The gorgeous centerpiece, a mix of bought and found flowers from S.
The tables, decked with Brussels Sprouts, Stuffing "muffins" and mixed plates

Making a wok full of mushroom gravy at the last minute
S getting ready to enjoy his "favorite" American tradition
SO! In the midst of my INSANE 19 person Thanksgiving party, I forgot one thing: to take pictures. It's not really so much that I forgot, but more that I was so exhausted that my brain turned to mushroom gravy. But let me just say, as you can see from these guest-foraged photos, things went well! Here's a run-down:

Number of Prep Days: 3
Number of People: 19
Number of Tables: 2 (but they were equal, no kids table)
Number of Bottles of Wine: 17
Number of Sweet Potato Casseroles: 3
Amount of Mashed Potatoes: 4 Kilos
Loaves of Cornbread in Stuffing: 3
Dinner Time: 8:00 (timing was PERFECT)
Biggest Hits: Miso-Mushroom Gravy, Green Bean Casserole
Least Favorite: Chestnut-Sage-Apple Cornbread Stuffing. Delicious, but should have been served hot rather than room temp. (But there wasn't enough room in the oven...)
Biggest Question: "What do you put the gravy on?"
Biggest Exclamation: "Mampf. This is a great holiday."

SY and me, savoring victory

All in all, I can say it was a big success. And that I won't feel like cooking again until next year. :) Hope you all had as fantastic a holiday as me!!


Jetzt shon wieder!? Thanksgiving

Man, its already Thanksgiving again! This time, come hell or highwater, I'm doing it right!

I know, I know: I say that every year. But this year, no sickness, Belgians, or German disdain for patriotism will prevent me from celebrating Thanksgiving: the holiday of feast, family, and forgetting (either America's history of colonial atrocities or the fact that you Uncle thinks Barack Obama is a Kenyan-Islamic-Fundamentalist-Communist, take your pick.)

 In fact, I decided to go all out and invite like, 20 people over (I think maybe 13 are coming) and arrange to cook a huge buffet. Since most of these people have never celebrated Thanksgiving before they are most likely going to interpret this as an invitation to come over and get drunk on a weeknight, but I don't care! I will have twinkly music, candles, flowers, and green bean casserole and it will be awesome! It won't be exactly the same as in America- ie, no Martha Stewart inspired placeholders, 20 year old handmade turkey paper mache centerpiece, or football- but I will have a fairly decent replica of the event, just 6 hours earlier.

So here's the menu! As you can see from my elaborate preparation list above, it will take some finnagling to get all the necessary ingredients, but I have a gameplan spread out over a week, so everything should come together one way or another.

Thanksgiving 2011
-Salad with oranges (brought by a guest)
-Simple roasted Brussels Sprouts (salt and pepper and olive oil)
-Sweet Potatoes two ways (because I don't have enough casserole dishes to make a huge sweet potato casserole.)
     - 1st way: My Aunt Mary's specialty, with apples, brown sugar, pecans
    - 2nd way: An experimental version- pureed sweet potatoes with miso, maple syrup, cumin, paprika and cinnamon.  Oh yeah, and coconut milk.
-Mashed potatoes with roasted garlic
-Green Bean Casserole, a la T ( no decent mushroom soup here, so I'm planning the following instead. I will do a light roux, add in mushrooms, finely diced onions, a bit of soy sauce and nooch and plenty of salt and pepper. I will toss the frozen green beans in this and top with bastardized french fried onions- Danish onions that they use for topping hot dogs. Will it work?!I will let you know!)
-Cornbread Stuffing (also an invention: veganized boxed cornbread from the USA, roasted chestnuts, dried cranberries, onions, plenty or salt, pepper,. and fresh sage, held together with a bit of  vegetable stock. THEN I am going to grease up some muffin tins and make little individual stufffing servings! I'm hoping this will be like a mixture between bread pudding and stuffing. Total off the cuff experiment due, once again, to lack of baking dishes.)
-Mushroom Miso Gravy, from Crescent Dragonwagon (haha best hippie vegetarian name ever)
-Cranberry Sauce ala Isa, however, I will add a bit of orange zest because I just need to.

And then to top it off my friends are bringing pumpkin pies and chocolate pies. I would say, that is a Thanksgiving!

If you are planning your own and need inspiration here are some posts from Thanksgiving pasts with lots of links to recipes and treatises on vegan Thanksgiving.
Last Minute Thanksgiving Ideas
My Veg Thanksgiving
More Thanksgiving Tips

So, wish me luck kids! And good luck with all of your own Thanksgivings, whether you are hosting or dragging your family to Grandmother's house: I hope its great!

Song of the Day: Future Islands- Balance


Fighting the Winter Blues

After a freakishly warm autumn, Berlin is once again the cold, grey, stony-faced city that I dread all year. Its the time of year where I am constantly freezing, constantly sick, and totally bummed out from the uniformly short and "blah" days.

