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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Turkey? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Turkey! Thanksgiving Dinner for A Vegan’s Delight!!!

"So dull and dark are the November days.
The lazy mist high up the evening curled,
And now the morn quite hides in smoke and haze;
The place we occupy seems all the world."
-   John Clare, November

Ah November... with its golden daylight hours, short though they are and that Harvest Moon. I saw it last evening when I treated myself to a sidewalk cafe dinner at Luella's - a wonderful little neighborhood joint.

That moon hung heavily in the night sky, opalescent like a glimmering stone pendant dangling from the neck of a beautiful Nubian woman.

I sat under the canopy of a tree, the night lit only by one lone candle on an outdoor table at the sidewalk cafe beneath the starry sky. The air was balmy, redolent with Asian spices and the faint scent of motor oil from the passing cars. A trolley had just clanged past me ringing its bells, carrying its burden of clueless tourists aimlessly snapping their cameras at random sights and meaningless landmarks.

Yet the night was so glorious and I felt so fortunate to be alone with my thoughts,  I became filled with a yeasty benevolence toward all of mankind - even godforsaken tourists.

I raised my flute of sparkling rose' to them as they passed, clicking away.

I then realized that Thanksgiving was just around the corner and that it was time for me to post that Vegan blog I had promised my friend Mia ages ago.

Thanksgiving Dinner is a good place to start.

It's a tough time to be a turkey, though:

Unless, of course, you're a turkey with Vegan friends. Then you have no worries!
Veganism is a diet and lifestyle that eschews the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

Vegans do not eat any animal products.


Not butter, not cheese...  hell... not much chocolate.
Life without ice cream???
So it makes you imagine they may not be the happiest people on the planet.
How could they be?

“A human body in no way resembles those that were born for ravenousness; it hath no hawk’s bill, no sharp talon, no roughness of teeth, no such strength of stomach or heat of digestion, as can be sufficient to convert or alter such heavy and fleshy fare.

But if you will contend that you were born to an inclination to such food as you have now a mind to eat, do you then yourself kill what you would eat. But do it yourself, without the help of a chopping-knife, mallet or axe, as wolves, bears, and lions do, who kill and eat at once. Rend an ox with thy teeth, worry a hog with thy mouth, tear a lamb or a hare in pieces, and fall on and eat it alive as they do.

 But if thou had rather stay until what thou eat is to become dead, and if thou art loath to force a soul out of its body, why then dost thou against nature eat an animate thing? There is nobody that is willing to eat even a lifeless and a dead thing even as it is; so they boil it, and roast it, and alter it by fire and medicines, as it were, changing and quenching the slaughtered gore with thousands of sweet sauces, that the palate being thereby deceived may admit of such uncouth fare.” ~ Plutarch

What a buzzkiller THAT guy was, eh? His Moralia is chockfull of such pithy little pronouncements.  Quite unlike Plutarch, my pal Mia. Mia is the nicest sweetest most upbeat person I know. Guess what? She's a vegan. I promised her a menu that she could enjoy and proudly serve to her meat-eating family. 

When I promised myself I would make a Thanksgiving Menu for Vegans I must say I was worried... but I love a challenge! And, believe me, creating a Thanksgiving meal without butter, or cheese or cream, not to mention the star attraction: The Turkey, is challenging. I have often concocted and served side dishes for vegetarian friends during holiday celebrations making delicious stuffings, lasagnes, and other casseroles with featured chestnuts, pumpkin and squash, but they all used butter and cheese. A celebratory meal without dairy? Seemed so unreasonable!

Well... I was astounded at all the options available to the dedicated homecook once you got out of the old mindset of needing dairy and meat to make food palatable. What I absolutely did not want to do was use so-called meat substitutes. They are rank, awful mealy things with little flavor, tons of chemicals , and besides, isn't the point of veganism (and vegetarianism) to get away from the  animal murder culture? Well, then? Why would you eat pretend meat? You shouldn't look for meat proxies or substitute, you should eschew the idea of all things fleshly. I should think the idea of any meat would be repugnant. Therefore I was determined to use fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains only, to recreate a cornucopia of autumn harvest goodness. I stayed away from legumes, though beans are lovely and hearty, they didn't feel particularly celebratory to me. I prefer not to use dairy substitutes like vegan "cheese" or  vegan "eggs" either -  although, perhaps, Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Spread is okay for those of you who feel you must use something "creamier" in texture than oil.

Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian and yes, even, Italian cuisine makes for delicious dairy and meat-free options, I really had to edit myself (nearly impossible for me ). I am offering only a few items that I think will make for an elegant, festive Thanksgiving. Dishes that are approachable, not overly time-consuming and still fall within the American holiday culinary paradigm.  I kept the dishes Mediterranean-based for the most part. For those of you who are not vegan but have vegan guests over for the holiday, any of these dishes will work beautifully for them. I would offer the pumpkin ravioli and the quinoa-stuffed acorn squash as entrees for them and try preparing either the salad, the caponata or the Brussel sprouts for everyone, so that your vegan guest can enjoy a side, too. Obviously, you can make lovely roasted sweet potato casseroles, or mashed yams with a vanilla-infused coconut cream, if you want more traditional side dishes with a twist, easy enough to make without my guidance. Sage, squash, chestnuts, fruits, root vegetables, mushrooms and nuts are the jewels of autumn. I chose to use those abundantly.

Thanksgiving is about being grateful for the lives we have and the relative bounty that our country does offer us. There are many in the world who are not gifted with our freedoms, nor our good fortune to live in a time and place where you can actually contemplate and plan what you're going to make for dinner.

Let's not forget that!

