Friendsgiving Challenge #1: Real Friendship is Working Around Everyone’s Dietary Restrictions

We asked you for your dietary restrictions this holiday season, and then turned them over to some very talented queer chefs for help. Kyle Cornforth, Director of the Edible Schoolyard Project, has taken six sets of dietary restrictions you submitted and planned an entire Friendsgiving menu around all of them! 


I am a cook, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! I get five days off from work to prepare stupid amounts of side dishes and fuss over a turkey while using dangerous quantities of butter, salt, cream, and sugar for one meal. I’ve been hosting Friendsgiving since 1999, when I was in college at the University of Montana and friends drove in from Colorado, California, and Idaho to sit on the floor of my very cold house. I took a lot of notes that first year and I’ve kept copious notes ever since! I’ve gathered with friends and colleagues who are distant from their families either physically or emotionally for almost 20 years while maintaining a thick folder of menu planning, meal prep by day, notes about who came and what they brought, what recipes I prepared, and how everything turned out.

When I was asked to put this piece together, the request was to share a recipe that adhered to one set of these restrictions.

Dietary Restrictions:
1. No gluten, dairy, or soy
2. Gluten-free and vegan
3. Vegan and gluten-free with a tree nut allergy
4. No vegetables or heavy spices, and lactose-intolerant
5. Allergic to gluten, walnuts, and cantaloupe; dairy-free preferred
6. Vegetarian with allergies to nuts, sesame, coconut, and beans; soybeans/tofu are OK

I wanted to see if it was possible to build a menu that EVERYONE could eat as if I’d invited six perfect humans with these specific dietary restrictions to my home and we were sitting down to Friendsgiving together. While I personally eat all the things — with a special emphasis on meat, dairy, gluten, and sugar — I also believe that when humans sit down together to eat, something important happens that connects us to our humanity. It matters to me that everyone has enough, that individual recipes are delicious on their own, and that a plate of food has a balance of salty, sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter. I brainstormed a little and made a table of the restrictions against the menu I usually make.

I grew up in a very WASPy family, so for me, the recipes, smells, and sights of this particular holiday are rooted in the “traditional” Thanksgiving: a massive turkey as the center star, supported by mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and hot fluffy white bread rolls with butter. I acknowledge that this is a diet of white colonizers and certainly isn’t representative of the diet of Indigenous communities in the beautiful Bay Area where I live, or the myriad other cultures, diets, and rituals that continue to make up American traditions. “Traditional American” is code for “white American” and lots of folks did not grow up with this holiday and its particular holiday menu, where the whole goal is to stuff yourself until you fall asleep as a celebration of colonization. We can all agree that the entire idea of Thanksgiving being a peaceful coming together at a table and sharing between colonizers and Indigenous people is bullshit. I AM IN IT FOR THE COOKING and the feeling I get when I cook for days in order to sit and share food with people I love. So this menu and its recipes reflect the Bay Area seasonality and flavors of sage, thyme, cinnamon, bay, and cloves.

After tracking what these different folks needed against the menu that I usually make, I found that the only thing everyone could eat was the cranberries! I needed to go a little off-script, so I decided I needed some rules to work with in order to make decisions. Here they are in no particular order:

1. More than half the people can eat every dish.
2. Everyone has adequate protein.
3. No impersonations (I wanted all whole foods and nothing that was processed to be indistinguishable from its natural state, i.e. no cashew cheese. If you love cashew cheese, I love you and think you are perfect.)
4. Everyone has a balanced plate.
5. Everyone has at least four things they can eat.
6. Maintain the flavors of the Thanksgiving dinner I typically cook.
7. Lots of vegetables.

Once I had these parameters set, I used a different approach and tracked things I thought might be good on the menu to see if they met the criteria.

First off, only three out of six people could eat the turkey, so based on my guidelines, it wasn’t worth the effort to make one, so voila! That was not going to be on the menu. The vegans could eat beans, so I started with that as a base to the meal. There was one eater (#6) who is a vegetarian that doesn’t eat beans, so tofu was an option as a protein, but there was also someone (#1) who doesn’t eat soy. If I chose tofu as an option that meant the vegan who didn’t eat soy couldn’t eat that protein. I decided to leave that alone and carry on to the grain.

The most typical gluten-based items in my usual menu are stuffing, biscuits, and pie. It was pretty clear that this wasn’t going to be a biscuit and pie situation, so I didn’t even bother trying to make that a thing. WE DON’T NEED BISCUITS AND PIE WE CAN LIVE WITHOUT THEM (sidenote: none of these restrictions included sugar which was an incredible miracle!). I thought a wild rice or rice situation would be nice. Rice has a nutty flavor and if I sautéed some wild mushrooms like chanterelles with garlic and olive oil, then tossed that with the freshly steamed rice, that would be a nice hearty and grounding addition to the beans. Plus, rice and beans make a complete protein which is important for forming the nine amino acids that the body can’t produce (I will not go down this rabbit hole but it is a thing). Also, everyone at the table could eat the rice!

