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Vegetarian on the Inside Good behavior tips for Thanksgiving with the man friend’s family...

November 23, 2010

Vegetarian on the Inside

I’ve been invited to my person’s big family Thanksgiving in Virginia this year. At first I didn’t think very hard about this. I’ve met his parents before, albeit under highly controlled conditions. And, I mean, he’s brought girlfriends home before. Then again, not since high school. Hm. As I carefully set out the dog’s various outfits to be packed for the trip, the wheels of irrational logic began to turn in my head:
They’re going to think I’m not good enough for their youngest and most golden of sons. They’re going to hate me. They’re going to hate my cranberry sauce.
As is my general practice when stressed, I’ve made a list. Nothing is more soothing than making a list. Just the writing of the list feels productive. As does rewriting it over and over (who said anything about actually accomplishing tasks and crossing things off the list? pff.). Anyway, I made of list for myself of good behavior tips for Thanksgiving with the manfriend’s family:
1. Keep the panicked look to a minimum. Maybe try to overcome your anxiety by drinking yourself into oblivion. That always works out well.
2. Real hugs now, real hugs. None of the aloof, city-person quick pats you grew up with. You’re going to have to actually touch people, Alix.
3. Don’t laugh out loud at the four-year old nephew/grandson when he trips and falls down. Even if it’s in the mud out by the pond.
4. No, really. You can’t keep laughing when that kid falls down.
5. Be VERY interested in hearing Grandpa’s story about meeting Charles Lindbergh for the fourth time.
6. Don’t get upset when nobody wants to hear about that time you that time you stopped for a sandwich at a fruit and cheese stand on Vancouver Island and they had these goats in a pen out back that had this big ramp with rungs that just jutted out in the air 20 feet above the ground and you asked the woman who worked there about it and she said that it was for the goats and that they loved it and then she made you a sandwich story for the fourth time even though its terribly fascinating.
7. As a vegetarian, you’re totally entitled to twice as many helpings of the favorite side dishes, just don’t announce it or they will turn against you. The sides are always a touchy issue at Thanksgiving because everyone secretly wants to only eat stuffing. And everyone is tipsy and has carving knives nearby. And you know they’re okay with killing things.
8. Don’t share your pet theory that Thanksgiving is really the most communistic of all American holidays – I mean, everybody gets together to share and celebrate sharing? It was a secular exercise in overcoming cultural and political differences to advance humanity along the path of its destiny of a workers’ paradise. Once you get past the long lines and single-ply toilet paper, maybe socialism isn’t all that bad. Yeah, keep it all to yourself Alix. Especially the part about the Plymouth Bay Colony nick-naming the turkey Rasputin. Because that’s probably just not true. It doesn’t even make sense.
9. And speaking of the dangers of the overshare, don’t shop around for opinions on your rash.
10. Don’t try to one-up the aunt with the secret ingredients of our respective world famous chili recipes: “I only use dried beans. They’re more flavorful when cooked from scratch than canned beans.” “Well I only use four kinds of organic heirloom beans.” “I cook mine in beer.” “Well I cook mine in the tears of elfin princesses.” “Well I add a splash of red wine vinegar to brighten the flavors in mine.” “Well I add coffee grounds to mine.” Which isn’t entirely untrue. I do add coffee to mine (decaf if we want to keep the four-year olds from bouncing off the ceiling). And brown sugar. It’s great. A little sweet. A little smoky. Just different enough to be interesting and win all the chili cook-offs. And so filling on these breezy fall afternoons.
Seriously, folks, I’m taking suggestions. E-mail me.

Espresso Black Bean Chili
Based on the recipe by Mark Bittman
Serves 6-8
Time: 11/2 to 2 hours total, 20 minutes active

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 package of tempeh, crumbled (optional)
3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes or one 28 oz can, juice included
1/2 to 1 cup freshly brewed espresso or 1 to 2 cups brewed coffee (I recommend decaf)
2 Tablespoons regular or chipotle chili powder
1/4 cup dark brown sugar or 3 Tablespoons molasses
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 lb. dried black bean, washed, and soaked if you like
salt and pepper
muenster or jack cheese, sliced or grated (for serving)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped (for serving)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and tempeh and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the tomatoes, espresso, chili, brown sugar, cinnamon, and beans.

Add enough water to cover the beans (I give it about an inch) and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat so that it bubbles steadily but not violently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally as well as spooning off any foam that forms, until the beans begin to soften, 30-40 minutes.
When the beans are starting to soften, add a good pinch of salt and pepper and continue cooking the beans until they are tender. If you’ve already soaked the beans this will take 30-45 minutes. If you’re starting with dry beans, it will be more like 1 1/2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar, salt, or pepper. Serve with slices of cheese and the cilantro.

Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University. She can be contacted at

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