However, having spent last winter here, now I know what I am facing and have decided not to take things lying down. (Literally. I am vowing not to hide under the covers all winter.) Yes, I am taking a 3 pronged approach to combating winter blues!

Tactic 1: Stay Well
The best way to be in a good mood is to not be sick! I am doing my part by eating tons of "Russian antibiotic" ie, GARLIC!! Above is one of my favorite ways to eat a ton of anti-oxidant packed garlic: roasted in the oven. Bake the whole bulb with a bit of olive oil for 45 minutes, then squeeze out the mushy insides and use as a paste for bread, pizza, or blend it into a soup for added flavor. I used mine for this awesome and simple potato soup, topped with sriracha and chopped leftover herbs that I've been storing in the freezer.

Another part of this tactic is to take advantage of the plentiful winter citrus offerings (for me its clementines and grapefruit, yum!) and get tons of vitamin C. Finally, I'm upping my vitamin intake and making sure I get the Vitamin B that vegans need to stay healthy.

Tactic 2: Coziness
The Scandinavian countries have a secret for staying cheerful in the long grey winter: candles. Yes, lighting tons of candles and twinkly lights combats the depressing darkness everywhere, and makes you feel like an evening at home is a special occasion. I am taking this advice to heart this year: fuzzy socks, cute candles, soft music and nice teas will be found in my household. We are going to pretend to be totally Danish (stopping short of consuming massive quantities of Herring) and I'll let you know if it works.

Tactic 3: Get outside
Finally, even though it is completely gross outside it is important to leave the house and get the tiny little bit of Vitamin D available. I have decided that, so long as I can afford it, I will be going to the local coffee house to do my legal research rather than burrowing in at home. This way, I have to get dressed and get outside, and get a minimal amount of social contact (which is also important.) The walk to and fro, along with detours in the park of nearby, mean I get to enjoy at least a little weather and fresh air- which always ends up putting me in a good mood somehow.

What are your tips for beating the Winter Blahs?

Song of the Day: Future Islands- Balance


Kale, sweet potato fries, seitan nuggets

Do you guys love it when reality show divas say, "I finally found my voice?" I do. Especially on Bravo's Real Housewives franchise, which is possibly my favorite series of all time. (I would like to say "ironically," but I give the tortured souls of New York, Beverly Hills, New Jersey and Atlanta so much attention that it drifts now and then into true fandom.) Yes, it's embarrassing. If you haven't seen them, the shows follow the privileged and often peculiar women of various U.S. cities around, documenting their petty arguments, personal struggles, and social climbing maneuvers. It goes without saying that anyone who would star on reality shows is probably not incredibly classy, but who wants to watch classy people? These chicks range from crazy-pants to lovably overbearing to drunk all the time, and they are very entertaining to me and my friends, who fancy ourselves the Real Housewives of Berlin.

Anyways, who ever didn't get into enough fights the first season is obliged to come back the second season and say, "I finally found my voice, and I'm NOT afraid to use it."  And this is how I am feeling about Kale at the moment. I found a bunch in a little bio-markt day-old bin, labeled as grun kohl (green cabbage) and I almost shouted out, "I've finally found my kale--- and I am NOT afraid to use it!"

And so I made a little kiddie meal to introduce the delicacy to S. (One could even call this my spin on a tv dinner.) Sweet potato fries dusted with cinnamon and paprika, wheaty seitan nuggets, ketchup with sriracha, and the star attraction- kale with garlic and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Guess which part he didn't like?

Oh well, more for me. I'm taking charge of my kale! The Real Housewives would be proud.


Okra Gumbo from Heaven

There is this little "Afro-Asia" Lebensmittel Laden down the street from where I live, and I'm there almost every day. The front is plastered with Bollywood posters, and on the inside little kids buy ginger beer and gummies from the bored shop girl, who spends most of her time on the phone. Its a modest, kind of dusty little spot, but for me, its heaven. Its my local source of plantains, chipotles, mirin, sriracha, silken tofu, masa harina... you name it, they've got it. Along with every spice and flour on the planet, bags full of frozen crustaceans still in their shells, strange looking spice mixes (like, for sugar cane broth? what do you use that for?) And best of all,  in a small and crowded refrigerator they also offer up fresh thai basil, habanero peppers and... okra.

Believe it or not, I've never cooked with okra before! Its a standby in good old Virginia, but I usuallu come across the canned version and I never felt compelled to experiment with it. But when I saw box of fresh okra at Afro-Asia, I became curious. Luckily, Isa posted a recipe for Okra Gumbo w/ Chickpeas and Kidney Beans on the PPK a few weeks back, and I made a mental note to try it out. That ended up being a really good idea.

Isa's version is a lot quicker than most versions, even if you make a darker roux like I opted to. The end result is complete comfort food, toothy and creamy and a little sour from the okra, and the perfect receptacle for a bit of hot sauce. With some white rice and a beer you can pretend you're in steamy Louisiana (even if you're in freezing Berlin.)

Song of the day: Chuck Berry - You Never Can Tell