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Minus The Bird

Celebrating Thanksgiving Without Turkey

Paige Shuttleworth

By Shelly Blake-Plock | Posted 11/21/2007

Dani Simmonds' mom eats meat. But come Thanksgiving dinner, you won't find her carving up the bird. Instead, you might find her braising the tofu--because on Turkey Day, Mama Simmonds becomes a vegetarian.

The younger Simmonds--who works in developmental cognitive neurology at Kennedy Krieger Institute--explained over a dinner of jicama and potatoes that his Thanksgiving dinners are better than ever since losing the turkey. And what began years ago as a way to bridge the culinary divide between an omnivore mother and her vegetarian son has developed into a tasty meatless holiday custom.

It all started a few years back when on a holiday trip through New York the Simmonds found themselves minus one turkey. Improvising, they decided to go out on the town as cosmopolitan pilgrims and discovered a swanky downtown vegan joint serving holiday cheer sans bird. By the end of the meal, Dani and his mother declared it "the best Thanksgiving meal we had ever eaten," he says. And a tradition was born.

Not all vegetarians are so lucky. With all the focus on turkey and stuffing, holiday veggers often find themselves left out in the cold. So here are a few ideas for both vegetarians and vegans and the people who love and feed them on Thanksgiving.

Veggie potlucks are not only a great place to fill a belly but are also a nice way to get to know fellow eaters. Jeannie McStay is the outreach coordinator for Baltimore's nonprofit Vegetarian Resource Group (www.vrg.org, [410] 366-8343), the education organization that publishes Vegetarian Journal. For 26 years, the organization has held an annual vegan potluck on the weekend before Thanksgiving; the Roland Park event attracts about 100 hungry tummies each year. Everyone is invited, whether or not they understand the vegan thing.

"It's supposed to 100 percent vegan, but it usually ends up to be about 98 percent," McStay says. "Some people don't quite understand the concept and bring something with eggs, dairy, whey, or honey. That's why we ask people to bring an index card with the ingredients listed.

"There are a number of vegetarians who attend, and they don't mind if something's not vegan," she adds.

Several such events are held in the area, including the annual Thanksgiving With the Turkeys at Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Montgomery County (15200 Mount Nebo Road, Poolesville). That's with the turkeys, as in, "Let's have dinner with the Joneses."

And you never know what exactly is going to show up on the table. "The variety is pretty amazing," McStay says of her group's potluck.

And what is this incredible variety that fills the turkey-shaped hole in the middle of the Thanksgiving table? Well, if Skai Davis, chef at the Yabba Pot (2431 St. Paul St., [410] 662-8638), has anything to say about it, it's going to be occupied by a tofu "Tur-Kee" dressed with portobello gravy, accompanied by corn-bread stuffing, smashed sweet potatoes, vegan mac and cheese, and string beans almondine. For dessert: a scrumptiously vegan pumpkin cheesecake--all of which can be prepared and picked up in advance.

Folks who like to go out on the town for holiday dinners should get in touch with Bonnie Sorak. Organizer of the First Saturday Vegan Potluck Dinner Group ([410] 465-0427), Sorak this year is planning the group's festivities for a holiday dinner trip to a local vegan-friendly restaurant. And if you just need to talk about food this holiday, check out the next monthly vegetarian meet-up discussion group put together by Earthsave Baltimore (baltimore.earthsave.org, [410] 252-3043).

So with all the apparent options, what are some local vegetarians and vegans planning for this year's holiday season? Baltimore hairstylist Katie Fredericks is vegan-with-children. She doesn't see much of a problem in that. "You just make the vegan substitutions, and it's easy," she says. And Fredericks makes it plain that being vegan doesn't mean skimping on Turkey Day. "Thanksgiving is about eating lots of food," she says. "There's plenty to eat besides turkey."

Fredericks' filmmaker husband, Chris, is making dinner at home this year and he stands by his Tofurky. "It comes stuffed with delicious stuffing," he says drolly. He is a big fan of his wife's vegan mashed potatoes (soy milk and Earth Balance buttery sticks sub for the dairy) topped with mushroom gravy and sopped up with a chunky slice of vegan pumpkin bread. "We eat and then fall asleep watching football," he deadpans.

As for the Simmonds, their dinner has evolved into an elaborate array of veggie delights. When asked to pinpoint which dish is his favorite, Dani can't bring himself to choose one over another. But then his face brightens into a big smile. "If forced, I would have to say the pumpkin cheesecake," he says. Even vegetarians can't wait to get to dessert. H

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