On Christmas Eve, Rob the Husband made a lovely little facebook post, plagiarizing sayings from Whole Foods gift cards to wish everyone a Merry Christmas:
A friend then proceeded to comment, wishing him luck with his Merry Christmas, insinuating that it wouldn't be very merry or tasty because us vegans are deprived of eating tasty animals in our Christmas celebrating.
I read this commentary not long after waddling away from the dining room, having just stuffed myself with traditional veganized Polish food and a few new dishes from Chloe's Kitchen that made their way into our Christmas dinner buffet, and I couldn't help but laugh. I really don't know whether our lovely friend was just taking a silly jab at us for the fun of it, or whether she truly believes that Christmas dinner cannot be enjoyed without a carcass on the table. Either way, I was entertained.
I proceeded to finish my apple cake square and lick the titty-milk-free cream cheese icing off my fingers before responding, assuring her that there was no deprivation during our Christmas celebrating. In fact, it turned out to be the kind of delicious excess you feel kinda shitty and embarrassed about, knowing that there are so many people in the world who would be privileged to eat a fraction of what we feasted on that night.
So, just what DO vegans of the Polish persuasion (or Polaks of the vegan persuasion, if you prefer) eat on Christmas Eve?
First, they start with eggnog a la Isa Chandra, and spike it with a crap-ton of Filipino rum (mmmm...Tanduay...). Of course they provide an unleaded version for the kiddies and for those not wishing to partake in the rum-fueled deliciousness. Take note...when the alcoholic version disappears and you wonder what to do with the abundant leftovers of the non-alcoholic version, the solution is simple: add rum.
Next, they pay homage to their Italian brethren by eating crostini. Specifically, Chef Chloe's Artichoke Walnut Pesto Crostini. This is a tangy, bright, vibrant appy, really taken up a notch thanks to an abundance of fresh parsley (of which I am not usually a fan...but it's awesome in this dish).
They also appreciate when their cousin brings a delicious tomato basil crostini appy to add to the crostini awesomeness.
Every good Polak knows that it's not Christmas Eve without the borscht, and you can't have borscht on Christmas Eve without the uszka, and you have no business eating uszka if you don't realize that they are called uszka (which translates into "ears") because they actually look like ears. So before hitting up the buffet in the kitchen, they sit down at the dining room table while the Polish moms come around and ladle out borscht over bowls of uszka. And within seconds the cream colored tablecloth is splattered with splotches of bright red as the first course of beet soup is eagerly consumed, thus signaling the official beginning of Christmas Eve in a Polish household.
And because there are 22 people at the table and this isn't the Royal Palace where each person is served simultaneously by impeccably dressed waiters in white gloves, everybody loads up their plates in the kitchen, where an incredible buffet of Christmas dinner awesomeness awaits.
The vegans are grateful that Polish Christmas Eve is traditionally meat-free, and they attempt to ignore the deceased sea creatures on the table (brought by guests). Instead, they load up on mom's incredible cooking, as well as some incredible Chloe Coscarelli dishes deemed appropriate for this night:
~ Mushroom perogies. Pure happiness. My mom learned how to make egg-less perogy dough last Christmas, and the world has been a brighter place ever since.
~ Meatless cabbage rolls. Mom started making these last Christmas, subbing in lots of delicious, meaty mushrooms for the traditional carcasses that go into cabbage rolls, once again, earning my eternal gratitude.
***I will concede, that if I was unable to partake in perogies and cabbage rolls on Christmas Eve, I would indeed be feeling a bit deprived, as my friend suggested. Alas, this is not the case, because my mom is an awesome veganizer of Polish food :) ***
~ Thyme for Creamy Scalloped Potatoes.
These are simply amazing. Superduper creamy (thanks to a garlicky, thyme-y cashew cream sauce) but with no greasy, nasty butter or pooled oily bits on top of the potatoes. Thyme is an absolutely beautiful seasoning...just don't expect to find it at an Asian or Indian grocery store. I went to both T&T and Fruiticana, asked for the herb thyme, and the produce people at both stores proceeded to pull out their iPhones and tell me the time.
I doubled the sauce because I made a slightly larger batch of potatoes and I like my potatoes extra creamy.
~ Coconut Mashed Yams
These were a real hit. I screwed up and mashed in too much coconut milk, making my yams a bit too mushy, but the flavour was not impacted in any way. These are super sweet and perfectly seasoned for the holidays with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Mixing in the currents is the perfect finishing touch. Absolutely loved these.
