They said it couldn’t be done, and, I’ll admit, half an hour before my friends arrived, I was ready to believe them. A gluten-free, vegan holiday. Twelve dishes. Five friends, one oven. What had started as a joke back in April, (“Imagine if we tried to cook a Christmas dinner all together!”) was now all too true, and no longer funny. Not only was I yet to decide on a main course that we’d all be able to eat, but in classic Home Alone style, I’d also been burgled the day before, and was without a laptop, a phone charger, or even an alarm clock.
But that’s how these things start isn’t it? I thought to myself as I began preparing the spiced apple cider. Something against the odds, some kind of twist of fate, and you’ve got yourself a tradition. The show must go on, I sang, whilst realizing I didn’t have a device to access the Pinterest boards I’d painstakingly curated all the recipes I would make, and that I had to go back to basics. Instead of anything complicated, we’d just have to cobble together what we did know how to cook and probably just add more spiced cider.
It was a perfect holiday dinner, in that it was imperfectly perfect. True to form I burnt the popcorn and forgot the gravy. With so much heat from the oven, the gluten-free pastry I made for our mushroom and leek tartlets disintegrated into pieces every time I picked it up. But my guests came early to help me peel potatoes, and stayed late to help me eat it all. Which is all you can really ever ask from anyone, especially when it’s snowing outside and you’re without Netflix.
That was three years ago, and now my gluten free, vegan Christmas dinner is a firm tradition with my four best mates. Before we head home to meatier, wheatier climes, my friends and I make a dinner we can all eat. Come sleet, snow or burglary, we assemble in my tiny kitchen each holiday and cook until there’s no room in the oven. The recipes we make have become so synonymous with those last few days before Christmas that slightly burnt popcorn and spiced apple cider make me just as excited about the holidays as mince pies and cheeseboards used to.
Now, it would be easy for me to babble on about everything I can’t wait to devour this holiday, and hey, I’m not going to deny the twelve Pinterest boards I’ve already created for a vegan Christmas brunch. But I know that for a lot of readers, taking your lifestyle choices home with you isn’t so simple. I can shout the praises of vegan sweet potato gratin from all the snow-covered roof tops I like, but I’m guessing a lot of you will be thinking “sure thing Sparky, but it’s my parents that foot the food bill, so explain the Tofurkey to them.”
One of the comments I received in my last column got me thinking about the ability to follow a vegan lifestyle, and how this changes as you get older. The holidays are synonymous with the food we fill our tables with, but for some people who still live with their families, choosing to go vegan isn’t an option yet. Whether you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice or Christmas, it’s likely there will be food made by your family that forms an integral part of that tradition, and it’s likely a lot of it won’t be vegan.
But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. As I discovered three years ago through the paired-down but tasty-as-hell dinner we managed to rustle up from our combined culinary memory, new traditions can come from anywhere. They don’t have to overshadow ones that have been around for as long as anyone can remember, and there’s always room for more.
Although it might not feel like there’s room for veganism at your family’s holiday table, try it with one course, or even one plate, and see if you can create a new tradition of your own. It’s a great way to start a conversation about something that matters to you, without up-ending the entire meal.
Puddings are always a good excuse for a wild card, I find. Everyone is usually veering on capacity and just wants something sweet to finish off a feast- but there’s no point offering up something too worthy if it has to compete with pumpkin pie. This sticky toffee pudding is a British classic. It’s decadent and rich enough to risk sneaking to the kitchen in the middle of the night for more.
Vegan Sticky Toffee Pudding with Dulce de Leche Sauce
Makes enough for 8
For the sponge:
- 1 cup almond or soy milk
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup dates
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ cup vegan margarine
- ½ cup organic soft brown sugar
- 1 ½ cup white self rising flour
- ⅛ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
For the dulche de leche:
- ⅓ cup golden syrup
- 1 cup organic soft brown sugar
- 1 cup vegan margarine
- ½ cup coconut milk
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
Preheat oven to 370°F /190°C and line a 7″x7″ (18cm x 18cm) cake tin with baking parchment.
Chop up the dates in to chunks and place in a small saucepan. Cover with the almond milk and water and simmer for around five minutes, until the dates are soft. Then take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the baking soda, and leave to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, beat together the margarine and sugar until pale and creamy. Add in the date mixture and stir. Next add the spices, and finally sieve in the flour and fold in to the mixture.
Pour the sponge mix in to the cake tin and bake in the oven for around 40 minutes, or until the surface of the sponge bounces back when pressed lightly.
For the dulche de leche sauce, melt the golden syrup, margarine, sugar and vanilla essence in a small saucepan and simmer for five minutes. Then take off the heat and leave to cool slightly, before stiring in the coconut milk.
Serve hot with the pudding, or store in the fridge for a week for leftovers- it’s perfect in porridge, with fruit or just more dessert!