Saturday, October 31, 2009

Confessions of a Vegetarian's Father

I stand amidst a room full of strangers. Someone coughs. I nervously shuffle my feet and begin to speak.

“Hello, everyone. My name is Tim, and I'm the father of a vegetarian.”

“Hello, Tim!”

Yes, it's true... My daughter's a vegetarian. Or, rather, a lacto-vegetarian. And I, her father, find myself in the midst of Thanksgiving Day preparations once again; a holiday I approach with trepidation in the best of years, because, well... My daughter's a vegetarian.

Growing up, Thanksgiving Day was always the holiday of holidays in my family, a fact my wife finds exceedingly odd to this day. You see, my wife grew up in a military family (US Army), seldom living in one place for more than a few years, and more often than not, far from convenient driving distance of 'grandmother's house'. I, on the other hand, lived in one place most of my life... Stockton, California, the town where I was born, and where my parents were born as well (though, if you want to quibble, my mother was actually born in French Camp and my father in Lodi). And every year, we'd load up the car, the pies and our appetites, and make the trek cross-town to 'Grandma's house', where we and a good many other members of the Nunes clan would congregate, hug, talk in loud and boisterous voices, and bask in the glow of 'family'.

Years later, the gatherings moved to my parent's house, but the table remained large and the gathering's boisterous... Until I moved my own family to America's heartland, thousands of miles away. Since moving to the Midwest, traditional family holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter have devolved into little more than regular family dinners, an opportunity for my wife, daughter, and I to sit down across the table from each other for a shared meal (which is an accomplishment, in and of itself, what with our respective schedules and the fact that our daughter's now in college).

This year, however, we will be hosting a family gathering once again, with my sister-in-law's family coming from Iowa, along with a nephew now attending an Iowa college. The latest head count seems to indicate that we may even need to set up our house's first 'kids table' (I won't go into how old I was before I finally got to sit at the 'big table', other than to say that I grew up in a large, extended family, and there were never enough places to sit... Okay?!?).

And, as in past years, I find myself struggling with the menu... Though not for conventional reasons. No, the decisions about the traditional main dishes and side dishes have pretty much been made... It's the vegetarian element that now needs to be addressed. Though my daughter 'poo-poos' such talk with comments like “I can just eat mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, and vegetables” (which likely won't happen, as my darling vegetarian doesn't particularly like salad and vegetables), I, her father, the incurable optimist, continue trying to find dishes we can all share (she being lacto-vegetarian, and I being lactose intolerant).

In recent years, I've tried eggplant dishes (mine was a disaster, though she's since found another recipe we all like), faux-meatloaf (another disaster... let's not even talk about it), and macaroni and cheese (a marginal success, made using the best-tasting soy-based cheeses). And, to be honest, most of my attempts likely failed because I either used ingredients my daughter disliked (e.g. most vegetables) or tried to use 'fake ingredients' (nothing against Boca products, mind you, but... Well... Again, let's just not go there).

So this year, my wife and I adapted a tried and true recipe of my mother's, a recipe based upon an ingredient our daughter likes, with a few modifications to make it both healthier and lactose-free... A recipe for lentil loaf. And to reward you for taking the time to read this post, here's our recipe......

Tim & Kathy's Lentil Loaf

(The product of several previous failures, and inspired/adapted from multiple sources, including a recipe from a copy of “The New Laurel's Kitchen” cookbook given me by my sister)


2 cups cooked and drained lentils

2 cups whole wheat bread crumbs

2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

1 cup finely chopped Pepitas (aka raw, shelled pumpkin seeds)

1 cup Egg Beaters (or 4 eggs)

½ cup catsup

½ cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil

1 package Lipton Onion-Mushroom soup

1/2 teaspoon sage

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 cup shredded and finely chopped carrot

½ cup finely chopped onion

½ cup finely chopped celery


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Saute onion, garlic, carrot and celery in 1 tablespoon oil until onion is translucent.

Mix remaining ingredients and place in greased loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes uncovered. Let stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Makes one full-size loaf.

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