Meatless Monday: Hey, Thanks (I'm Talking to YOU)

Lose the feeding frenzy aspect (please), and Thanksgiving is about creating celebration, togetherness, a sense that everything's going to be all right.
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What are you grateful for? The staff of vegan, organic meccaCafe Gratitude starts each day by answering this question. I find Cafe Gratitude's practice -- they call it Clearing -- beautiful, healthful and not always easy, especially on days where the glow of positive energy is at risk of being eclipsed by your standard negative crap energy. Still, conjuring what you're grateful for is always worth doing, not just for the sake of going out into the day with a stupid-ass grin on your face, but because giving thanks is good for us. Studies prove it ramps up our life force. It makes us better people and more fun to be around. As I write in my book "Feeding the Hungry Ghost," "Gratitude is the soul's Lipitor. It opens our hearts. It gives us faith. It gives us energy to go forward."

Faith and energy have been thin on the ground here as I've faced a series of catastrophes and emergencies, including a hospitalized family member, burst pipes, crashed computers and a cracked tooth. For mood modification, I think about everything that's happened since my book came out earlier this year, from speaking this weekend at the 30th annual Miami Book Fair International -- my favorite literary event, and it takes place in my very own 'hood, to learning VegNews has named "Feeding the Hungry Ghost" Book of the Year, an honor that blew the top of my head off.

But so much has been mind-blowing -- connecting with heroes both culinary and vegan. I'm talking to you, Jacques Pepin, John Robbins, Joe Yonan and that's just the Js. My book has been cheered on by the incomparable Robin Asbell, Nava Atlas and Our Hen House. I've had support from amazing indie book stores (I'm talking to you, Books and Books), organizations I totally get behind (I'm talking to you, Slow Food, Les Dames d'Escoffier and Oldways) and my own family, who've schlepped books and baked my recipes for vegan cookies for events. And I'm talking to you.

Whether you know me here from Meatless Monday (thank you, Huffington Post) or from my book, whether we connected at the largest literary event in the nation or at the Brownie meeting when I introduced a dozen 9-year olds to the beauty of produce in season (go, Troop #753), it's a thrill to meet you. It knocks me out when you say I've made you laugh or made you think or made you want to cook and eat vegetables. Excellent, because nourishment and connection are what I'm after. I inspire you? Hell, you inspire me. You keep me honest. And you make me grateful. It's a win-win.

I haven't had the chance to eat at Cafe Gratitude, but I've benefitted by their takeaway. I mean their commitment to living and eating joyfully and consciously. This brings us to Thanksgiving. Lose the feeding frenzy aspect (please), and Thanksgiving is about creating celebration, togetherness, a sense that everything's going to be all right. It's about gratitude -- the real thanks that prompted that first Thanksgiving. The key is choosing how to best express it. It doesn't come from a turkey. It comes from us. That's what we bring to the table.

Oh, there's plenty to be pissed about, but without sounding too gushy or woo-woo, we've all got something to be thankful for. Hold that thought. Before you dive into Thanksgiving dinner, thank the universe, fate (that whackadoodle joker), God or whatever divine spirit you believe in. Feeling grateful makes even the simplest meal taste better. Just pause and say, as Anne Lamott does, help, thanks, wow. I would also add, as Cafe Gratitude does, Love. Serve. Remember.

Roasted Pumpkin Salad with Pumpkin Seeds, Chili Vinaigrette and Gratitude

6 tablespoons walnut or pumpkin seed oil
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons cumin
1 good pinch chipotle powder or other chili powder with a kick
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons agave
juice of 1 lime
2 pounds pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 2-inch chunks
1 handful of sage leaves, coarsely chopped
8 cups salad greens, like arugula, spinach or kale or any combination
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

Preheat oven to 400F

In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing -- pumpkin seed or walnut oil, Dijon, cumin, chipotle, coriander, agave and lime juice.

Spread chopped pumpkin onto a rimmed baking sheet, without crowding the pumpkin. Brush the pumpkin with about half the dressing.

Roast for about 25 minutes, or until pumpkin is just becoming tender and done at the edges. Flip pumpkin gently, scatter pumpkin seeds and sage on the baking sheet and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin seeds are toasty and sage leaves are a little crispy at the edges.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Pile greens on a platter. Arrange pumpkin, sage and pumpkin seeds on top and drizzle the remaining dressing over all.

Season with sea salt and pepper.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.