With the basic protein set, I thought about sides. Delicata squash is an almost nightly occurrence in our house from Halloween to Valentine’s Day. They are super easy to make: cut the squash in rings, scoop out the inside of the rings/seeds with a spoon in a swooping motion, toss the rings in olive oil and salt, and cook at 400 for about 35 minutes or until they are brown and caramelly.

I also wanted Brussels sprouts. I think the stalks they grow on are weird and cute and I like having a long stalk of them across the dinner table that I can hack the sprouts off of all week. I wanted to include the cranberry sauce because I created a recipe for the beans that made them have the flavor of Thanksgiving turkey and I thought it would work okay to have cranberry sauce on top of them, so those made the cut.

Next up I wanted a really beautiful and colorful fall salad, one with hearty greens, persimmons and pomegranates, and a light dressing. This is another thing that everyone could eat. I still hadn’t figured out what the vegetarian who doesn’t eat beans could have as a protein but then ::snaps fingers:: I thought about a jammy egg. There is nothing more delicious to me than a jammy egg on almost anything. When an egg is boiled in water it cooks from the outside in. If you time it JUST right (8 minutes) you can pull the egg from boiling water when the white is fully set and the yolk is slightly set but still has a bit of give. I am obsessed with eggs that are cooked this way. Maybe it’s a texture thing? I don’t know, I just really like it. This was a protein that all but two people could eat.

At the last minute I added chicken legs to the menu, because the rules I made up were arbitrary and they were mine, so I could break them and also, old habits die hard. Sometimes we need to hold dear to moments in our childhood when we thought everything was always going to be okay.

SO! I present a menu that all six of these wonderful eaters could sit down together and enjoy — to celebrate what is good in the world, share stories about their lives, debate how we might fix the terrible state we find ourselves in in this country, get to the bottom of where we went wrong in the first place, and hold each other close in celebration. What can I get you to drink?


Kyle’s Friendsgiving for Six

Friendsgiving Beans
Wild Rice with Chanterelles
Delicata Squash
Brussel Sprouts
Cranberry Sauce
Persimmon & Pomegranate Salad with Jammy Eggs
Chicken Legs
Dessert: Dates & Mandarin Oranges

Friendsgiving Beans

What is more exciting than a pot of beans? NOTHING is the answer. They are easy to make and can take you through a whole week of dinners. They’re a blank slate of flavor, with dried beans absorbing the flavor of the cooking liquid — it’s like magic! For this recipe I used Barlotti Beans, which originated in Columbia and were then bred in Italy to have a thicker skin. You could use any bean for this recipe, but I would suggest Barlotti, cranberry, garbanzo, or a broad white bean. It’s important to soak dry beans overnight, so plan accordingly. ALSO GUESS WHAT! The flavors in this pot of beans made our house SMELL like we were making turkey!

Ingredients:
1 cup Barlotti beans
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
1 quart vegetable stock
Salt to taste

Submerge beans in water and leave them overnight to soak. Dump out water and rinse beans, then cover with the vegetable stock. Add garlic, oil, bay, and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with a few hearty pinches of salt. Bring to a simmer over low heat and simmer for 2-3 hours, checking every half hour or so to add more water so there is always about 1-2 inches of liquid above the beans. After 1 hour, remove the cinnamon stick. Start checking for doneness at about 1.5 hours in, to see that they’re soft and cooked through. Once the beans are cooked, you can add additional salt and pepper to your taste. DON’T be shy, the salt is what makes it taste good!

Salad with Persimmon, Pomegranate, Jammy Eggs, & Fall Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Splash of apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
6-7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a small bowl or jar, pour the vinegar over the shallots and let macerate (the acid in the vinegar mellows out the strong flavor of the shallots) for for 15 minutes while you prep the other salad fixings. Wash the lettuce, cut the persimmon into small wedgy pieces, and get the pomegranate seeds out of their pith. There are so many ways that people have shown me how to do this: whack it with the back of a spoon, just crack the hell out of it, or do what I find easiest, which is to cut it in half and submerge one half in water and start turning it inside out. The seeds fall out and the pith rises to the top of the water so you can just scoop it out and the tiny red jewels lay on the bottom of the bowl. Once you have these things prepped you can turn your attention back to the dressing.

