It Takes a Vegan Village to Make an Easy Holiday Meal

by Maria Theresa Maggi on December 9, 2014

Thanksgiving Main Course

I was delighted by a recent comment from one of my regular readers who called the prep required for my recipes “leisurely.” I like that word for the slow steps that often go into making my whole food healthy but complex and inviting to taste. My holiday strategy is really just more of the same. So if you want a pretty presentation without a lot of difficult maneuvers, here are a couple of ideas that worked well for us at Thanksgiving.

I called this post “It Takes a Vegan Village” because I could not have come up with these variations and presentation ideas without our wonderful online community of vegan and plant-based bloggers. Although I rarely do exactly what anyone else recommends, I am always on the lookout for inspiration and ways I can tweak things to fit a half-finished idea I have. The main course for our Thanksgiving dinner was just such a wonderful melange of inspiration.

I came late to using a slow cooker; I guess it just didn’t occur to me since it seemed like a very meat-centric appliance, and even before eating like this I rarely prepared chickens or roasts. But thanks to a review Susan did, I found Kathy Hester’s site Healthy Slow Cooking. I ended up ordering her first book. I bought two slow cookers, one medium sized, one small, and I had the best time trying out all the things I could do in them, including cooking a single potato or sweet potato. Kathy’s published a few books since then, and there’s one called Vegan Slow Cooking for Two of Just You. She shared this recipe for a black bean tofu scramble, meant to be an easy and hearty breakfast burrito stuffing you put in the crock pot the night before. Now that I can make Burmese style Chickpea or yellow lentil tofu, I was curious to try the recipe out with both kinds. I made it once with each one in my small crockpot, cooked on high, and served for dinner (couldn’t wait for breakfast). I LOVED it.

And then I started thinking.. . wouldn’t this be good as a kind of filling for a cooked pumpkin?

Ever since I drew my version of “A Great Pumpkin” from my CSA which allowed me to finally be able to eat it, I have been hauling those little beauties home in my backpack any time I see them at the Co-op. I don’t even know what variety they are, but I love their textured exterior, and they scoop out easily and steam-bake into the tastiest pumpkin you can imagine, not at all watery like “regular” pumpkin can be. So I decided I’d suggest to Mike and Kelly that I bake three of these and make a double batch of the black bean chickpea tofu “scramble” and we eat it out of the pumpkins, even though I’d never actually put the two things together before. They were game to try my experiment so that’s what we did.

It was SO easy to have the main course be cooking in the crock pot while Mike made a tasty potato leek onion casserole and Kelly whipped up some of Susan’s Jalapeno Orange Cranberry Sauce. The pumpkins only take about an hour to cook in the oven at 400.  So if you’d like a seemingly fancy way to serve a main course that requires almost no effort at all, give this a try. Along with the cranberry sauce and the potato mushroom leek casserole, we served it with broccolini cooked with garlic, plain millet, and Myoko Schinner’s poultry type gravy, Mike’s favorite, which I got from a November 2008 McDougall newsletter years ago. And my seeded sourdough spelt bread.

And then, of course, there was dessert. . .

Thanksgiving Dessert

A few days before Thanksgiving a friend who was going to the co-op offered to pick me up some things I needed  if I gave her a list. One of those things was a white sweet potato I thought I’d eat in my soup bowls or stir fries. But this one was the size of a small football. We laughed about it when I pulled it out of the grocery bag.The next day or so at the grocery store in my neighborhood I heard the produce clerks remarking to each other how big the white sweet potatoes were, and we all ended up laughing about it again.

It was too much potato for me to eat at once, but it was just enough to make a half recipe white sweet potato version of Susan’s Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Topping to go alongside my Pumpkin Pie in the Free World. I  microwaved the sweet potato, which then came right out of its skin. I used a couple of  tablespoons of reduced fat coconut milk, a splash of almond extract and some tangerine juice and zest and a couple of dates in the potato part, because we had a lone tangerine on hand.  I whirred that up in the food processor. I used spelt flour, a litle bit of the coconut milk, almonds instead of pecans, a splash of the tangerine juice and zest, a spoonful of molasses, and a pinch of reduced fat coconut in the crust with a little bit of sugar. It was pretty darn good. In fact Kelly insisted I tell you about it on the blog. (Next time I’ll forgo the coconut milk and just use coconut extract. The saturated fat, even in such small amounts, is proving to be too much of a pain instigator for me, so out it goes. I’m feeling like a million bucks without it, but if you can do a little coconut, it’s a tasty way to go.)

The other festive addition to our holiday was the arrival of my Mom’s set of  vintage Noritake china, which my sister and I had shipped up here from California. It was such a wonderful gift to see it again and remember all the happy holiday dinners we had on it. My Mom and Dad loved to entertain, and Christmas was their happiest time of year, so it means the world to me to have the dishes call up such long ago joys. And they fit right in to my new little house. I cherish not only the elegance of the design, but the subtle places on the rims where the gilding is worn, testament to china that was used and enjoyed, a reminder of my parents and their generous and lively hospitality. Mike and Kelly liked the china too, and since there is 12 place settings, they decided to they could fit a few of them in on their trip home. So now the elegance, fun and memories will be spread across the generations for special occasions and every day use.

