Thanksgiving has always been a special time of year for me, mostly because I have a socially acceptable excuse to eat too many good foods like fluffy pumpkin pie with walnut-streusel topping. One year, my (now ex) partner made me a feast a la Julia Child, cooking whatever Julia made while watching her early TV shows. I will forever be reminded of that aristocratic Mid-Atlantic twang when I near a cooking Beef Bourguignon. I was still eating the leftovers when we broke up. But I digress.

This Thanksgiving, I was invited to a party type thing with a disproportionate ratio of gay chefs. Being gay, I felt comfortable with the general social atmosphere, but I am not a "real" chef-- my addition to the spread was mainly in cheese and wine format. Consider as well the location of this event: Portland, Oregon. There was a very cute system of flags to designate the vegan-ness, vegetarian-ness, or animal friend-containing-ness of our foods (for the record, my cheese: vegetarian. my wine: vegan.), and being a proud former vegetarian, I automatically took a dim view of the foodstuffs that didn't gratuitously contain at least some of the delicious and varied animals available at the Zupan's down the street. Seriously, they sell rabbit steaks and wild boar and shit. The list of animals I haven't eaten yet is growing smaller by the day. But I digress once more.

After a few bottles of wine, an emotionally charged new-age but decidedly non-religious blessing of the 20 or 30 dishes sitting in front of everybody, I had a newfound acceptance for the vegan and veggie flagged non-baconed Brussels sprouts and this thing that totally looked and tasted like Mediterranean kimchi. I accepted that it might be okay to keep my meat for the day confined to turkey and ham, and graciously plopped little bits of each dish onto my plate as they were passed around. After about 30 minutes, each dish had orbited the table at least once, and a curious white ceramic loaf pan sitting a foot from my plate was the only dish left un-sampled.

Friends, family, and strangers, I am here to tell you that contained within that dish was nut loaf. I had heard of nut loaf before, and had mentally written it off as a thing to laugh at, rather than a serious source of nutrition— yet here it was, and here I was, and the next thing I remember is cutting off a chunk (a slice?) and putting it on my plate, and discreetly tasting a morsel.

Even if you were like my former self, and had never tried nut loaf, you know what it tastes like. That is because it tastes like nuts. It tastes like if nuts had a Halloween party and all dressed up like meats, and they were all giggling and having a fun time and maybe eating some candy or passing around a bong, and then a late nut comes to the party and is all like "why is everyone meat?", but it's okay, because all of the nuts dressed as meats are all like "it's cool, we're really nuts and we're not trying to hide it all that hard!"

And it is cool, because nuts are pretty decent, and nut loaf has been upgraded in my mind to food status. I give nut loaf a rating of 2/2, A++, would eat again.

Many people regard nut loaf with with a number of prejudices and stereotypes: that it's some kind of vegan penance for wanting to eat meat, that it's what vegans eat when they are called upon, against their wills,  to celebrate with food, or what they used to eat before they had nice proprietary food from Whole Foods that made you not miss meat at all, at all.

Actually, nut loaf is one of the best luncheon/supper/light dinner recipes out there. (High tea fans might just find it good, as well.) In its classic form, less gluten-free vegan than an egg dish with breadcrumbs and a dairy sauce, it’s really just…what can I say? Nice. Fun. Indulgent, even, if you were the kid who always wondered why the grownups told you that you could only eat just a few nuts, or olives before dinner …Well, here you are. You can eat nuts to your hearts content, and no one will tell you you’re wrecking your appetite.

One of the things that will help is a food processor/minichopper. You’re going to have to do a lot of chopping. 

1 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup onions, finely shredded. 
1/2 pepper, finely chopped
1 1/4 cup of chopped tomatoes

Saute, in

2 T vegetable oil

adding veggies one by one, until browned and a little dry.

Then place in a bowl:
3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped (optional: brown them first, with the veggies)
1 cup breadcrumbs (from wholewheat, artisan, or other righteous bread optional: ditto)
(optional) 1/4 cup wheat germ
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 T. flat parsley, chopped fine
1 T. summer savory or herbs de province
1 t. seasoned salt (Vege-sal, or Spike, or...) 

Add sautéed  ingredients to dry ones, moistening with a little water, vegetable stock or V-8 juice if necessary. Mix well, pressing into a buttered, floured loaf pan.  Bake for 45 minutes at 350 F. 

While you’re doing that, make some 

Mushroom sauce

Saute 8 oz mushrooms,

cut small, until dry  in:

2 T butter (or olive oil) 
Add 2 T. finely minced onion and/or carrot 

Dust with:

2 T whole wheat flour 

stir together. 

Then add, slowly, 

1 cup vegetable stock, 

stirring until smooth.

  (Optional: run through blender and/or add 1/2 cup cream.)

Turn heat off. 

Serve as you would meatloaf, with potatoes, and a side vegetable and fruit dessert for dinner, by itself with soup/salad/fruit and cheese for an interesting lunch. Leftovers are nice over noodles or toast, especially with sauce....

If you feel like experimenting, you might add the mushrooms (with a pinch of thyme) into the loaf itself, or a 1/2 cup of olives, or try a cheese layer, or more eggs, blended into the mix, or hard-boiled and whole. Non egg people might want the cheese, about 1/2 C, instead. No Gluten people might like brown/wild rice. (And that's where I part company with the current wisdom of Our Tastes at All Cost. If you want to play with xanthan gum, fake eggs, and almond milk, you're welcome, but this early 20th century Lent/Depression/Ration point/Health food classic deserves its own kind of respect.) Some people might like theirs with lemon and parsley butter. And of course, you can make it with different herbs and spices: dill or nutmeg for a Norden feel, Italian seasoning, a hint of curry, Moroccan, Thai....

Anyway, Bon appetit!

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