So my suggested menu for A Vegan Thanksgiving Extravaganza is as follows:

Creamy Chestnut Soup with Porcini Mushrooms

Avocado, Blood Orange, Fennel, Sweet Potato, Pomegranate, and Hazelnut Salad

Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash

 Pumpkin Ravioli w/ Trumpet Mushroom, Chestnuts, Walnuts & Fried Sage Leaves 

Sicilian-style Caponata

Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ssam Bar-style

Pumpkin Pie - Vegan-style


Creamy Chestnut Soup with Porcini Mushrooms 

Creamy without the cream, this beautiful luxurious dish is what the holiday feast is all about. Garnish it with one roasted chestnut, a few slices of the mushroom & a drizzle of your best olive oil and no one can say vegans don't really enjoy food.

This soup also makes an excellent base for a sauce to go over pumpkin or butternut squash ravioli, so double the recipe! You'll be glad you did.

A note on caramelizing onions or shallots:

Do it while the soup is simmering, slice the shallots/onions very finely, saute` them over low heat in a small pan, until they turn nut brown, don't add salt while they are cooking - salt leeches out water & will boil the onions instead of making them all brown and sugary. Do keep an eye on them, stirring occasionally, but don't stir too often. Just often enough to keep from burning. They contain about a gram of  naturally occurring sugars per tablespoon and those sugars will rise to the surface and provide a lovely lacquer. They will take 20-30 minutes, depending on the amount. Use one whole onion, or 4-5 shallots. The more better, they store readily, and are easily re-heated. 


  • 1/3 cup dried Porcini mushrooms 
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1 small parsnip, diced
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 bouquet garni (1 sprig each bay leaf, thyme, parsley tied together in a bundle with cheesecloth or else just bind them together)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups of vegetable stock (look for a high quality low sodium brand or make your own)
  • 1-1/4 lb. of coarsely chopped peeled roasted fresh chestnuts or 12 ounces jarred or vacuumed packed
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • caramelized onions or shallots (optional)
  • Fresh Porcini would be grand, of course, especially sauteed and added at the end as a garnish. They are costly but available this time of year, just one would do admirably and add immeasurably to the meal, or you can substitute fresh shiitakes, trumpets mushrooms, any wild mushroom, you like
  • Cashew Cream** to drizzle (recipe below)


  1. Combine porcini and 2 cups of water in a medium bowl. Let stand until porcini soften about 15 minutes.
  2. In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil and add carrots, celery, parsnips and shallots. Saute until tender & then add the bouquet garni and stock.
  3. Using slotted spoon, reserve a few slices for garnish, and transfer the remainder of porcini into sauce pan. Add the porcini liquid to the pan, too, but be careful to strain it well first, avoiding getting any of the sediment from the mushrooms into the pan.
  4. Add chestnuts, season with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until smooth then return it to the sauce pan. If you have an immersion blender like I do you can blend the soup right in the sauce pan instead of transferring it to a blender. They are really handy tools and cost relatively little. Just be sure to get the cordless variety. Much more convenient to work with.
  7. Bring the soup back to a simmer after thoroughly blending then adjust seasonings to taste.
  8. Garnish with a drizzle of good quality olive oil or **cashew cream (recipe included), a chestnut, leftover or freshly sauteed porcini and caramelized shallots. 

Can be prepared a day in advance. Just don't garnish it until you are ready to serve.

** Cashew Cream 

  • Raw Cashews -1/2 cup
  • Water - 1/4 cup

Prepare cashew cream. In a blender or food processor, add cashews and water until smooth. Best done in a high-powered blender on the highest setting. Set aside until you are ready to drizzle it on the finished dish.


Avocado, Blood Orange, Fennel, Pomegranate, Sweet Potato and Hazelnut Salad

A good starter: elegant, colorful using the season's fruits and veggies, making your holiday table festive, beautiful. Pomegranate seeds are loaded with antioxidants, add a nice juicy pop on your tongue and a bit of crunch. Very sensual. It's no wonder Persephone couldn't resist them and wound up back in Hades, but I digress.   If seeding*** them seems like too much trouble just, buy the loose seeds or skip them altogether, but do add avocado and orange supremes (slices of orange without the pith). It will give the salad a silky mouthfeel that you won't want to miss... 


  • 4 1/2 to 5 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled, roasted sweet potatoes (about 4 large ones)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Hazelnut oil (or Extra-Virgin Olive Oil)
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp of dijon mustard
  • 1 Fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • 1 Carrot, shredded
  • 8 cups lightly packed mixed greens: kale, arugula, escarole, spinach, radicchio or green-leaf lettuce - any leafy green you like. I used kale.
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (which you will toast, then coarsely chop)
  • 2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, then cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 3 Blood Oranges, segmented and removed from their skins into "supremes". 
  • The seeds from one pomegranate (or a cup loose - some markets do sell loose pomegranate seeds for purchase.)
  • Allspice (ground)


1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place hazelnuts on a lined cookie sheet, sprinkle a bit of of allspice on them and bake for about 5-7 minutes. Using a spatula, periodically stir the nuts, so they do not burn. Remove when fragrant. Then chop coarsely. 

3. Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Add greens, fennel bulb, carrots, walnuts, avocado, orange segments, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper. Toss again. Spoon warm or room temperature sweet potatoes over salad. Toss lightly .

**Notes On Seeding A Pomegranate 
To seed a pomegranate, first you need to expose the seeds. Using a chef’s knife, halve the pomegranate across the equator. Next, use your knife to make small cuts in the membrane (the white part) in each pomegranate half. 

Working over a bowl, take a sturdy wooden spoon and hit the back of the pomegranate half several times. The seeds will fall out into the bowl. Turn the pomegranate and continue until all the seeds are extracted. 


