On Gratitude.

This year, I'm thankful for Honkey Tonk the donkey.
Gratitude. That feeling you get inside that swells and swells until you can't help but smile. The deep breath you take in as you realize everything really is going to be okay. The long, loving hug you give to that special person who was there just when you needed them to be.

For me, the holidays are all about gratitude - it's that time of year when we reflect on what went right this year, what we can work on for next year, and what makes being alive such a gift. The love and company of family, delicious food, holiday music, and our yearly traditions are what I look forward to each year - and even though some traditions have adapted to my vegan lifestyle, they are every bit as sacred and loved as they were before going vegan. Maybe even more so now. 

Below, you'll find a few things on the subject of gratitude. First, a short list of what I'm thankful for this year. Second, two very heartwarming reasons to smile: our giveaway winners share why they are thankful this year and some of the delicious food they made for their families at Thanksgiving. Finally, a beautiful story my friend on the east coast sent me about her travels to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

So, grab something warm to drink, snuggle up at the computer, and read on...  

Today, I, Lindsay the vegan blogger, am grateful for: 

The time I get to spend with my family this holiday season. And speaking of family, my family.

A hot mug of Teechino with soymilk sitting next to me right now.

Wonderful friends who do wonderfully kind things - namely, Joanna Wilson and blogger Brian Leahy of Joanna Wilson Photography for capturing Steve and my recent vow renewal at Animal Acres:

Despite only being here for three short months, knowing that Los Angeles has become our home. 

Feeling at home mostly because I share my west coast dwelling with the love of my life and best friend. That certainly helps. 

Four beautiful rescue kitties who are safe, healthy, and happy with us.

This delicious five-ingredient pumpkin pie cheesecake recipe I made on Thanksgiving from Healthy Happy Life.

Animal Acres

The basics - a roof over my head, vegan food in my tummy, clothing to keep me warm, clean water, and people who love me and who I love right back. 

Getting to spend every day helping make the world a better place for animals.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - living vegan. Best gift ever. 

And finally:

YOU. Yes, YOU! You, my readers, make posting on here each week a true delight. Thank you so much for that. 

Here is what Melissa, our first winner, had to say about what's she's thankful for this year: 

Thanksgiving is one special time of year for most of us. 

We are often so busy running around and preparing that we often forget about the spirit of thanksgiving. Coming from a native background I tend to step back and see what this time of year is really about from a spiritual perspective. The fall harvest celebrations are all about thanking mother nature for the goodness she has provided us. The wealth of produce we have procured from the plants that would not grow if we did not appreciate the land. Being vegan was a personal choice for me. It was partially due to an intolerance to dairy and eggs but it became an easy lifestyle for me to pick up. I often feel that veganism is an easy way to pay respects to my fellow animal friends and mother nature. Though some may not enjoy the thought of giving up animal flesh in their diets,  I have found it easier to transition knowing that I am living in a free country with plenty of wealth which, makes doing my part not really a chore. We get to choose what we eat and how we want to eat it. Others are not as lucky as us in this choice. The important thing is that I am thankful for the respect that is given to food choices in our neck of the woods. Thanks to all of those who are living a respectful lifestyle. 

Mel's Marvelous Spicy Tomato Soup

 serves 4 or more 

2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion (maybe two, if you like onion)

 2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 carrot, peeled, and chopped

3 cups vegetable broth

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

2 large tomatoes, chopped (or cubed)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 cup fresh basil, chopped (or in this case 2 tbsp dry basil)

1. Warm oil in a pan or in your stock pot. Then add onion, garlic, and carrots. Cook for 5 min, on medium-high heat until carrot is soft and onions are translucent.

2. Add vegetable broth, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Then add tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

3. Just before the soup is done add the basil ( approximately 2-5 minutes before done). Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Voila! You have some great tasting tomato soup. Place in bowls and add the garnish. 

Garnish with 1 tbsp of plain soy yogurt and a sprinkle of fresh sprouts.

This soup is great as a gazpacho in the summer. 

And here's how blog reader and giveaway winner Jacquelynn responded to the question: what are you grateful for this year?

This year I am thankful for a full year of veganism allowing me to not take any medications that I use to have to take for my Crohn's/Colitis problems.  Doctors used to tell me to eat meat and avoid veggies and nuts in order to avoid flare-ups. Funny how I never felt like I was getting better, just getting by.  After reading and researching about plant-based diet healing powers, I adopted a vegan diet.  Long story short, I have never been healthier or felt better.  I haven't had a cold or flu in two years, and I haven't dealt with any signs of Crohn's/Colitis either.  I went from taking up to 16 pills a day (the maximum I ever had to take to maintain the disease) to ZERO.  So. Very. Thankful.

