• This recipe may seem way less exciting than the vegan pumpkin pie recipe. Like… it’s just gravy, right? Even a so-so gravy is still gravy. Gravy is a sidekick that nobody pays attention to. Gravy, my friends, is never the star. Heck, if the meal is done nicely, you might even skip the gravy altogether. Gravy… who cares?!

    You’d be totally justified in thinking all of these things. But you’d be wrong.

    Let’s travel back in time to the very same “Ryan’s first vegan Thanksgiving.” I had told you all that I pulled down recipes for lots of the staples — vegan stuffing, vegan roast, etc. etc. One of those recipes was for vegan gravy. I made this recipe the very first year, and it turned out quite nicely. “Actually,” I thought, “…this is pretty damn good. I’m going to just keep using that.”

    No big deal, right? A pretty good gravy — great. We’re all very happy for you, Ryan. Why, sweet mercy, why are you wasting our time with this?

    Let me just say this: apparently, this is no ordinary gravy. Over the years, I’ve had multiple Thanksgiving guests from all over the world. Colleagues from England. Dear friends from Italy. Fellow scientists from China. Family members, acquaintances, and even a few people that I just plain don’t like. Across all of these people, vegan or otherwise, one pattern has emerged: there’s always someone who stops eating and says “What the… where the hell did you get this gravy?

    …Continue reading…

  • Around 20 years ago, a confluence of ideas and events led me to the conclusion that I should go vegan. I quietly conveyed this to my younger brother while we were standing in my kitchen, and he paused. He put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a deeply concerned look, and said “Oh, no, dude. You really don’t want to be one of… you know… those people.” But my mind was made up. And thus, my interesting in cooking launched — this was a long time ago, and if you wanted to be vegan in the Midwest, that meant that you were going to have to seriously learn how to make your own food.

    A few months later, it was Thanksgiving time. I was still learning how to cook and bake halfway edible meals, and I wanted to approach a big Thanksgiving feast with enthusiasm — if you’re going to do the whole “meat-free” thing, Thanksgiving is the time to really prove to yourself that you can do it. So, I pulled together a bunch of recipes from various cookbooks and corners of the internet, putting together a menu of all the usual faves: garlicky mashed potatoes, a savory stuffing, some depressing, off-the-shelf substitute that is supposed to fill that turkey-leg-shaped void that you know you’re going to miss.

    But what of dessert? For me, the definitive Thanksgiving dessert is pumpkin pie. Not that over-spiced, heartless, grocery store bakery puck that is baked with contempt by some guy in a hairnet with nicotine stains on his fingers, a crooked tribal tattoo on his throat, and hate in his heart.

    …Continue reading…

  •  “The search is what everyone would undertake if he were not stuck in the everydayness of his own life.

    To be aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something.

    Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

    Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

  • During my 20s, I amassed a huge collection of videogame hardware and software. Multiple rooms were dedicated to housing the collection: hardware from the 70’s and 80’s in one room, 90’s in another, 2000’s in a third. A closet literally overflowing with C64s. A dozen shelves supporting boxes containing esoteric peripherals and accessories: light guns, toy steering wheels, and plastic fishing rods for games that I would never play. A bin of obscure, unlicensed Chinese Gameboy cartridges — mint in box, of course.

    The act of collecting blurred the lines between hobby and compulsion, as these things often go. I enjoyed the complexity of both the existing collection and the process of collecting, much in the way that I imagine a spider would take some kind of deep, intrinsic satisfaction in the construction of an especially intricate web. The more it grew, the greater its psychological gravity. It was something to always worry about — what needed to be rearranged to extract as much meaning as possible from it? When traveling out of town, would someone try to steal it?  What was the best way to even try enjoy a collection so large that it would take several lifetimes to play the vast catalogue of titles?

    The event horizon was perceptible: what if I just… let it all go? Like a smoker who, deep down, really wants to quit but doesn’t want to just yet — the looming discomfort of withdrawal is a powerful motivator. I needed a reason to shed the mental baggage.

    …Continue reading…