Submerge the scored pomegranate half in a bowl of water and gently pry it apart into sections. Working in the water, gently pick out the seeds from the membrane. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the membrane will float to the surface. Discard the membrane and fish out the remaining seeds. Drain them on a paper towel and pat dry. The seeds will last 3 days in an air-tight container.


 Pumpkin Ravioli w/ Trumpet Mushroom, Chestnuts, Walnuts & Fried Sage Leaves 

Fried sage is one of those miraculous discoveries that you happen upon and wonder where it has been all your life. It's the secret lover you never knew you had. Crisp, savory, delicate, aromatic - it adds aplomb to any dish it graces, truly transformative, but is especially lovely when paired with this simple but elegant pumpkin ravioli dish. The busy cook needs one holiday dish that practically makes itself, and this pasta entree is such a one. Using the chestnut soup that you've (hopefully) already made as a base, buying your local market's uncooked pre-made vegan pumpkin or butternut squash ravioli saves lots of time and energy. Not every dish has to be made from scratch. In fact, not every dish should be, it is a culinary conceit to think that we can out-do a finely-produced ready-made product, so long it is of high quality. Every market carries vegan-style ravioli these days.

The addition of sliced jarred chestnuts, sauteed King trumpet mushrooms make this luxurious; although chanterelles, porcini, maitake (a.k.a. Hen of the Woods Mushrooms) would work beautifully in this dish. If those fungi prove to be a little too un-popularly priced  for your slender wallet, portobello mushrooms would be a more than suitable substitute. You want something dense and shroomy that you can slice thick and sear over relatively high heat. Clean your mushrooms by dampening a kitchen (or paper) towel with water and wiping to get rid of any excess debris. Dry thoroughly.

 A garnish of crumbled Italian Amaretti cookies or even plain old gingersnap biscuits atop the finished dish gives your palate an additional sensory thrill. Think of this dish as a holiday within a holiday.  


  • 3 12-oz. packages of vegan-style pumpkin or butternut squash ravioli 
  • 1-1/2 cups of Chestnut Porcini soup (see recipe above)
  • 6-8 ounces of cleaned King Trumpet Mushrooms, sliced thickly, stems on
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 6 whole roasted chestnuts, thinly sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil for frying - just have the bottle handy and pour enough to cover pan
  • 6 Italian Amaretti cookies (or Gingersnap cookies), crumbled
  • Fried Sage leaves*** (recipe below)


  1. Heat salted water up in large pasta pot to a boil. Cook ravioli according to package directions, erring on the side of being al dente (Cook it a minute less than the package recommends, slightly undercooked is preferable to slightly overcooked. There is nothing outside of a limp handshake that is more off-putting than flaccid gummy ravioli. The ravioli will cook a bit more as you reheat it in the sauce anyway.)
  2. When pasta is done lift ravioli out of water using a slotted spoon, placing the pasta in a pre-heated pasta bowl. Set aside. Leave pasta water over a low heat in pot. You may need it to thin out the sauce later.
  3.  Heat a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the surface. Add a pinch of coarse salt to the oil. Add mushroom slices to the pan in a single layer, careful not to crowd them. If necessary, sear the mushrooms in batches.  Let them sear on one side without disturbing them for 2 minutes or so. Then flip them over and sear the other side until soft. Remove from pan. Add to the pasta bowl with ravioli.
  4. Using the same saute pan used for the mushrooms, add a bit more olive oil, saute shallots until translucent and aromatic. Add sliced chestnuts, brown slightly. Then add reserved Chestnut Porcini soup to the pan to reheat.
  5. When sauce is warm, add ravioli & mushrooms to the creamy chestnut mixture over low heat, gently combine. If the pasta looks dry, add a bit of the reserved pasta water, until the consistency of the pasta pleases your eye. Once the pasta is thoroughly heated and the sauce is incorporated, take off heat, place in warm serving bowl.
  6. Garnish ravioli with fried sage leaves, chopped walnuts & a very light dusting of crumbled cookies. Give the dish a light toss to incorporate the garnish, careful not to saturate the garnish or break the lovely sage leaves you so painstakingly fried to a perfect crisp. 

***Fried Sage Leaves:

  • 1 bunch fresh sage, rinsed, dried, stem ends trimmed
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • Coarse salt (I'm into Red Himalayan these days)


  1. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat until hot.
  2. Fry 6–8 sage leaves at a time until crisp, 2–3 seconds. Transfer with a fork to paper towels and sprinkle generously with coarse salt. Set aside as garnish. 


Harvest Stuffed Acorn Squash

Serves 6

Consider this side dish the picture of autumn's bounty. Cranberries, apples, pecans and sage flavor a
delicious stuffing you eat while scooping out spoonfuls of sweet, tender acorn squash.


  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
  • 2 cups cooked rice, barley or quinoa
  • 2/3 cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water and drained
  • 2/3 cup chopped sweet potato or carrot, steamed until just tender
  • 1/2 cup grated peeled apple
  • 1/2 cup pecans, rough chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 acorn squash
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Roasted red peppers, for garnish. Roast them yourself or buy prepared fresh from your favorite deli or the deli section of your market. Don't used the jarred variety. They are far too briny and limp. (optional) 
  1. In a small pan, sauté onion and garlic in oil over medium heat until so, but not browned. 
  2. Place in a large bowl and add rice, cranberries, sweet potato, apple, nuts, parsley, and sage. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice acorn squashes in half, and scrape out seeds and strings. Place face down in large casserole or roasting pan and fill with 1/2 inch of vegetable stock, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. 
  4. Remove, reserve any remaining stock, and place face side up in pan. Fill each cavity with about 1/2 to 2/3 cup stuffing. 
  5. Drizzle with olive oil and any remaining stock, and cover tightly with foil. 
  6. Bake until squash are cooked and slightly soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. 
  7. Remove the foil for the last 5 minutes of baking.


