saving a turkey: our first vegetarian Thanksgiving

I am thankful that this year we are having two Thanksgiving celebrations. One with our immediate family on Thanksgiving, and another out of town on Friday with our orphan family–the family of friends we had Thanksgiving with for years and years before we moved and had kids. 

It is only because of that second Thanksgiving (which will be traditional in terms of food, if not participants) that my family half-heartedly agreed to indulge me in our first vegetarian Thanksgiving (I didn't push them so far as to go vegan). This is a holiday miracle because my husband is the most traditional person I know. He wants Thanksgiving to be exactly as he had it as a child. I was shocked enough that he allowed me to add a couple of southwestern style dishes to our fare when we moved to Arizona, but to abandon the turkey? I never thought it would happen. But with the promise of a 21-pound turkey on Friday, it has.

Everyone asks me what we're doing "in place of the turkey." I think they mean, "as a main dish." I get it. The whole thing is quite bewildering to most. I'm up to my shenanigans, again. So whatrwehavin'?

This is what we're making "in place of the turkey." food photo source:

This is what we're making "in place of the turkey." food photo source:

We thumbed the pages of our November issue of Vegetarian Times magazine and came up with:

our menu

winter squash pot pie with swiss chard and chickpeas

green beans and radishes braised in orange juice

mashed parsnips with crispy parsnip ribbons

creamed spinach

chocolate cherry semifreddo

These recipes are all new to us, and we're super excited to spend the day cooking together as a family and saving a turkey. 

If you like that idea, and you really want to be a hero (it works even if you've already got the turkey on the oven), you can adopt a turkey through Farm Sanctuary. It's a fantastic program called Farm Sanctuary's Adopt a Turkey Project. They say:

For a one-time donation gift of just $30, anyone can sponsor a turkey who lives at one of our three shelters. As a turkey sponsor, you will receive a special Adopt a Turkey certificate with a color photo of and fun details about your new friend.

Check out their 2013 video to get to know the adoptable turkeys:


Aren't they sweet?

And to keep you in the save-a-turkey spirit, here is the chant Po (my first-grader) did in music class: 

a turkey named Burt thought he'd make up a dance

and he'd dance for the king and the queen

if he did a good job, and they liked it a lot

they wouldn't eat him, cause that would be mean

he went 

slide–close, slide–close

flap your wings and touch your toes

he went 

slide–close, slide–close

shake your tail and wiggle your nose

a turkey named Burt thought he'd make up a dance

and he'd dance for the king and the queen

if he did a good job, and they liked it a lot

they wouldn't eat him, cause that would be mean


Yeah. Happy Thanksgiving!


protecting the dove from the crow

This morning I was taking advantage of the cool(er) about 95-degree summer morning air by doing a bit of gardening in the front yard when a young, tattered baby dove landed at my feet. The bird did not seem injured, but I immediately got the impression that it needed assistance. My elderly, sweet, wonderfully originally-from-Brooklyn neighbor shouted from across the street, "good morning, Kristen! Can you believe that dove? It really likes you. Maybe it's looking for protection from that black crow. We had four mangled doves in our yard last week!"

Tell it like it is, Celeste.

Sure enough, a large black crow was looming nearby. It approached, and the dove got even closer, just an inch from my foot. I squatted down, and the dove walked just out of my reach, moving no faster than what was required to maintain independence. When I stood up, it once again sought protection just next to me. We went through this cycle a couple of times as the crow paced nearby.

"You should run after that crow and shoo it away," cackled Celeste. "It slaughtered doves in my yard last week! They're NASTY!"

Yes...I remember, Celeste.

She and her husband drove off, but not before she rolled down her window and made one last announcement "really, that dove seems to want to be with you!"

And it did.

So the dove and I did the do-se-do for a while. I couldn't chase the crow away because I was the shelter for the dove and couldn't make any sudden movements. Eventually, the crow gave up and flew off, and then my friend left me. Had it let me touch it, who knows what would have happened. I feel bonded to the poor thing, nevertheless.

