stuff it

We recently hosted a friend in our home—a vegan. She is not militant about it, merely sensible and devoted to an ideal in her food choices. We were happy to have her here for the visit but as chief cook of the household, I was a bit unsure just what I might be able to serve her. Ultimately, I ended up serving her very little. She cooked for herself and us, and the food she made was delicious.

We are not vegans, nor strict vegetarians. The best label I've heard for someone such as myself is flexitarian. By definition, I'm an omnivore who eats meats infrequently—but I do enjoy cooking and eating meat dishes.

Last week, my wife brought home a recipe for stuffed pumpkin and asked if I would make it for her. The recipe is relatively simple, with room for variation according to taste. I hollowed out the interior of a small pie pumpkin and seasoned it generously with salt and pepper before stuffing it with Emmentaler cheese, cubes of oat bread, a handful of green lentil sprouts, sliced garlic, crumbled turkey bacon, scallions, and ample fresh-ground nutmeg. Just before sliding it into the oven for a slow, 2-hour bake, I poured a bit of cream into the stuffed cavity and replaced the lid.

While that baked, I stirred up a pot of potato-leek soup and a made a cranberry-apple pie. On hand were chilled Prosecco and some cold cans of Oskar Blues' Scotch Ale.

Let's just say it was worth the wait. The house filled with an indescribably delicious scent as time went by, at once savory and sweet. When the pumpkin came from the oven, it was bubbling over with goodness. We chowed down with a half-dozen friends on the scooped goodness, with soup and bread and libations on the side.

After supper, it was time for a large slice of pie and a cup of hot tea.

Cooking for friends and loved ones is what this season is all about for me. I won't lie—I actively dislike the media frenzy that has turned our cultural feast days of autumn/winter into an abomination. I realize it powers the economy, but consumer culture is a sad replacement for the real pleasures of family and friends.

I stay grounded and in contact with the season by baking and cooking. I find time to try out new recipes, such as "Pumpkin Stuffed With Everything Good." There's something quieting and deeply satisfying about peeling a mound of tart apples, slowly.

One reason I'm not a vegan is that I like the breadth of foods available to me otherwise. I'm sure there are many choices vegans have of which I am not aware, and I certainly appreciate the vegan lifestyle as a healthy way. But I will go only part way there, preferring scratch cooking and homegrown or local produce as a mainstay.