     Sicilian-style Caponata 

    This eggplant-based dish has different varieties throughout Italy, most popular in the regions of Sicily, Naples, and Genoa. This recipe is for the vegan-friendly Sicilian Caponata. Eggplant, like mushrooms, is a truly meaty vegan choice. It is dense, chewy and absorbs the flavor of whatever it is cooked in admirably. Serve on its own as a side dish for the gluten-intolerant,  with warm crusty baguette for the bread-lovers, or over penne, even spaghetti squash - if you want another main course option. 

    Serves 3-4

    • 4 tbsp olive oil
    • 2 eggplants/aubergines, chopped
    • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 2 small garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 green bell pepper, deseeded and diced
    • 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
    • 6-8 plum tomatoes, diced
    • 1 carrot, diced (optional)
    • 2 tsp fresh basil 
    • 1/2 cup green olives, pitted and chopped
    • 1/2 cup of Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
    • 1-2 tbsp capers
    • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • a few grinds of pepper
    • pinch of red pepper flakes
    • a splash of red wine or sherry vinegar
    • 1/4 cup of golden raisins (optional)


    1. In a large braising pan, over medium-high, heat the olive oil. Add celery, peppers, onions, red pepper flakes, and garlic, saute for 5 minutes.
    2. Remove aromatics from pan, set aside. 
    3. In the same pan add more olive oil, then add eggplant, let it fry in one layer for one-two minutes, before stirring. 
    4. Then add everything else to the pot, and simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes. Serve!


    Roasted Brussel Sprouts Ssam Bar-style

    Deep fried Brussel sprouts are a  popular dish at Ssam Bar in  Manhattan. They will be roasted  in a hot oven instead of fried. Too  messy. It will still give them that  nutty sweetness and caramelized  exterior.

     It's a great dish with Asian flair.  I would pair it along with the rest  of this Thanksgiving  extravaganza with any Alsatian Riesling or Gewurtraminer you like as long as it isn't a VT (Vendange Tardive).

    Those are really costly and dessert-like. Such unctuous honeyed viscous nectar is best appreciated on its own. 

    **Note:  Puffed rice can be made 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
 Dressing, without mint and cilantro, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature and add herbs before using.
 Brussels sprouts can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Chill, uncovered, until cool, then cover. Reheat, uncovered, in a 350°F oven until hot, 10 to 15 minutes. The dish will be fine without the puffed rice, of course. It just adds another element of texture. 


    For the sprouts

    • 2 lbs. brussel sprouts, trimmed & halved lengthwise
    • 3 Tablespoons canola oil (Do not use olive oil. It has too low a flash point and will turn acrid and bitter in high heat)
    • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or butter substitute

    For the dressing

    • 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (preferably Tiparos brand)
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • 1 (1 1/2-inch) fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise, including seeds

    For puffed rice

    • 1/2 cup crisp rice cereal such as Rice Krispies
    • 1/4 teaspoon canola oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice blend)

    Garnish: cilantro sprigs; torn mint leaves; chopped scallions


    1. Roast brussels sprouts:
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.
    2. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil, then arrange, cut sides down, in a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan. Roast, without turning, until outer leaves are tender and very dark brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Add butter and toss to coat.
    3. Make dressing:
 Stir together all dressing ingredients until sugar has dissolved.
    4. Make puffed rice while sprouts roast:
Cook cereal, oil, and shichimi togarashi in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet and stirring, until rice is coated and begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally.
    5. Finish dish:
 Put Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl, then toss with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with puffed rice and serve remaining dressing on the side


    Pumpkin Pie - Vegan-Style

    There are an incredible amount of truly delectable desserts that are dairy-free. Of course, one can enjoy eating a raw cool crisp apple or a buttery pear, or make a crumble with any fruit using a variety of grains and nuts mix it with a "buttery" vegan spread and bake it all in the oven, then serve with a delicious scoop of dairy-free frozen coconut "ice cream". Coconut Bliss is a brand that comes in innumerable flavors. But it's Thanksgiving, and to me, pumpkin pie is the classic dessert to serve on this holiday. The use of full fat coconut milk here helps to replace the dairy and is being touted as a healthier alternative by those who make it their business to tout. The health industry being what it is these days, I wouldn't dare suggest this was healthier, in 5 years experts may revert back to the mean and tell us coconuts and pumpkins are poisonous. Quien sabe? In any event, no one bakes a dessert with their health as their primary concern. Savor is what we are looking for. Satisfaction. Pleasure. Indulgence. I usually skip desserts, and prefer a bit of runny cheese with my glass of rotten grape juice,  Napoleon's Epoisses comes to mind as a first choice, as does a Neal's Yard Stilton, but on Thanksgiving? I want a slice of sweet, custardy, luscious, tongue-coating cultivar of the squash plant pie - after all, it is a native American. 

    Ingredients for the Filling

    1 can (15oz) pumpkin or sweet potato puree
    1 (13.5oz) can full-fat coconut milk
    1/4 cup rolled oats (20g)
    2 tbsp ground flax
    1/3 cup coconut sugar or brown sugar
    2 tablespoons of molasses
    2 tsp cinnamon
    1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
    1/2 tsp salt
    1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

    Total Time: 45m
    Yield: 1 pumpkin pie

    Instructions for the Filling: 

    1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
    2. Make Crust (recipe below) 
    3. Blend all ingredients together until smooth
    4. Pour into a prepared pie crust (recipe below) in a 10-inch round pan. 
    5. Bake 27 minutes (it will still be underdone after this time, which is desirable)
    6. Allow it to cool on a wire rack
    7. Refrigerate at least 5 hours uncovered for the pie to thicken and “set.