I hope to see it again under better circumstances.


debating the hunt with Greg (part 2): the ethical hunter


I've been speaking to my brother-in-law, Greg, about his avid hunting for years, and I've written about it before. Although I'm now aiming at a vegan lifestyle, I've eaten his kills in the past with delight, as long as I didn't have to see their faces. Yes, I was that kind of meat eater. A crispy, tender breast is not nearly as lovable as the duck from which it comes.

That is becoming more difficult for me to swallow. I had a conversation with Greg about the hunter and the hunt. Since Greg most often hunts water fowl and upland game birds, we focused on that.

WM: Greg, I know that you are an "ethical hunter." That will sound like an oxymoron to a lot of our readers.

Greg: Well, first off, let me say that a good ethical hunter does not take game for the sake or thrill of the kill, and they only take what they need or will use. I think that water fowl and upland game birds are delicious–a delicacy–so I always eat what I kill.

WM: So the meat doesn't go to waste for the sake of a studly picture, and you're not hanging them on your wall. How much do the animals suffer?

Greg: Not every shot is a good clean kill. There are times when you might only break a wing or create an injury that renders the bird flightless. When a bird is recovered that is not dead, a quick ring of the neck is usually what is done to kill the bird.

WM: Ugh.

Greg: With that said, practicing good ethical hunting can greatly decrease the amount of crippled birds. A good ethical hunter knows the distance and range that is lethal and will only take shots within that range, which results in more clean kills.

WM: So less suffering?

Greg: Yes, and the use of a well-trained dog greatly increases the amount of game recovered.

WM: So a crippled bird isn't left to suffer in a bush?

Greg: Exactly. There is no doubt that you are killing an animal, and some people will never be able to look past that. For me, it is something I have been able to look past, as a hunter.

WM: You often talk about how hunters benefit the population of animals they kill, as a whole. Will you please explain that?

Greg: Hunters do more for wildlife conservation, preservation, and habitat restoration than any other group. It is the revenue, donations, and volunteer hours from hunters that have attributed to the success of organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever, as well as state and federal game regulatory agencies.

WM: So how does this help the animals?

Greg: Simply put, if you were to remove hunters out of the equation, you would see a rapid decline in wildlife populations, habitat, and funding. It is the revenue generated from hunting that allows many of the wildlife organizations to exist. Many manufactures of hunting equipment direct percentages of revenues to support various wildlife organizations. In some instances, 100% of state and federal funding comes from the sale of hunting licenses of species specific tags.

WM: Isn't this all a bit self-serving in the name of conservation? I mean, the greater the population of animals, the more there is to hunt, right?

Greg: We, as hunters, are advocates for the well-being and long term health of the species we hunt. We do not do this with the hopes of killing more animals. It is to ensure the animals' survival and the protection of the habitat needed to support a healthy population.

WM: So there is thought given to the natural balance of things?

Greg: As humans, we have corrupted the natural ecosystem and destroyed millions of acres of habitat through development, farming, and pollution. It is our responsibility as hunters to restore the habitats needed to support healthy populations of wildlife, and it is our role as hunters to keep populations at a level that the available habitat will support. Different states and regions will set game limits accordingly. If it were not for hunters, some species would literally overpopulate and destroy their own habitat and run the risk of spreading diseases that could threaten the long term survival of the species.

WM: So hunters are actually helping maintain a balance between habitat and population.

Greg: Ducks Unlimited explains it well:

Ducks Unlimited is the world's leader in wetlands and waterfowl conservation.

DU got its start in 1837 during the Dust Bowl when North America's drought-plagued waterfowl populations had plunged to unprecedented lows. Determined not to sit idly by as the continents waterfowl dwindled beyond recovery, a small group of sportsmen joined together to form an organization that became known as Ducks Unlimited. Its mission: habitat conservation.

WM: Thank you for speaking about this, Greg.

Greg is able to take what I tend to see simply as an lighthearted, thoughtless slaughtering of innocent animals and raise in me a greater appreciation for the ethical hunter. I may not be able to accept it, but at least I can better understand it.

