What Does a Dairy Free Thanksgiving Look Like?

Food memories are something I quite like talking about–we all tend to have some positive experience around food or drink choices, be it recalling the best lunch entree in your elementary school cafeteria, cookies from grandma, or the first alcoholic drink you ever tried. In answering those questions here are my selections: I liked school pizza, my grandmother-in-law makes some great snowball cookies, and my first sip of alcohol I believe was Southern Comfort and coke (it’s been a minute!). There is something to be said about how food transports us; even the move “Ratatouille” honed in on this reality in the scene where the harsh food critic remembers how comforting ratatouille was during his childhood years.

I do not see my family that much for the holidays as an adult now because travel is expensive, but something like a holiday meal allows me to feel like the space between is not as great. Well before we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner, my family is on my mind and I often wonder if I’ll get ahold of everyone and/or whether we’ll have time to chat. Making a festive meal certainly takes a lot of time and the duties are not always split among a lot of people. When I was younger though, my family broke down these responsibilities pretty well when my mom was sick during our last Thanksgiving together. Her cancer progression is still an issue that hits me hard, but that last Thanksgiving is a fond detail in my wealth of memories. I made an ice cream pie; it was far from fancy, but as a teenager, I could make it on my own and I was proud to (literally!) bring something to the table.

My parents’ home is rather modest in ways, but there was always space to crowd in people and all the food they brought with them. The kitchen is a pretty tight space, but my dad and stepmom remodeled over the years, improving the flow of the space. Their work has been exceptionally helpful with our family expanding due to the addition of partners and grandchildren. Every time I think of my parents’ house, I think of nearly every inch of counter space eaten up by an assortment of plastic storage containers full of side dishes, holiday tins full of treats, and roasting pans and saucepans with the dinner entree and whatever sauce was appropriate for the meat selected that year.

I am not as consistent as my parents in recreating my Thanksgiving dinner. The same is true of Christmas. I love trying out new things; I guess that can be our tradition of sorts unless I start to be more consistent in making the cinnamon pie I love for Thanksgiving. This year we brought one to Friendsgiving since I already settled on making a vegan pecan pie for our family meal. Preparing the same components for the holidays is not important to me, and I think it’s important home cooks feel comfortable deviating from practices established by older family members. I constantly make new things for our weekly dinners, so it is only natural to keep up the same practice for the holidays. Cooking is my hobby; I may not create many of my own recipes, but I don’t think that decision reduces the enjoyment I feel from the craft. Now that I am lactose intolerant, it is becoming more of a mindful practice. Vegan and lactose free ingredients are not always options for me. Something could be out of budget, out of stock due to low supply, or the vegan version does not work as well due to textural differences or fat content compared to the traditional dairy products. None of these concerns though drove my desire to build a dairy free Thanksgiving this year, a complete 180 from what I know will be found in my parents’ home.

I’ve grown tired of remembering what dishes require taking Lactaid beforehand and buying the medicine is truly a waste of money when I have the power to create dishes without dairy. Last year I wasn’t as mindful in building a dairy free Thanksgiving, selecting items like Trader Joe’s green bean casserole bites because I wanted a taste of green bean casserole without being stuck with a lot of leftovers that would be painful to my digestive system. Those little bites still upset my stomach. What is off-limits to me does not keep me from recommending those to others who might need a last minute appetizer. They are tasty. If Trader Joe’s went out on a limb and released a vegan version, I’d gladly buy it for future holiday gatherings. Returning to this year’s dinner, there are some traditional selections:

  1. Turkey with gravy
  2. Cranberry sauce
  3. Dinner rolls
  4. Sweet potatoes (savory, not sweet, topping)
  5. Pecan pie

The execution of the menu is what lumps my choices into being somewhat non-traditional for the holiday.

  1. The turkey uses Aarti’s tandoori butter turkey breast recipe from Selena +Chef as the base idea, substituting vegan butter for dairy butter and increasing the amount of ingredients to cover the entire bird. We will also use the vegan butter for the gravy from this same show episode.
  2. Cranberry sauce naturally is dairy free, but I’ll use apple juice instead of orange juice to sweeten it.
  3. Udi’s gluten free classic French dinner rolls replace the Rhodes dinner rolls. While the two roll choices are both dairy free, my body also feels better when I cut back on the amount of gluten I eat during the week.
  4. A sweet potato casserole with marshmallows could have been on the menu and made with vegan butter, but I opted instead to roast purple sweet potatoes and will top them with The Mushroom Company au jus onion saucy mushrooms. The other plus is these steam in the bag!
  5. I thought a vegan pecan pie recipe would be harder to come across, but I will make the one from Nora Cooks. (I’ve never made a pecan pie before, so wish me luck!)

As far as price goes, the dinner is $117.27 pre-tax, and excludes items that are pantry or fridge staples already on-hand like flour, vegan butter, apple juice, and spices. I also plan to pair the vegan pecan pie with the dairy free Cherry Garcia ice cream Ben & Jerry’s makes; since the latter was already in the freezer and not specifically bought for the holiday, I did exclude it from my pricing. The only thing I truly forgot to account for was buying flax seed for the pie, and I am ok with not trying to tally it as we bought non-dairy Reddiwhip and So Delicious Coco Whip for pies recently and I included numbers for both of those in my Thanksgiving tally.

Our breakdown looks as follows (and is enough for Thanksgiving dinner plus leftovers!):

  1. 10.76 lb. free range organic turkey ($53.69)
  2. 2 packages Trader Joe’s cranberries ($5.00)
  3. Vegan pecan pie ($24.65)
    • 1 pie shell, frozen store bought
    • Non-dairy Reddiwhip
    • So Delicious Coco Whip
    • 10 oz. chopped pecans
    • 1 bottle dark Karo syrup
  4. (4 packages) Mushroom Company onion au jus mushrooms ($15.96)
  5. (2 packages) Udi’s gluten free classic French dinner rolls ($10.98)
  6. 3lbs. organic Stokes brand purple sweet potatoes ($6.99)

I hope this little snapshot of Thanksgiving inspires you all and wherever you find yourself this week, may you be surrounded by people you care about and who care about you. Life is short. Be around people who matter and whatever you are grateful for this season, please remember there are many grieving this time of year. Their “happy” will not look like your “happy” and that’s ok. I speak about loss not tied just to the Club Q shooting in Colorado, but these families and many like theirs will stare at empty seats this year and without the person(s) who brought particular dishes, jokes, games, etc. that make their family events memorable. We can enjoy our blessings and still be mindful that hands need holding, prayers are requested, and support options exist within our means and spheres of influence to serve those families in need this season. Remember, it is not the time of year to only think of ourselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s