    The Crust:
    • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup superfine sugar of choice
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil (80g)
2-4 tbsp ice cold water 

Preheat oven to 375F. 
    2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients. 
    3. Add oil and stir. Add water as needed until it just sticks together but is not gummy. It should look like coarse meal
    4. Press evenly into a 10-inch pie pan on the bottom and up the sides. This crust will not roll out well. 
    5. Put the crust in the oven and immediately increase the temperature to 350F. (The crust will rise, so either use pie weights during baking or poke holes in crust with a fork and just press the pie crust back down afterwards.) 
    6. Blind bake 15 minutes. Let cool.
    7. Add filling. Bake.

    Happy Thanksgiving! 

    Saturday, October 3, 2015

    Raising The Bar: Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, A Real Halloween Treat

    'Tis now the very witching time of night,
    When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
    Contagion to this world.
    ~William Shakespeare

    The Druids celebrated a form of it. So did The Aztecs. The Spanish had their rendition, as did every other former agrarian society (including those barbaric Germanic tribes I'm forever teasing my husband about since his Dutch-German roots are most definitely Goth, Visigoth or Ostrogoth. He's a born Vandal.) Even the Catholic Church had to recognize the pagan rituals of the harvest that conflated harvest time with the dawning of the dead, the placating of the harvest gods, the advent of winter; though officially Halloween is considered verboten by the Church fathers. We won't see the Pope wearing a Freddie Kreuger mask anytime soon. It took good old Yankee know-how, however, to turn it into an industry.

    I feel it incumbent upon me to say (by way of apology) in some ways there's a huge disadvantage being a writer born and raised in the inner-city, chiefly when it comes to writing descriptive passages about a subject as beloved as Halloween. Unlike my pastoral and suburban peers, I have no idylls to describe, no pumpkin patches I sat in during the long fall nights waiting in the tall cool grass for the moon to rise. No demon spiders spinning their webs in the barren branches of dead elm trees. No haunted houses. No scarecrows with raven eyes staring out into the blackness. There is no bucolic wonderment that seized these moments ingrained in memory. All my landscapes are interior. Mostly in the wooly dandelion fields that constitute my mind. This renders my writing about my Halloween experiences a distillation of ink spill. Of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once very rightly said where there is no imagination there is no horror, and one thing I did not lack as a child was imagination - I still remember the disembodied styrofoam mannequin heads that stood bald with eyeless faces on my mother's dresser. My mother had so many wigs and falls. All colors. All textures. The wigs themselves resembled wounded animals to me... the sight of them alone was frightful, trust me, especially when she bragged about those wigs being made from human hair, so that I would stand there paralyzed before passing them, seeing those heads as alive and screeching their resentment at being shorn every night, it really was a house of horrors. Add to that my poor aunt who thought she heard a chorus of demons and all the religious iconography scattered allover the place.... The Sacred Heart of Jesus with eyes that always followed you, the pictures of devils & pitchforks, of saints being mutilated, but this was a year-round terror. Nothing to do with All Hallow's Eve fright.

    Nor do I associate food with Halloween. Not as such. Not directly.  I don't personally associate much with Halloween except maybe tooth decay and razor blades in apples. (Both things to be assiduously avoided at all costs.) Although pumpkin pies, fruit-sweetened breads laced warm with exotic spices like ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, and toothsome candy apples (whose sticky red glazed shells crackled under my teeth keeping my tongue and lips tinted with their goodness days afterward) were delicious indulgences as a child, I considered them part of autumn's bag of tricks, not necessarily Halloween’s. I suppose I can borrow from To Kill A Mockingbird and offer you, my discerning reader, a possible Halloween menu: dinner for two with Boo Radley; or swipe a line or two from Calvino's Under the Jaguar Sun, or DBC Pierre's Lights Out In Wonderland,  and proffer titillating recipes that will raise your hairs and goose your taste buds for all that is taboo from braised human tongue to spotted owl stew. Or I can do as my spouse suggested and write a review comparing the nuances in the most popular Halloween candies - write the definitive guide for the candy consumer with a discriminating palate. But let’s not and say I did.  Let's discuss the day itself instead.

    The author doing her best to terrorize the 'hood

    When I think of Halloween, what do I think of?  I think of the wanting... The wanton seed that plants its insatiable need in an infertile ground whose harvest renders little more than a cache of disappointment masquerading as mini-Reese's cups, Snickers and Nestle's Crunch bars (if you were lucky), tarnished pennies (a magic trick would have been preferable), or candy corn (a particularly unctuous unpalatable variety of fake sugary treat that resembled kernels of corn no right-minded costume-wearing child in East Harlem would ever eat).  No kids I knew ever felt they got enough candy, no matter how much their little plastic pumpkins or brown paper bags rattled with extorted goodies from weary adults who met our maniacal shouts of "trick or treat!" with the grim-faced resignation of a snaggle-toothed Jack-O-Lantern. Halloween was more burden than fun in the East River Projects. Times were hard, families poor. Buying bucket loads of candy to fulfill the glutinous tastes of hundreds of strange little grubby-palmed gluttons dressed in goblin garb was simply beyond most residents' ability.