Jacquelynn's Creamy, Dreamy, and Kind Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese Casserole

Disclaimer: I don't cook by exact measurements, so this is the closest to exact I can remember. Add more or less of the ingredients to make it your own favorite comfort food. I am also in a high altitude, so cooking time may differ. I promise, you won't be disappointed!

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large  onion, diced (I used a sweet onion)
1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces (most stores have pre-cut/cubed squash this time of year... makes it much easier)
 14 oz. un-sweetened (not low-fat) soy milk  
Salt and pepper to taste  
1.5 tablespoons chopped sage  
3 tablespoons  nutritional yeast
4 cups (approximately) macaroni... I used around 2 cups quinoa elbow macaroni and 2 cups whole grain spirals (I didn't measure exactly, so this can be increased or decreased to your liking).  I liked the texture with the two different types.  
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts 
½ cup bread crumbs (I made my own out of Ezekiel bread, but I'd like to try it again with panko).  Add more or less to get a consistency that you like.
*for the Ezekiel bread crumbs, I coated 4 pieces of the bread with soy-free Earth Balance buttery spread and baked in the oven until toasted.  I then broke the pieces up into bits to use.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a casserole dish; set aside.

2. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add squash, soy milk, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add nutritional yeast to the soymilk/onion/butternut liquid. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in sage and simmer 1 minute more. (This part can be made ahead, up to 1 day in advance, but it works just as good the same day. I'm impatient when I want my comfort food)!

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook until tender but still firm, about 8 minutes. Rinse in cold water, drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Transfer squash mixture to bowl with macaroni. Add walnuts, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Transfer to prepared dish and top with bread crumbs. Bake until just golden brown and hot throughout, about 30 minutes. 
4. With 5 or 10 minutes to go, I added whole sage leaves on top to garnish - a personal preference. Paprika might be a nice garnish too.

Photo courtesy of the lovely Trista Norton.
And finally, here's what Trista, a friend of mine from the east coast, had to say about her first time volunteering at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary:

The most amazing thing happened to me right before I left today, and I wanted to share it with you.

When I was getting ready to leave, one of the ladies suggested that I spend some time in the goat/sheep barn before I headed off, so I did. I walked in the barn and went over to the goats and started lovin' on 'em, when all of a sudden, I started to cry. At that moment, Jacob the goat came over to me and "hugged" me, and I started to cry even more. I tried holding back my tears because I didn't want anyone to see me crying (heaven forbid HAHA), but I couldn't. The barn was so quiet, still and peaceful with only the occasional bleeting/baahing from the guys, and I was so overwhelmed I cannot even express it into words. Long story short, I got to my car and cried all the way to the Thruway. The energy, peace and love of those goats and sheep opened up certain emotions that I had sealed up and tried to forget about/not deal with, and I felt so free and blessed. And I knew the goats knew it as they watched me drive away.

What are YOU grateful for this year?


dirtyduck said…
im grateful for so much, i need to do a post like yours to hold it all. besides the obvious, husband,family, fathead animals and great new friends, i have to be thankful for our new home and the ability to pay for it. you know, friends and family(and fatheads) are the most important, im thinking of lots of other things,i wanted to come up with something "good" but those are the most special, nothing else really compares.

the video wont work on my computer, so i will have to come back, i can see the beginning and it looks really special!!

where can i go read about Jacquelynn? i think it might help my husband.ttysoon!
C said…
Lindsay, that's such a beautiful video, it made me tear up a little bit!

I'm thankful for my family, they are all amazing. I'm thankful for my lovely boyfriend, who decided to become vegetarian this year, and who eats vegan at our home. I'm thankful for all the happiness in my life.
Molly G said…
Trista's story is so true for so many of us. An animal sanctuary is a sanctuary for all animals, humans included! Where else does every living being around me understand my ethics quite like an animal sanctuary? I'm not going to lie, I've cried there too.
Beautiful! Amazing! Wonderful! So filling. I'm so thankful for being able to grow at my own pace and the people who allow me to do that. It let's me be me :D
Lindsay said…
Beautiful things to be thankful for ladies. :)
Anonymous said…
I just read your fantastic post here. I am re posting it on Facebook Fan Page. It seems like we are both fans of the attitude: “Gratitude is good for you.” Grateful Nation is an online community that gives grateful people the opportunity and resources to connect, give back, and be thankful. Jump into the unending cycle of gratitude here at Grateful Nation Thank you, Vanessa
Thank you so much, Lindsay... I am so grateful for being one of the people you featured. Your blog and who you are as a person are a constant reason for me to be thankful.

@dirtyduck- I would love to talk to you about my story, especially if it might help your husband. email me anytime : jcrankin2002@yahoo.com
Beautiful -- just beautiful! You are wonderful, Lindsay!

I am grateful for so very much: family, friends, health, everything I need to be vegan, but here I would like to say I am very grateful for all the inspiring fellow-bloggers and online vegan friends! Thanks, everyone!