Turkey isn't always the featured item on the Thanksgiving menu for these East County families.
On Thanksgiving, the celebratory photo usually consists of a family gathering around a table that showcases mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing and, most importantly, turkey.
But for some East County families, like Central Park’s Marcia Lichtenstein, turkey is not in the picture.
For the past 47 years, Lichtenstein has not eaten meat, so she tries new vegan recipes every Thanksgiving.
With an endless number of websites, cookbooks and Pinterest and Facebook posts and groups, Lichtenstein never has to worry about finding new recipes to try.
“When I see a recipe I like, I make it, and if it’s something that I can bring with me for the holiday, I do that,” Lichtenstein said.
This year’s menu will include mushroom Wellington alongside vegan stuffing, mashed cauliflower, vegan biscuits and possibly a vegan cake for dessert. Last year it was one of her favorite’s — Portobello vegan beef(less) stew.
Country Club East’s Heather Hackett and her fiance, Ken Kaufman, only eat plant-based meals. This year will be their first not having a traditional Thanksgiving meal but doing a plant-based meal instead.
Kaufman transitioned from a keto diet to being plant-based a year ago while Hackett has always preferred a plant-based diet.
A week before Thanksgiving, Hackett had not yet determined what would be on the menu for her and Kaufman, but she knew her nana’s nut bread was a must-have. The nut bread includes apricots, cranberries, raisins and walnuts.
“If there’s one thing I know, it’s that Nana’s nut bread is the bomb, like it is crazy good,” Hackett said. “It’s just awesome. As soon as you have it, it’s phenomenal.”
Although some people choose not to eat turkey as a lifestyle choice, others simply don’t like the taste of it.
Mill Creek’s Stephanie Morton and her family aren’t fans of turkey because it’s too dry, so they opt for a ham every year.
“I guess [ham] is an easy one because a lot of them come precooked where you can’t really mess it up or get anyone sick, so I think that’s why we went with ham,” Morton said with a laugh.
Myakka City’s Dolly Johnson will be celebrating Thanksgiving with her husband, Gary, and her two dogs this year while her eight children visit in-laws and other family members.
The couple is keeping it simple with steak, baked potatoes and salad. In past years, the Johnsons have had ham or ordered dinner through Publix.
“I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor, so a lot of it depends on how I’m feeling,” Johnson said. “Because of going through that and having ongoing side effects, I don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen.”
Although the families have alternative foods in mind, other people enjoying the holiday with them might have turkey.
Morton’s mother, Sue Konstant, is the only one in the family that likes turkey, so they make her a “token turkey” each year, and Konstant takes home any leftovers.
Parrish’s Maggie Segneri and her family will be having steak this year, but a part of a turkey will be available: turkey hearts.
Segneri said her husband’s family is Pennsylvania Dutch and that turkey hearts are part of a Thanksgiving tradition.
Although the Segneris won’t be able to visit family or have family visit this year, Segneri is keeping the tradition alive by making turkey hearts by herself for the first time.
Morton, Lichtenstein, Hackett and Johnson all agreed that not having a turkey for Thanksgiving reduces their stress because they don’t have to worry about being able to find all the ingredients they need for their meals.
“It’s like the infamous getting Chinese food on Christmas,” Hackett said. “You don’t have to worry about it. We can save a boatload of money and get the greatest, freshest, most organic vegetables.”
No matter the meal, families are looking forward to simply being together on the holiday.
“Thanksgiving is my favorite because it’s not revolving around gifts,” Hackett said. “You don’t have to do anything on Thanksgiving. You just have to cook, which is kind of what I do for a living, so I like that part. It’s not based on gifts. There’s no drama. It’s getting together, eating a meal and being grateful.”