    Most neighbors wouldn't even open their apartment doors, and my family was a cornucopia of complexes, riddled with an inherent and abundant paranoia that made them unwilling to allow me to venture up and down the tenement halls anyway - even in the company of our neighbor's teenage daughter, Lizzy, who appointed herself my personal guardian angel. I hung up my gypsy shawl and princess tiaras by the time I was eight because I simply lost my taste for a holiday that every adult within my ken looked at with extreme trepidation, tempered with a practiced boredom. My personal ambition was to be adult in all things, so I wrapped Halloween in cobwebs and stored it in the back corner of my closet, but I never lost my taste for things macabre. Ghosts, demonic possessions, witches, monsters from the vasty deep and from the deeply psychotic always fascinated me and continue to do so. This penchant likely derives from my Catholic upbringing. You can't expect a child to believe in a sexy blue-eyed zombie ex-carpenter who hung out with fishermen and preached love, whose very body and blood we were meant to consume every Sabbath to save our immortal souls, and not have her develop a taste for all things morbid and grotesque.

    Halloween itself -  an early 20th century American invention - has liturgical roots in the sacrament of harvest and death culture. Its masquerades, its Jack-o-lanterns, its offering of sweets to ghoulish little beggars... A quick internet search will tell you Halloween was derived from a Celtic tradition called Samhain. The Celts used the day to mark the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, and also believed that this transition between the seasons was a bridge to the world of the dead. Samhain. This ancient festival, the first day of winter. For the Celts, it also marked the first day of the new year. The vigil of the feast is Halloween, the night when charms and incantations were powerful. Up to recent time this was a day of abstinence, when according to church ruling no flesh meat was allowed. Colcannon, apple cake and barm brack, as well as apples and nuts were part of the festive fare. Colcannon was cooked in a skillet pot which had a large round bottom, three little legs and two ear-like handles at the sides, and consisted of potatoes mashed and mixed with chopped kale or green cabbage and onions... How over the millennia the holiday transitioned from a somber pagan ritual to a day of mayhem and merriment for children and adults is anyone's guess, but when westerners moved from an agrarian society to an industrialized one, our emphases obviously changed. However, Halloween as celebrated in America (specifically) whilst having its traditions rooted in the old is its own species altogether. A celebration of mass conspicuous consumption more than anything. A way for candy companies to sell their newly minted confections in the early 20th century.  Halloween parties for both children and adults had become a common way to mark the day. Candies made in the shape of corn kernels and pumpkins commemorated the harvest season. The Wunderle Candy Company of Philadelphia was the first to commercially produce candy corn in the 1880s.

    The custom of begging for food from house to house on Halloween came from the old Catholic soul-sale custom. Once charitable in nature, "souling" took a popular turn as it evolved over the years. Irish Halloween begging always involved a masquerade... but who did the begging and what they were after varied from region to region. In Ireland's County Cork, a mummers' procession marked All Hallows. Prosperity was promised to those who gave food, drink or money to the revelers. Masquerading from house to house and asking for food or money was once practiced in America on Guy Fawkes Day, and for some years even on Thanksgiving. The Irish Halloween masquerade proved so popular it eventually evolved into 20th-century American trick-or-treating.

    Halloween takes place on October 31st. The word Halloween is shortened from “All-hallow-evening,” the eve of All Hallow’s Day, which is now known as All Saints Day. (All Saints Day became was placed on November 1 by Pope Gregory IV in 835; All Souls Day on November 2 in 998.) Traditionally, the festival was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter stores. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31 the boundary between the alive and the deceased dissolved, and the dead become dangerous for the living by causing problems such as sickness or damaged crops. The festivals would frequently involve bonfires, into which bones of slaughtered livestock were thrown. Costumes and masks were also worn at the festivals in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or placate them.

    October 31 was New Year's Eve, a night of evil and terror when all hell broke loose. Literally. Goblins and ghosts were abroad that night, while witches celebrated their black rites as the spirits and souls of the dead roamed the earth. To frighten the evil spirits and to bolster their own sagging spirits, they created a din with bells, horns, pots and pans, (just as we still do at midnight on December 31st), and built fires to frighten the witches or perhaps burn them if they might get caught. On the afternoon of October 31st, village boys would go from house to house collecting fuel for the midnight fires. Everyone was expected to contribute some peat or "coal pieces" to help burn the witches. Those who did not received dire warnings of the evil consequences that might follow.

    Naturally, such traditions that merge the reaping of crops with death and its appeasement are not the sole purview of Western Culture: when I was walking through the Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto's eastern mountains - one of the city's best preserved historic districts - there were specialty shops filled with hollowed out gourds which had a special significance in Taoist culture. In fact, the gourd, one of the most ancient of plants to migrate around the world from Africa, was heavily used in divination. Outside of Africa, evidence of gourd shards were found in Thailand's Spirit Cave. In the earliest versions of the deluge mythology (of which there are many in Asia), the gourd was always featured as the magic fruit of salvation. Millet and gourd are believed to be of sacred provenance from heaven according to the beliefs of the Taketaka tribe of Taiwan.