It does raise other questions for me, however. Though the "ethical hunter" seems to be doing his part to give back, what percentage of hunters are ethical? And if you're not an "ethical hunter," what category do you fall into, and what does that look like?

Do you have any questions for Greg?

debating the hunt with Greg (part 1): a different world

I pride myself on loving and accepting my family and friends, even if I don't agree with what they do. They extend me the same courtesy, and the result is that we can have educated respectful conversations about nearly anything, and we both come out smarter for it. I don't make public statements on social media about my leanings. I prefer to save those conversations for people (or blog followers) I can speak to "live," and not throw punches in the dark. Let me introduce you to my brother-in-law, Greg, who is an avid hunter and fisherman. Let me introduce you to Greg, whom I love and respect despite this fact. He is one of those people whom I have been able to have these intimate conversations with. You see, as a person heading toward a completely vegan lifestyle, and as a person who has never shot a gun and who has no desire to even catch-and-release, for fear I poked a bloody hole in the mouth of a sea-creature, and may have done psychological damage to said fish, I can't quite relate to Greg on this matter. With part a tone of conviction, and part solid facts and foundations, he has somehow presented to me on several occasions that hunting is okay–for him.


I was a little girl who would order ciopinnio in a restaurant and bring most of it home in a doggie bag, only to attempt resuscitation and give freedom to the in-tact animals in a bowl of water once I got home. They received names. And then were promptly eaten by the cat as soon as I went to bed. Or perhaps they were fed to the cat...hmmm...

Greg and I are one and not the same.

I met my husband's brother when he was sixteen, early on in his hunting and fishing endeavors. He first became interested in waterfowl and upland game bird hunting during his sophomore year in high school. He did not come from this background (so hopefully genes have been spared), but was introduced to it by a schoolmate, Lorenzo. Having completed a hunter education class at the age of fifteen, Greg purchased his first State of California Hunting License. He continued to gain more knowledge and interest, then went on his first waterfowl hunt with Lorenzo and Lorenzo's father.

"After going on just one hunt, I knew this was something I wanted to do every season and would need the appropriate gear to do so (waders, decoys, gun, and dog)," Greg said. His parents allowed him to purchase his first shotgun at age seventeen, with money he saved from working. At the same time, Greg purchased (another point of contention that I understand but don't agree with) his first hunting dog, Ruger, a male black lab. As a high school graduation gift from his parents, Greg received a season-long duck blind lease.

Greg completed his first duck season with Ruger and "found a new appreciation for the sport after watching the dog (I had) trained perform in the field." Greg and Ruger continued to hunt successfully together until 2011, when Ruger developed a brain tumor, declined quickly, and had to be euthanized.

First hand, I know Ruger was not just a hunting dog, but an amazing companion for the whole family. We were all heartbroken when he succumbed to his tumor. My favorite memory of Ruger is when Greg left him in my care and I dressed him in a pink shirt and hair bow, took pictures, and gave one to Greg. It was my silent protest to their manly ways. Although Greg would dispute the fact, Ruger loved the temporary makeover.

I have to admit that although I may not agree with the actual hunting, what I've witnessed from Greg in terms of dog training is quite impressive. I can understand how training a dog to have restraint in the moment so as not to alert prey, then follow commands and retrieve and preserve the kill is something to be commended in terms of skill.

I asked Greg why he initially loved hunting:

"What sparked my interest about duck hunting, in particular, was that it was very challenging. First, you have to sound like a duck...some might think blowing a duck call is easy, (but) it takes years to master. A duck call is essentially a woodwind instrument that reacts to air pressure, the aperture of your mouth, and the movement of your tongue to create notes and tones that sound like a real duck. There is verbal communication between the hunter and the ducks. Being proficient at duck calling is a real talent.

I also fell in love with the fact that most duck hunting takes place early in the morning. Most hunters are in the duck blind well before the sun is up. You really get to experience nature wake up as the sun rises and everything begins to move about. I have always loved anything that involves being outdoors.

