the dish will make them feel.
In case it isn't as clear in the photo, here's what we served and what I called each dish:
Almost all the recipes were my own, and you can find them in our online program if you're a member, except this amazing vegan cheese ball with thyme and cranberries by the awesome Sam Turnbull of It Doesn't Taste Like Chicken, who you should definitely check out (her recipes are amazing and hers is one of the few newsletters I open religiously!) and these maple glazed gooey shallots by Bon Appetit (I used non dairy butter to make them vegan and sherry instead of bourbon because I got a bottle as a gift and was dying to use it, but trust me, these are good no matter what you use!). These two recipes were so fabulous I'm making them again exactly the same for our Christmas dinner. They're also make ahead dishes which is the best thing ever when you're cooking an entire meal from scratch like I tend to do.
Although most dishes were perfectly timed, I had the perfect combo of make ahead dishes, hot and cold dishes that just needed serving. One thing made the warming up process the craziest moment ever. When I was creating the menu, instead of including a salad, or a side that just needed to be warmed through, I decided to cook a dish on the spot. Enter our pan-fried asparagus with garlic, pine nuts and vegan parmesan curls.
Don't do this. EVER.
When you're feeding a crowd, you can have some make ahead dishes, some "day of" dishes, and some dishes that need to be warmed up before serving, but never one that needs to be cooked "a la minute" at the same time you're serving all the others. I had to perfectly sweat garlic without burning it, get a bit of a char on the asparagus without letting them get mushy, and brown the pine nuts without burning them, plus shave the delicious Vio-life parmesan on top, all while people were waiting at the table and I had to serve the other dishes.
Lesson learned and not to be repeated again. It's one thing to heat something up, or to time it so that it's perfectly ready when people sit down to eat (which I did with my seitan brisket), and quite another to prepare a dish from start to finish at this point in the game. My advice for sides for your Thanksgiving dinner or holiday gatherings: make it so that you only have to focus on the main protein and sauce, warm up the rest, and make one of them a delicious salad that you just need to set out on the table.
Delicious treats and wonderful company
We completely forgot to take a picture of everyone together, but thank goodness I had snapped this one right as I was walking towards the table since it's the only one we have!
Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan and her husband Nick came all the way from Switzerland and our friend Any also joined us (who you've heard me mention countless times since she is one of my most avid recipe tasters (and testers!). Her husband David who had a whole dish named after him in the menu since it's his favorite thing ever, got food poisoning at a conference the night before and we were so sad he couldn't be there. I sent him two containers filled with food and of course pie, because pie makes everything better. Good news is he'll get to try lots of these foods again on Christmas!
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you have an even better holiday season, we're getting lots of delicious recipes and posts ready for you so stay tuned!
Feeling like flexing that vegan cooking muscle and learn how to make many of the recipes featured in this post?
Enjoy more of our recipes here, and we'd love for you to join us in our video-based online program My Brownble, where we teach you how to cook amazing vegan food, and help you on that ongoing quest of finding balance. You'll learn how to indulge in your favorites and still prioritize your health, creating healthy habits that last you a lifetime.
In and out of the kitchen.
...and there's so much more. You can check out all the details here.