    In Japan, the gourd is also associated with divinities and features in the earliest genealogical semi-mythical chronicles, the Kojiki.  The gourd is found in the names of deities in section “The Birth of the Deities” after the creation of the Japanese islands by the primordial pair Izanagi and Izanami, they were born from the deities who governed the river and sea domains: “…next, they gave birth to the sea-deity, whose name is the deity Great-Ocean-Possessor next, they gave birth to the deity of the Water-Gates, whose name is the deity Prince-of-Swift-Autumn ; next they gave birth to his younger sister the deity Princess-of-Swift-Autumn. (Ten deities in all from the deity Great-Male-of-the-Great-Thing to the deity Princess-of-Autumn.) The names of the deities given birth to by these two deities Prince-of-Swift-Autumn and Princess-of-Swift-Autumn from their separate dominions of river and sea were: the deity Foam-Calm; next, the deity Foam-Waves; next the deity Bubble-Calm; next, the deity Bubble-Waves; next the deity Heavenly-Water-Divider; next, the deity Earthly-Water-Divider; next, the deity Heavenly-Water-Drawing-Gourd-Possessor; next, the deity Earthly-Water-Drawing-Gourd-Possessor. (Eight deities in all from the deity Foam-Prince to the deity Earthly-Water-Drawing-Gourd-Possessor.)” — The Kojiki, Chamberlain 

    The Irish brought the tradition of carving pumpkins into Jack O'Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O'Lantern was not a pumpkin. Pumpkins were a New World discovery. Ancient Celtic cultures in Ireland carved turnips on All Hallow's Eve, and placed an ember in them, to ward off evil spirits. We now place candles in ours, a tradition even I, The Grinch of Halloween, keep. "The vegetable most associated with Halloween...the jack-o'-lantern, which also had its roots in British folklore. Stingy Jack was a perennial trickster of folktales, who offended not only God but also the devil with his many pranks and transgressions. Upon his death, he was denied entrance into both heaven and hell, though the devil grudgingly tossed him a fiery coal, which Jack caught in a hollowed turnip and which would light his night-walk on hearth until Judgement Day...The Oxford English Dictionary gives a date of 1663 for its first printed record of the phrase "jack-with-the-lantern," and 1704 , "Jack of lanthorns," both referring to a night watchman...the jack-o-lantern is definitely associated by 1817 with spooky pranks--but not explicitly with Halloween or hollowed turnips. Although every modern chronicle of the holiday repeats the claim that vegetable lanterns were a time-honored component of Halloween celebrations in the British Isles, none gives any primary documentation. In fact, none of the major nineteenth-century chroniclers of British holidays and folk customs makes any mention whatsoever of carved lanterns in connection with Halloween....The Oxford English Dictionary provides no clue as to when the Halloween association began; it credits the United States as the primary source of the modern definition of the jack-o'lantern, followed by England and Ireland, but without dates or citations." ~Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, David J. Skal [Bloomsbury:New York] 2002 (p. 31-2)

    The Catholic Church being the savvy marketers and assimilators of culture they always were certainly capitalized on it: "Early Spanish observers...remarked on the fabrication of idols from edible grains and their distribution as talismans or articles of communion...pre-Columbian practices were simply annexed to the festival of All Souls'; sometimes with a conviviance of Franciscan friars who wished to encourage the rapid conversion of the indigenous population to Christianity...Writing in 1580, Father Diego de Duran was troubled by the way in which indigenous cults of the dead were transposed to All Saints' and All Souls'. He was particularly concerned that All Saints' had become a festival devoted to little children who had died, thereby emulating the pre-Christian feast of Miccailhiotontli...which had traditionally take place two months earlier. Mexican scholars disagree over the influence of these ancient festivals on the popular practice of Todos the Day of the Dead is sometimes called. But an overemphasis on the continuities with the pre-Columbian past can easily elide the fact that there are also striking similarities between the rituals of the Day of the Dead and the early modern observance of All Souls' Day in Europe. Yellow flowers of mourning were common to both sixteenth-century Spain and Mexico...In the old Castilian province of Zamora...ofrendas and banquets were a customary aspect of funeral rites. In Barcelona, food stands routinely sold seasonal sweets called panellets del morts or All Saints Day. A variety of other cakes and sweets also formed part of the festive fare in Catalonia, Sardinia, Portugal, the Azores, and Haute-Saone in France, just as soul cakes were widely distributed in pre-Reformation Britain. What seems unique to the Mexican Todos Santos...was the widespread consumption of anthropomorphic foods, or foods in the shape of humans. These included sugared skulls and figurines in the shape of humans. These included the sugared skulls and figurines that now attract international attention, and the pan de muertos, ' bread figures in the style of angels and human beings,' which took on 'a ritual character'...These kinds of foods---breads in human or animal form, in particular---were also made throughout the Iberian peninsula, though rarely for this holiday. There are grounds...for suggesting that the Mexican Day of the Dead was a complex mix of Mesoamerican and European influences, rather than a holiday onto which Christian observances were superficially imposed. In this respect, the Day of the Dead was not so very different from Halloween. Both shared a common European legacy as well as a dynamic fusion of pre-Christian and Christian belief. If this is the case, then their differences may be grounded not only in the peculiarities of that syntretism, but also in the ways in which the two holidays subsequently developed in the New Worlds." ~Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night, Nicholas Rogers [Oxford University Press:New York] 2002(p. 143-146)

    I must admit as an adult now in San Francisco where supermarkets and farmer's markets alike overflow with gourds of every variety from long and cylindrical to a prolate spheroid - the Cucurbita Pepo being the variety we love to carve and toss in Punkin Chunkin' contests-  I have reconsidered my position with regard to things Hallow Eve-d.  There's something about the light here by the bay that seems to tinge autumn days with a gilding the grey dingy concrete streets of East Harlem lacked, and I discovered that Halloween was more than just a date in the calendar one marked to remember to avoid  going out at night, but one that meant as much to the residents of this foggy city as any holiday could. It is Christmas, New Year's Eve & Easter all rolled up into one... Still, though here we are enmeshed in this kiddie culture turned cash cow spawning whole new industries, I could sense a deeper spirit. Particularly in the gay community.