Once I acquired and trained my first hunting dog, Ruger, I was able to experience a whole new appreciation and passion for hunting. Watching your dog perform in the field is the equivalent of watching your children compete at sports. When they perform well, it makes you proud. It is amazing how much natural instinct and drive hunting dogs have. They LOVE to be out in the field hunting. Literally, they were bred for it. I can remember times when Ruger would see me loading up the truck the night before we were going hunting, and he would jump in the truck and refuse to get out. He did not want to get left behind."

It sounds so romantic when Greg describes it, I almost forget he's shooting down magnificent creatures. But then I snap back into my own reality and ask why. Why shoot animals? Why not skeet shooting? He explains,

"Skeet shooting is challenging in the aspect that it does take skill to hit a moving target, but it could never provide all of the tangible and intangible aspects hunting can provide. You could never learn to master the art of calling skeet, and I am not sure what dog would want to retrieve broken shards of clay skeet targets. Skeet shooting is a fun and enjoyable sport, but, in my opinion, it does not compare to hunting."

Point taken, but I, personally, still don't get it. Killing animals for sport? Yes, they clean and eat their own haul, so it doesn't go to "waste," per se. It's hard for me to swallow (no pun intended) the loss of life.

So, I respectfully have more questions for Greg. Do you?

for the birds: nesting kindergartners

Have I mentioned how much I love my kids' school? Horizon Community Learning Center is a pre-K-12 charter school here in Ahwatukee (Phoenix) that we discovered for our eldest five years ago when he was entering the sixth grade. Porter started there this year for kindergarten. We love it in every way, and the project I witnessed today is a perfect example of why we feel that way.

Each quarter, the K-8th grade classes do in-depth studies on specific subjects or themes. They work on their studies every day of that quarter. This is called "project group." At the end of the quarter, the students present to family and friends what they have learned. It's always impressive, but to see these five- and six- year olds speak in front of a large group of mostly adults, sometimes with self-created props or a PowerPoint presentation goes beyond my comprehension. The kids are truly awesome and are that way because the team of teachers is phenomenal and the parents support the effort. As advertised, the school really is a community.

This quarter, the kindergartners are studying animal habitats with a special focus on birds, a subject I shared about several weeks ago. They have studied real bird skeletons and labeled all of the parts, then compared them to human skeletons. They dissected bird feathers. They used beak models created by the teachers so they could learn what types of beaks are beneficial (or not) in a given situation. They analyzed body coverings. Today, they built nests. In trees. Have I mentioned how much I love my kids' school?

The kindergarten teachers assembled a "forest" of trees (large tree branches propped up on their ends and supported in some way incomprehensible to me). Porter's teacher (who we love beyond words) told me that the teachers were reported by someone for suspicious activity for poaching branches off city trees at 6:00 a.m....oh, what they do for the kids! Containers of nesting materials were placed nearby, and the students were divided up into groups, presumably bird families.


Oh, but it wasn't that simple. Since birds only have one beak, the students could only use one hand to pick up, transport, and build with each piece of material they chose. Even if they knew how to tie their shoes, they couldn't use those skills. It would be an unfair advantage! The teacher caught them cheating a few times and made them remove what they'd done with two hands. Fantastic! I totally caught Porter cheating–not keeping his extra hand behind his back or in his pocket as suggested–but I kept my beak out of the bird business, not wanting to be a nagging hen.


As if that wasn't enough, the teacher simulated wind by shaking the tree ever so slightly. Would the nest hold up? If not, it was back to the start.

I just happened upon this scene when I was at the school volunteering for another kindergarten program. It was lucky and timely, considering I just posted yesterday about the importance of exposing your children to animals at an early age.

There is just so much that this activity teaches the children: first-hand bird knowledge, engineering, teamwork, self control...the list goes on. Not to mention that it gets them up out of their chairs and in the real (protected kindergarten playground) world. And what I love most is that it teaches them empathy for birds. It really illustrates for them in a hands-on way how hard it is to build a nest and how much work goes into it. I'll bet they think twice next time they have an opportunity to nail a bird nest with a baseball.

Original content by well minded word