Add the mustard to the shallots and vinegar and whisk it until it is completely blended in. As slowly as you can, drizzle the olive oil into the bowl while whisking furiously. This has been explained to me a million times and there is some scientific explanation for how emulsification makes things that typically don’t mix break down and not only mix but create something new and beautiful together, like salad dressing. All I can tell you is TAKE IT SLOW, You are breaking down the bonds of the oil and vinegar and they’re creating new bonds with each other, so you need to let them talk amongst themselves. You’ll know it worked if the dressing starts to look creamy in a way that surprises you. Once you’ve added about 6 tablespoons of oil, start to taste it. I like to do this by dipping a leaf of lettuce in and scooping some of the dressing out. Since the lettuce is the vehicle for the dressing, see how they play off each other. Add more olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. This recipe is a guide! You are the only one who can say if it’s to your liking!

Jammy Egg

This is super easy! And delicious! And an egg is the most perfect food in the universe!

Choose a pot that can fit all the eggs you want cook. Fill it with water and bring it to a rolling boil on the stove. Once the water is boiling, carefully submerge the eggs and set a timer for 8 minutes. While the eggs are cooking, fill a mixing bowl with ice and water. When your timer goes off, immediately remove the eggs from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water. This will halt their cooking and make the insides shrink from the shell so they are easier to peel. Once you’ve peeled them, slice them in half and sprinkle each half with a tiny amount of salt. Quick note about salt: kosher salt is not iodized and doesn’t impart a metallic flavor on food. Salt is what makes us taste our food, so if you’re looking for a way to step up your cooking game in the tiniest most affordable way, buy a large box of kosher salt and never look back.

Kyle Cornforth is the Director of the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, a national program that trains educators from all over the world on changing food and food culture in schools. With 20 years working in food education, policy, and school food reform, she thinks mostly about how food is connected to everything. Obsessed with studying how people learn. love to dance, raises two kids, makes a lot of french toast. Best brunch in town.

Kyle has written 1 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. I am so excited to see people who are willing to plan THE SHIT out of meals so everyone with dietary restrictions can eat stuff, as someone with weird (and honestly kind of nebulous because idk what is UP with my GI tract so eating with me: always an adventure that features bathroom prominently) dietary restrictions who doesn’t really have people willing to do that–or the people who are willing to do that have completely conflicting dietary restrictions so cooking for each other just doesn’t happen because we can’t eat any of the same stuff.

    Also hey if anyone has low-fiber low-fat thanksgiving recipes, please, hit me up because I have no idea what vegetable dish to bring to thanksgiving and I wanna make sure I can eat at least ONE thing safely (other thank ice cream with desert) without needing to hog the bathroom because my testy stomach has decided NOPE FOOD IS BAD AND THIS FOOD IN PARTICULAR IS THE WORST and all of the things I would have rejoiced in making and bringing before are not things I can reasonably eat anymore (and like also it’s maddening when you just want to eat broccoli SO BAD but the only thing you’re capable of eating is ice cream and you’re SICK OF ICE CREAM BECAUSE ITS THE ONLY THING YOU CAN EAT MOST OF THE TIME).

    • I’m not super familiar with low fiber, low fat, but google tells me that green beans, asparagus, beets and zucchini are all low fiber and I love all of them and would be happy to see any of them on the Thanksgiving table.

      I brought green beans to a feast day potluck before and they were a big hit. I prepped them ahead of time and cooked them on site (in the microwave).

    • my oldest daughter has type 1 diabetes so fiber plays an important role in managing her counting of carbohydrates…zucchini, asparagus, carrots are all low fiber…and mushrooms are lowest fiber of them all but i think TECHNICALLY they are a fungus? also should i get to work on a broccoli ice cream recipe? i feel like it could happen

  2. WOW i am BLOWN AWAY by this — the level of care, the detail, the innovativeness, and the spreadsheets! wow wow wow wow wow. super impressed and also super stoked to know the official name of my fave kind of egg — i just always call it “kind of soft boiled but a little harder” but from now on i’ll be referring to my jammy eggs every time i make them for breakfast. thanks for this incredibly thoughtful thanksgiving meal, kyle!

  3. This is beautiful and the best thing. Food is all tangled up in feelings of love and joy and safety and comfort, and feeling the amount of love and thought and effort that went into planning this meal is really special. Thank you for sharing it.

  4. This is lovely and timely! I love reading your thought process. Food is Love!

    My partner and I are hosting this year and will have a total of 7, including the following restrictions:

    – Gluten free / Celiac
    – Gluten free / Celiac, allergy to mangos and to raw celery, carrots and apples (well cooked is ok)
    – Vegan, gluten free (but honey is ok)
    – Vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free

    The last time we hosted was at least 10 years ago and I asked my parents to come early and help assemble our new IKEA chairs so everyone would have a seat. And my vegetarian, gluten free cousin told me recently that that Thanksgiving was her very favorite, because she had enough good food to eat and could relax.

