Giving Thanks for Recovery and Restrictions

It’s a big day for my kindred kitchen spirits who will be waking up excited to lace up their aprons, and get down to business cooking a feast for friends and family. People always speak so fondly of the traditional Thanksgiving fare of Turkey and stuffing. I type that with not a huge amount of confidence because…I think I may have eaten that only once.

Growing up vegetarian, our Thanksgiving meals would more likely involved carving off a slice of nut-loaf or Tofurkey (which is actually super delicious by the way). When I was in my late-teens, I tried meat for the first time. I eventually began identifying myself as Pescatarian. A couple years after that, I went full-on meat. Hence the singular classic Thanksgiving feast. Then…allergies struck.

In the Fall of 2010 I started feeling…tired. I was training for a half-marathon, and found I was getting out of breath faster than normal. Since so much of the battle of running is mental, I would simply beat myself up for being lazy, and push through the pain. Super pleasant internal dialogue.

A couple months into this, I couldn’t deny that something outside of my head was at fault. From running 21km, I now couldn’t run more than 5 minutes. I would actually have to stop and rest after walking up the stairs.

A long series of tests and referrals eventually identified that I was severely anemic, and more tests later led to a diagnosis of Celiac Disease. Now, even Tofurkey is off the menu. Dang gluten.

Outsourcing my iron production.

Having lived most of my life with a restricted diet, it wasn’t much of a challenge for me to make the switch. And quite frankly, any difficulties were far outweighed by the positives of not living in hibernation from constant exhaustion. One time I actually had to pull-over on the way to school to take a nap in my car. Super cool.

So on a day of giving thanks, I’m pretty grateful the medical mystery that characterized a few months of my life has been solved. I can run, bike and play just like all the other kids!

I have also come to enjoy having restrictions in place when I’m cooking. It adds to the challenge that I have to experiment with weird ingredients to keep everything gluten-free. Thankfully we live in a world that’s pretty full of alternative options.

However…experimental does not always mean successful. Especially when things are taken to the next level of limitation.

So there we are, a rather long-winded account which leads me to this year’s gluten-free and vegan Thanksgiving feast. Egads.

My mom and I decided to host our good family friends Kristl and Virginia, who I’ve known since I was a baby, for a Thanksgiving lunch. The ridiculous stretch of weather I came home to has been continuing, so we set up our feast in the garden. It was a pretty idyllic setting.

I planned out a menu that would cater to our various limitations, involve some seasonal elements, and take advantage of the fresh goodness from our garden. This included Kale Chips, Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, Green Beans, Pumpkin Sweet Potato Soup, and of course, Pumpkin Pie.

If you’re late on the kale chips bandwagon, get on. So good. For a while I got into the bad habit of making lazy mans kale chips, which meant chopping the kale up pretty carelessly, not tossing them properly, and not paying attention when they were baking. The resulting chips were often burnt and dry. I would eat them anyway, but really now, so silly. I think I’ve turned the corner though. The past few times I’ve taken the few extra simple measure which make a great kale chip, by cutting along the stem (instead of carelessly ripping), and massaging the olive oil and salt by hand onto the kale before popping it into the oven. Simple stuff, and makes a big difference. I’m not iron deficient any more, no more excuses for any sort of laziness.

The salad was fantastic, and maybe my favorite part of the meal. Virginia brought over some fresh greens from the Trout Lake Farmers Market which added a nice touch. Combined with steamed then chilled beets, goats cheese, walnuts candied with maple syrup, and an orange juice/vinegar dressing. Yum. We didn’t have any balsamic, so I used apple-cider vinegar instead, and that worked out quite nicely.

Pretty Veggies

The soup turned out delicious as well. A great combination of vegetables and spices, and with an addition that is often the deciding factor in recipes for me.

I love coconut milk. Coconut milk ice cream, yogurt, curries, puddings, baking…sometimes I even eat it on my oatmeal. So good. It adds such a nice richness and light flavour that I absolutely love. And I don’t believe I mentioned, I’m also lactose intolerant now too. Hah. So coconut milk is kind of a godsend.

We all ate a lot of soup, and Kristl took some leftovers home. Can’t ask for a better review.

Now, cooking vegan is one thing, but baking vegan is something else.

I haven’t done any baking yet that’s both gluten-free and egg-free. One of my coworkers in Prince George was vegan, so I would feel kind of bad anytime I brought any baking in because she couldn’t eat it. But baking something edible with one restriction is already hard enough. A sentiment I echo after yesterday’s pie.

The recipe was fantastically easy! Basically you throw all the ingredients into a food processor, mix, then into a pie plate and into the oven. It’s crust-less and uses sorghum flour in the mix, so that’s me taken care of. In place of eggs, I used an egg replacer product, which I assumed would make the finished product close to the original.

Sadly, not so. After resetting the timer multiple times, the center poke test kept failing. My knife would continually come out with batter on it. My mom advised me that this often happens when desserts are egg-free…the centre just won’t cook. Bugger.

Gluten-free Vegan Monstrosity

So the result…a tasty pie, that was really more like a pudding. That didn’t stop three of us from taking seconds (or thirds), or me from eating another slice when I came home later that afternoon. But the next time I’m craving a pumpkin dessert, I’ll probably try something different.

Regardless, I am still grateful for the challenge of creating things that everyone can eat. I love pumpkin pie, so being without…not an option. I can only imagine there are lots of Vegans out there who feel the same.

More than anything, I am grateful I can breath again! Especially after an afternoon of over-consumption. Combined with beautiful fall weather, it made for a great excuse to hit the trails on my bike, work up a sweat and burn off some calories.

Excellent Use of Pumpkin Energy

Happy thanksgiving, and happy adventuring in the kitchen and wherever feasting leads you!

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