Congratulations to City Paper for featuring an article on vegan holiday fare! While I doubt that the majority of eaters would eschew the turkey in favor of sides, this will hopefully inspire folks to try a few new things. As a longtime meatless eater and proponent of local foods (who looks forward to all of the side dishes), I would like to offer a few insights and points of clarification on some of the things Nicole Milano mentions in her article:
Tofu and tempeh are not on the same plane as branded meat substitutes (foods pretending to be meat), such as the "chik'n nuggets" mentioned in the first paragraph. Made from minimally processed soy beans, tempeh and tofu are traditional, protein-rich foods that have been a staple of various Asian cuisines for hundreds and thousands of years, respectively.
On the other hand, store-bought "pretend meats," unlike tofu and tempeh, are often built on a base of wheat gluten (which has its own set of issues) and riddled with complex chemical combinations in the form of preservatives, artificial flavorings, and colorings. (Just because something is marketed as "vegan" doesn't mean that it's necessarily good for you!) Whether you're vegan or not, it's a good idea to read labels. If you're scoping out a processed food item and can't pronounce an ingredient, need to Google it on your phone while you're in the store, or think you would need to buy a vowel to complete its spelling on Wheel of Fortune, you're probably better off leaving it at the store.
While chef Brian Van Etten of the Owl House clearly has a sweet tooth, it's important for everyone (not just vegans) to balance their blood sugar. If every vegan side dish on the Thanksgiving buffet is packing some secret sweet ingredient (e.g. Craisins, which are incredibly high in sugar), chances are you'll be slumped over from a sugar headache before you even have a chance to sample Jennifer Morgan's [Almost] Vegan Harvest Pumpkin Cupcakes (local maple syrup would be a great alternative to honey—or fake honey!). Sweet-n-savory is definitely a compelling flavor combination, but save that secret weapon to punctuate maybe one or two dishes out of your whole delicious array of offerings.
For vegan baking, the best egg substitute is ground flax meal and water. For the equivalent of one egg, use 1 tbsp. ground flax to 3 tbsp. warm water. Mix well in a small container and set aside for a few minutes. It will develop a viscous texture very similar to a beaten egg! Once it starts to get sticky, you can add it to your recipe. You can buy whole or ground flax seeds at most stores in the area. It's important to store them in an airtight container in the fridge once they're opened to keep them fresh and keep their Omega-3 content from breaking down. If you purchase whole flax seeds, you can use a clean coffee grinder to quickly grind them yourself on an as-needed basis. (Incidentally, our bodies can get far more nutrients from the ground flaxseeds than whole ones, which, in the words of The Doors, tend to "break on through to the other side.")
As for making the most of our local harvests, the Public Market is not the go-to destination for locally grown/raised foods in Rochester. Sure, it's fun for people-watching on a Saturday, but many of the vendors at the Public Market actually import their goods from far-flung places (like California), and it can be really difficult to find local (and organic) produce without conducting an interview with each vendor.
The South Wedge Market emphasizes local and sustainable products, but is not year-round (it closes for the winter in mid-October). The Brighton Farmers Market emphasizes locally grown food farmed with organic and/or sustainable practices (it's not all "certified organic;" that's a topic for a whole other article, but suffice it to say that the growing practices are generally better than those represented at the Public Market). The Brighton market also stays open year round; they recently moved indoors for winter (Sundays, 1–4pm Brookside Center; http://www.brightonfarmersmarket.org/), and there's also a winter farmers market at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Highland Park on Wednesdays from 3–6pm (http://highlandwintermarket.com/). Penfield's East Side Farmer's Market is also year-round (Sundays, 10am–2pm at Grossmans Garden and Home).
Regardless of one's dietary inclinations, another great way to access local, healthfully farmed produce is through the Good Food Collective (http://thegoodfoodcollective.com/), which organizes fresh, whole-food products from an array of Rochester-area farms and offers them for weekly pickup on a seasonal subscription basis. This is similar to CSA (community supported agriculture) offerings from individual farms, except that the Collective orchestrates harvests from many small farms and operates year-round. They even freeze surplus fruits and veggies from the summer months to ensure a local food supply throughout the winter! They also have a pretty active Facebook group where many members post recipes.
Vegan or not, cooking with more fresh, local ingredients will also generate a lot more food waste at home. Don't throw it away! If you have a yard, it's really easy to compost your food scraps, turning it back into rich soil that you can use to grown your own veggies next summer (that's about as local as it gets, folks). If you're not vegan and have a yard, consider getting some chickens, who will be happy to recycle your kitchen scraps into eggs! And, for the conscious apartment-dweller or those lacking the time and space, there's a fabulous local service called Community Composting (https://www.communitycomposting.org/). For a nominal fee, they'll supply city-dwellers with a green bucket in which to collect your compostable materials and pick it up from your doorstep weekly. Every month, they'll either give you kitchen plants (like fresh herbs to grow on your windowsill), a bin full of very fine, composted soil to use in your own garden or houseplants, or will make a donation of compost to a community garden on your behalf.
I don't work for any of the above organizations; I just want to offer readers a more thorough guide to the numerous options for healthy eating/living here in Rochester, and to elucidate some of the points from Nicole Milano's article. As for recipe resources, here are a few of my favorites:
The Vegetarian Times:
(a veritable compendium of reliably delicious vegan and adaptable vegetarian dishes)
Very Vegetarian, by Jannequin Bennett
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman
(many of the recipes are already vegan or can be easily adapted)
Babycakes, Erin McKenna
(the ultimate recipe book for vegan, gluten-free baking)
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