  5. I would like to second the Delicotta squash recommendation!

    But I have a tip to add: recently I have stopped scooping out the seeds because if you leave them in you have candy-like squash rings with TOASTED SEEDS baked into the middle for some extra crunch. 10/10.

  6. Nom nom! Thank you for doing all this work. Sounds like some things we’ll have to try.

    Here’s my family’s recipe for cranberry relish. It’ll work for people who need gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan, or low fat. It will NOT work for people who need low sugar.

    Ingredients:
    –Cranberries (not the dried sugared kind). At least two bags. Four is fine. More is better, if you have a big enough container to hold the eventual result.
    –Oranges, as sweet as you can get. We’ve always used navels or the like but those little clementines would probably work well too except for the zest part, they have really thin skins. But you could try.
    –Apples. Any kind you like but I’d go sweet, the cranberries will add all the tart you could want.
    –SUGAR oh yes sooooo much sugar.

    Amounts of all ingredients are “to taste” and I know what looks right for me but YMMV. If you start with two bags of cranberries, maybe like 2-3 each of oranges and apples? It’s definitely “cranberry relish with oranges and apples in,” not “cranberry-orange-apple relish.”

    Fill your (clean) sink to a depth of a couple inches and dump all the cranberries in. Swirl ’em around a bunch, to clean them and ’cause it’s fun. Any that sink, toss. Any that look a funny color, toss. (Any shade of gorgeous cranberry red is fine, it doesn’t have to be dark, but anything a little brown-tinged or fuzzy should go.) Any that have an off texture/feel, toss. (Most will feel very hard. Anything squishy or suspiciously like a little swollen balloon goes.)

    Wash the oranges and apples. Cut the apples into slices – eighths or so, whatever will fit into your food processor. Orange zest is a good but not vital addition, so you can zest with wild abandon into your eventual target bowl, or you can peel and section the oranges and save the peels to zest later.

    Put a generous handful or two of cranberries and a few slices of apple and orange into your food processor and let ‘er rip. You’re looking for a texture of small bits of cranberry – you don’t want mush, but you do want lots of surface area on everything so the flavors can absorb and so you don’t get too many big cranberry bites. You might let it zizz for a few seconds, then stop it and spatula down the sides to make sure everything gets zizzed properly. When you’re happy, scoop it all out into your target bowl. Repeat until you’re done with all the cranberries, apples and oranges. The ingredient balance in each load doesn’t matter, you’re going to mix it all up in the bowl again anyway.

    Got a big bowl full of tiny bits of cranberry, apple and orange, and possibly orange zest? Sugar time! LOTS OF SUGAR time. Figure at least a couple cups. Dump, mix real good, give it a couple minutes, try a half-spoonful*. Let your face relax from its rictus-contraction that it got into because you didn’t believe me about how much sugar you’d need. Put in some more sugar. Repeat this process until you think it’s merely kind of too tart, then let it all sit in the fridge for a couple hours and it will mellow out just right.**

    *Use two spoons: one that touches the relish in the bowl, the other to dump the sample onto that goes in your mouth. That way you can sample as many times as you like without using up all your spoons. When someone says, “Are you making that _to share_?”, give them a very dignified look and explain that proper quality control, to which you are deeply dedicated because you care so much about whoever is asking and all your other friends/family/hangers-on, requires a multi-sampling technique to account for the possibility of random variation throughout the volume of the bowl, and you are merely being rigorous and thorough, acquiring tastes from a representative sample of depths and distances from the bowl center.

    ** This is in the theoretical case where there’s any left after you are done sampling. You may need to post a designated Cranberry Relish Guard on the fridge, and possibly empower a designated Cranberry Relish Sampling Process Ender to give you stern looks and take the spoons away.

    This stuff is good on turkey (hot, or in cold leftover turkey sandwiches). On vanilla ice cream. On plain cheesecake. On sweet potatoes. On…spoons.

    I kind of have a family reputation for liking it, is what I’m saying. Cheers!

  7. Nice cutting board!

    As a lazy person I like to slice the delicata in half lengthwise, scoop out all the middle at once in big clumsy scrapes, then slice each side into half rings. But what I gain in prep time I lose later since I have to flip twice as many squash pieces with my tongs!

  8. not to brag, but actually bragging: as someone who is lucky to be NEIGHBORS with Kyle, I can attest to the mouth-watering quality of pretty much every dish in this post -given that I ate pretty much all of them while this post was being written.

    Y’all. That salad made me rethink my life-long ban on willingly making a salad for myself. <3

    IN IT FOR THE COOKING. IN IT FOR MY FRIEND

  9. Circling back around to tell Kyle thst jammy eggs are my favorite thing but I never knew what they were called or how to cook them — but I’m cooking them to go in ramen for the first time first time tonight! Thank you!

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