As Mike said about our new holiday set up in this cozy little house, “it’s perfect.” Thank you to my online “village” of vegan and plant-based folks, readers and bloggers alike, who helped make our Thanksgiving so relaxed, delicious and, well, perfect. Even if I didn’t happen to make your recipes this holiday, you’ve all inspired me every step of the way with your posts and your comments too. I hope these suggestions help inspire you to make your own Christmas table sparkle with relaxed fun and plant-based creativity. Maria (moonwatcher)

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicole O'Shea December 10, 2014 at 7:53 am

You know what I love most about this whole holiday tale? That on top of it all being delicious and easy, and full of convenience whilst remaining utterly health-promoting, it is stress free!! Stress, I have come to appreciate, does more of a number on me than I previously realized, and I am always looking for ways to reduce it, as well as tacit permission to do so! Now I gotta figure out what kind if pumpkin that is…




2 moonwatcher December 10, 2014 at 9:39 am

Hi Nicole–thanks for this wonderful comment–I am SO with you on this. . . I think things have come what my art teacher would have called “full circle” back in the 60’s. . . at first, as Dr. McDougall likes to say, “it’s the food”. . .but then, if you have the food down and you’re still in stressful situations, you start to see how the food helps and how the stress doesn’t. . I think this is why Dr. Ornish has such a comprehensive plan that actively reduces stress reduction to go with the changes in diet. If you find out what kind of pumpkin that little favorite of mine is, let me know. And if I do, I’ll let you know. I’ve saved seeds. Want to try and grow them if I can in my new little backyard. We will see. . .xo


3 Nicole O'Shea December 10, 2014 at 4:15 pm

What a good point, Maria! I think you are right about why Dr Dean Ornish does that. You are wise! xox


4 moonwatcher December 10, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Thank you Nicole 🙂


5 Susan Voisin December 10, 2014 at 8:17 am

I love the title of this post and the whole idea of leisurely cooking! One day I will learn from your example, I hope. Thank you for sharing your holiday with us. You even made me want to get out the good china that I so seldom use. 🙂


6 moonwatcher December 10, 2014 at 9:36 am

Aw, thanks Susan!! 🙂 And about that good china–like the song says THESE are the good old days. . .we don’t live the formal lifestyles we used to, so it’s a nice way to make things special on any day. I know my Mom is pleased. 🙂 And here’s to more leisurely cooking in your kitchen this holiday season and beyond! xo


7 Marcia December 10, 2014 at 10:08 am

Enjoying a leisurely morning cup of green tea and reading your blog, the perfect way to start the day. Love how your messages read like a symphony; gracefully gliding from word to word. Such a pleasure, thank you!

Your Thanksgiving meal sounds divine and like lots of fun. I never thought of cooking a whole pumpkin in the slow cooker – brilliant! It opens up a whole list of possibilities, thanks! I’ve got a kabocha squash I’m going to try it with, yum. Thanks so much Maria.


8 moonwatcher December 10, 2014 at 10:25 am

Thank you so much, Marcia! I love the image of you drinking your green tea and reading my blog. I love the kind and lovely words about the writing being like a symphony, too. To clarify–I baked the pumpkins in the oven for about an hour. The filling was cooked in the slow cooker, and then the cooked pumpkins were filled with it. Sorry for any confusion. I’m off to the dentist (for a good check in) and will try to remember to edit the post to reflect this. Happy Holidays!


9 Pam December 10, 2014 at 11:46 am

Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving with us, Maria. I was wondering how your day went, and what you had. I’m really missing cooking in a “normal” kitchen with all my stuff. Looking forward to trying some of your recipes when I’m back. 🙂


10 moonwatcher December 10, 2014 at 2:53 pm

You’re very welcome Pam. It’s always good to travel and then super good to be back “home” when you’re ready. So glad you’re looking forward to trying some of my recipes when it’s time for you to be back. Happiest holidays to you! 🙂


11 Donna Betts December 10, 2014 at 12:57 pm

You do inspire me — I wish I could get past this little bump in the road to get back to the vegan way of living — I have fallen back into my old ways right now – working my way back — oh my how did it happen — I do not know. Sending Best Wishes for a warm cozy Christmas and New Year in your new little house.


12 moonwatcher December 10, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Thank you Donna–best wishes to you on your return to the vegan way of living–you can do it. 🙂 And best warm holiday wishes back to you. 🙂


13 Kathy Hester December 11, 2014 at 5:21 am

Thank you so much for your kind words. <3


14 moonwatcher December 11, 2014 at 7:59 am

You’re very welcome, Kathy! That black bean tofu scramble is delicious!


15 betsy December 11, 2014 at 7:15 pm

There is a more eco-friendly version of a crock pot – try out thermal retention heating hayboxes. YOu can buy a cute version called a WOnderbag. They work wonderfully for soups and stews. They will be featured in my upcoming book http://www.100under100.org


16 moonwatcher December 11, 2014 at 8:33 pm

Very interesting Betsy. Thank you.


17 Lee at Veggie Quest December 12, 2014 at 10:12 am

Hi Maria,

I think I may have actually been drooling on my keyboard by the end of this post. How lovely to have a healthy, full-on vegan Thanksgiving meal! One of these years I’m going to strong-arm my family into having Thanksgiving at my house, so I can cook a tasty plant-based meal where everyone can eat everything, you know?

Anyhow, I love your idea of making a filling in a slow-cooker, then serving it in oven-roasted pumpkins; I have to try it. Thanks for all the scrumptious inspiration!


18 moonwatcher December 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Thanks So much, Lee!! 🙂 Here’s hoping you get to host and cook up a plant-based holiday meal one of these Thanksgivings! You’d be great at it. It’s a delight to be an inspiration to you. Happy Holidays!


19 Presey M Ferguson-Wall December 16, 2014 at 2:35 pm



20 moonwatcher December 16, 2014 at 5:46 pm

You’r welcome! 🙂


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