~ Garlicky Greens
Hellooo kale! This was a last minute addition to the Christmas Eve menu, just cuz I wanted more green on the table, and it was super simple to prepare. Rob did complain while he was washing and tearing four bunches of kale, claiming it would be wayyyy too much, even though I kept assuring him that it would shrink when cooked. And then he saw how much it shrunk (shrank or shrunk?) when it wilted on the pan and claimed that I was right and he would never question me again (that's how it went down in my mind, anyway).
Nothing too exciting to say about the garlicky kale. It was good. It was kale.
~ Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts
Believe it or not, these were the belle of the ball. Who would have thought that friggen BRUSSELS SPROUTS would be the most celebrated dish of the evening?? I was never one of those kids who hated brussels sprouts, but I was also never particularly excited about them. So imagine my surprise when my 11 year old niece (my 11 year old EXTREMELY picky niece) saw them roasting in the oven and was all like, "Awesome! Brussels sprouts!"
At first I thought she was being sarcastic. She wasn't.
I was so impressed that I had to take a pic of her eating the brussels sprouts.
Notice that it was one of only three things that made the cut on her plate. And her facial expression has more to do with how weird I am for taking a picture of her eating brussels sprouts than a reflection of their taste, because she genuinely did love them, as did everyone who tried them. There were only a few stray sprouts left in the casserole dish at the end of the evening. Score!
So even though there were a few seafood dishes (brought by our guests) in our Christmas Eve spread, I had more than enough food to enjoy on Christmas Eve. I should have sent my friend a pic of my plate to assuage her concerns that I was deprived this Christmas.
Clockwise from top: Thyme for Creamy Scalloped Potatoes, green salad with my mom's homemade dressing, mom's sweet carrots, cabbage rolls, Coconut Mashed Yams, cabbage & chickpeas, bigos #1 (cabbage and mushrooms), bigos #2, Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts, Garlicky Kale, and perogies in the middle.
I almost finished it all. Almost.
Had to leave room for dessert, after all...
Oh hello Chloe's Iced Apple Cake Squares, Sea Salt Toffee Bars, and Cinnamon Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies.
The apple cake is one of my new fave desserts. It'll definitely be only a once in a while thing, as there is a lot of oil in it (though I might have to try it with applesauce), but oh man is it ever moist and delicious. I changed up the icing from the recipe, and iced it with a cream cheese icing made with Tofutti cream cheese, icing sugar, and vanilla. So decadent. I used the leftover icing to use for dipping strawberries. Holy Yum.
The Sea Salt Toffee Bars are also a once in a while indulgence, and are ridiculously sweet so you can only enjoy them in small doses. But oh man, the salt mixing in with the chocolate and sugary centre of the bar is something to smile about.
The cinnamon espresso chocolate chip cookies were a hit when I brought them to work earlier this year, prompting many a recipe request from my fellow staff members. While I had already been cookied out by this Christmas (having made them several times in the last couple of months), they have earned their place as a staple in my cookie arsenal. I just have to make sure not to overdo them next year so I can still enjoy them by the time Christmas rolls around.
When I first started flirting with the idea of veganism almost two years ago, one of my concerns was what I was going to do over the holidays. I naturally associated Christmas with a big dead bird on the table, and I had a hard time envisioning Christmas without one at the time.
It's amazing how much ones point of view can shift so dramatically in a relatively short period of time. When I now see ads for BC turkey farmers and images of families gathered around the revered turkey carcass on their Christmas table, all I see is unnecessary cruelty, suffering, and death. And apathy.
I was apathetic for most of my life, and now that the blinders have come off, I am fascinated by how fiercely protective and defensive people are over their right to carve into that dead, tortured bird on their Christmas table.
As luck would have it, Polish tradition is a meatless Christmas Eve, which made it pretty easy hosting this year. Yes, the fish on the table was a huge, sad turnoff for me, but I don't want to be a militant vegan bitch, so I dealt with it. But we certainly didn't need it to enjoy an amazing Christmas dinner.
You know what I discovered I really did need to enjoy an amazing Christmas Eve? My two year old goddaughter in a Santa dress looking for the baby Jesus in the manger...
Because while the food element can certainly consume a lot of our time and energy around Christmas, a little girl excited to find the baby Jesus in the manger might be just a bit more relevant.