Traditions in Transition

(This post originally appeared at Crazy Sexy Life: http://crazysexylife.com/2010/choosing-your-holiday-traditions/)

Holiday traditions are deep and rich enough to be considered articles of faith. They transcend physical experiences, often creating memories that grow beyond the proportion of the actual occasions being remembered.

I embrace this phenomenon at will, choosing the traditions that I will keep active and the memories I will nurture into legend. This creative myth-making offers a lot of room for new ideas, but there is one thing that I don’t have to invent: my connection to food.

Beets in the CAS Garden
Beets in the CAS Garden

My family’s food heritage runs deep. I have direct experience with four generations of growers and preservers, and I know it goes back further than that. It should be a surprise to no one that I’m working as a chef these days.

As I prepare for the upcoming holidays, I find myself taking inventory of the foods that I’ve enjoyed almost my entire life: pecans, corn, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, greens, chiles.

These foods were on display, in one form or another, at so many family holiday gatherings. Pecan pies were de rigueur and celebrated, with the nuts often coming from my great-uncle’s trees in Navarro County, Texas. Gardens, usually dormant by November, still offered their bounty through the miracle of food preservation.

Thanksgiving dinner was a monstrous affair: a potluck invasion of my great-grandmother’s home, with no room for even one more dish. The dining table provided no room for our sizable extended family to sit, so the house became a labyrinth of card tables. Dominoes clattered above the chatter, then reluctantly yielded to dinner.

There was no convocation significant enough for me to remember, and only a simple prayer of thanks was offered by one of the several patriarchs. After the “amen” we lined up as if we were boarding a plane: women with small children first, then the elders, on down to the youthful and unruly.

As I mark time and changes this Thanksgiving, I wish to nurture these memories into present and future lore. The joy contained in them is sufficient for sustaining faith in the family bond. The associated traditions are still dear to me, as I love to delight others with my food, and I work to be at home during the holidays.

Faith would be nothing without a bit of iconoclasm, however, so I deviate as I recreate. Now all my food is plant-based, markedly animal-free. No animal is sacrificed as I give thanks. They might not be aware of my actions, but perhaps somewhere one life was spared because of my choice. That’s another reason to give thanks.

Being “home for the holidays” is still important for me. But since I’ve lived so far from home most of my adult life, I frequently spend the holidays in my own dwelling. I use the day for quiet and purposeful reclusion. It has become a very personal tradition that I work hard to preserve, and for which I ask the indulgence of family and friends.

Thankfulness is paramount, however. My giving of thanks runs through my daily existence, but I offer focused appreciation on Thanksgiving for many things: the peaceful presence of my family in my life, a simple and compact existence, the loving and supportive people that have befriended me, and the many other good people that I know. Above it all, there are the ever-appearing lessons of life.

Just as inflexibility can kill one’s faith, traditions will die if they do not progress. In this spirit, I offer up these ideas for your holiday meal. Perhaps we can share them virtually while offering up universal thanks.

SPROUTED QUINOA WITH TAMARIND

4 tablespoons tamarind paste
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
3 cups quinoa, sprouted

Mix vigorously the tamarind paste and lime juice, making sure there are no lumps. Add the raisins, ginger, and sea salt, mixing well.
Add the quinoa and mix well.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Note: You can substitute cooked quinoa for the sprouted quinoa.

WINTER SQUASH TART

3 pounds butternut, acorn or other winter squash
olive oil
sage, dried
8 ounces firm tofu
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace or nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
One 10-inch tart shell
Maple Currant Glaze (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 450° F.

Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Coat lightly with oil and dried sage. Roast for 45 minutes or until soft.

Reduce oven to 375° F.

Scoop squash out of peel. Place into food processor with tofu, coconut milk, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg, garlic powder, onion
powder, white pepper, and salt. Process until very smooth.

Fill tart shell with squash and smooth the top.

Spread Maple Currant Glaze evenly over the squash filling.

Bake at 375° F for 30 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

MAPLE CURRANT GLAZE

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup currants
1/2 cup water

Warm the olive oil in a sauté pan over low flame. Add the diced onion and sauté gently until clear. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, place the maple syrup, currants and water. Simmer for 15 minutes. Blend.

Mix the sautéed onion into the blended syrup.