    The traditional Castro Halloween street party was first established in 1946 by Cliff's Variety Store owner, Ernie DeBaca, who decided to hold a costume contest for the local children. The kids came dressed in mostly DIY outfits and with items purchased from his all purpose store. They assembled in front of Cliff's., a stool was produced to serve as the stage, and the kids hopped up on top to show off their outfits. The one who earned the loudest applause from the crowd won. Simple democracy at its best. Afterwards kids paraded around the neighborhood trick or treating at other local businesses and homes. The children's costume contest and parade continued until 1979 when the crowds grew to the tens of thousands and were filled with drunken party-goers who turned the once quaint family affair into a Mardi Gras encrusted bar fight. Store shop windows were broken and Mr. DeBaca suspended his sponsorship of the children's contest.

    By 1979 the Castro had become the epicenter of the growing SF LGBT movement and community for almost a decade. The Halloween party took on a decidedly adult air. Costumed revelers tried to outdo each other with elaborate and imaginative get ups and an air of mischief, sex, and fun that might turn into trouble was always in the air. During the 1980-1990's era the diverse and eclectic crowds expanded with numbers reaching nearly 150,000. Real problems began to surface by the early 1990's. Fights, muggings, gang violence and assorted random acts of violence were common place. Neighbors and locals alike began to avoid the party and Castro businesses who'd once welcomed the financial bump the party brought began to close early instead of staying open to reap the monetary rewards. In 2006 the massive street event came to a tragic halt when a gunman/men shot nine people in one evening. City Hall had enough and decided to end the 60-year-old Castro Halloween tradition once and for all. But in 2014, enough supporters overturned the decision and the revelry began again.

    In my neighborhood, the stores on Union and Polk Streets welcomed grade school children so openly that a tradition began where public schools created a de facto but unofficial Halloween parade of cute little kiddies in costume taken to get candy during school hours in all the local shops because those children might not otherwise receive treats in their own neighborhoods. For a few years, when we had the first and only house we ever owned in a lovely neighborhood filled with children, for three glorious years, we opened the house up to trick or treaters. I'd empty out the local Walgreens and buy proper chocolate candy bars, M&Ms (with and without peanuts... I didn't want the kiddies whose parents decided they were allergic to nuts to go into Anaphylactic shock) with absolutely NO candy corn and decorate the house a week before. On the day itself, hubby and I would sit out in the entry hall in dining chairs, I'd order in sushi, so there would be no need to cook and we entertained every child within a 7 mile radius - the tall and the small. Children were bused in from other neighborhoods, from the Tenderloin, from the Mission, from Bayview, from the Sunset &  Richmond districts - from the poorer sectors.

    We kept our doors open from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. It was the best time of my life. Those kiddies were sweet. Their parents shy and standing in the background. Some had store-bought costumes, some had homemade ones, some had none... but all of them had big eyes and bigger smiles and even though I offered them an enormous bag full of candy, and allowed them to dip their hands in the bag to draw out as much as they wanted, they would rarely take more than one candy bar each... The sweetest child I met was one who was not quite schooled in the art of trick-or treating... He was just about two years old, when I offered him my bag full of candy, he reached into his own bag & put a cookie in mine... His mom smiled, I smiled, I thanked him, kissed him, and keep him still right here in my Jack-O-Lanterned heart.

    As far as traditional American foods for the holiday are concerned, there are none. So I don't feel badly for stumbling as I try to come up with the quintessential Halloween meal. When contemplating what to devise for the home cook to serve as a perfect Halloween treat for those (s)he loves that doesn't come in a wrapper, I think of Keats and his Ode To Autumn with its season of mists and mellow fruitfulness:


    Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
            Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
        Conspiring with him how to load and bless
            With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
        To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
            And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
              To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
            With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
        And still more, later flowers for the bees,
      Until they think warm days will never cease,
              For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.


      Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
          Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
      Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
          Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
      Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
          Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
              Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
      And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
          Steady thy laden head across a brook;
          Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
              Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.


      Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
          Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
      While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
          And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
      Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
          Among the river sallows, borne aloft
              Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
      And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
          Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
          The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
              And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

    Nothing says I love you in the fall like a freshly baked something made from a crisp tart apple or dear old Keats' swollen gourd  *insert canned laughter from obliging 1970s studio audience*

    So who am I to argue with Keats? Pumpkin it is. Pumpkin swirled into a cheesecake batter with a gingersnap crust poured into a baking dish, baked until just firm, and cooled in the fridge. Heaven. It's the only way to combat all those hellacious demons from Hell.

    Marbled Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars


    2 cups finely crushed gingersnaps
    1⁄4 cup finely chopped pecans
    1⁄4 cup butter, melted
    1⁄4 cup brown sugar
    1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon


    1⁄2 cup canned pumpkin
    1 tablespoon flour
    1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves
    3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
    1 cup sugar
    1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla
    3 eggs


    Preheat oven to 325°.

    Line bottom and sides of a 9"x13" baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on all sides. Set aside.

    CRUST: Blend cookies, sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor until finely ground; add pecans and butter and combine. Transfer crumb mixture to prepared pan, and press gently into bottom. Bake until fragrant and slightly firm, 12 to 15 minutes.

    PUMPKIN BATTER: In a medium bowl stir together pumpkin, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves until combined; set aside.

    CREAM CHEESE BATTER: In a large mixing bowl beat cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar and vanilla, beating until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating at low speed after each addition just until combined.
    Stir 1/3 of the cream cheese batter (about 1 1/2 cups) into the pumpkin batter until smooth. Pour remaining cream cheese batter over crust.
    Place large spoonfuls of pumpkin batter randomly over cream cheese batter. Using the tip of a table knife or a thin metal spatula, gently swirl the two batters together. This should have a marbled look.
    Bake for 25 to 30 or until center is just set.

    Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cover and chill for 4 to 24 hours before lifting out of pan and cutting into squares or bars. Store any remaining bars in the refrigerator.

    Will serve 12-15 little goblins or ghouls.