Nonie Castro and her husband, John, have a mixed marriage of sorts. He's a meat eater, she's vegan.
Nonie Castro, 47, was a vegetarian for 10 years before taking the plunge to veganism (no eggs, no dairy) last year for ethical and health reasons, admits that there's some tricky navigating on Thanksgiving.
"We used to have a friend who would host a gigantic Thanksgiving potluck, and she would make a lentil loaf or some other vegan entree and I'd eat that, and have any of the meatless side dishes. But that friend has moved, so we had to scramble for alternatives," she says.
Often the alternative for the St. Petersburg couple was dining out: "My husband could get his turkey, and I could get as many sides as I wanted. But this wasn't completely satisfactory, though, because the best part of Thanksgiving is the leftovers, right?"
These days, John, 51, gets a Jennie-O turkey breast for himself, large enough for a meal and leftover sandwiches. They share a prepared sweet potato casserole), dinner rolls, corn and peas, mashed potatoes and a dessert of cinnamon apples, topped with ice cream for him and tofutti for her.
Nonie makes the stuffing, the main attraction for her. She uses Pepperidge Farm's herb-seasoned stuffing mix and vegetable bouillon.
Tampa resident Michelle La- Fleur, 38, has been vegetarian for 18 years and vegan for the past 10.
"For vegans, Thanksgiving can be a sad event because it's so focused on the bird on the table. When you show up at a traditional dinner, you're hounded about why you're not eating the turkey," she says.
She took matters into her own hands four years ago, throwing Tampa's first ThanksVegan Dinner.
"A dear friend of mine and myself wanted to host a dinner for fellow vegans on Thanksgiving day — not the day before, as many vegan feasts do. Our first year we had 150 guests and the past two years the guest count was over 250."
This year they anticipate more than 300 guests at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa (11400 Morris Bridge Road; vegtampathanksgiving.com, RSVP required (813) 325-2904). It's an animal-free potluck open to all ($5 if you bring a dish, $15 if you don't) from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.
Denise Rispoli, owner of Leafy Greens Cafe in St. Petersburg (1431 Central Ave., (727) 289-7087) takes it all one step further. Vegetarian for 23 years, she went raw in 2006 when she found out she had lupus.
"Raw foodists do nut loaves, like a veggie burger made of nuts. Last year I made a stuffing of portobello mushrooms and onion, and instead of mashed potatoes, we do mashed raw cauliflower enriched with a macadamia nut mock cream. And I do a raw cranberry sauce: Just pulse raw cranberries in the processor with chunks of raw pineapple and a bit of agave nectar and lemon juice. It takes 5 minutes to make and people who don't know would never think it's raw."
All three women agree that a veggie-centric Thanksgiving feast is far from abstemious.
"When I say vegan Thanksgiving, people gasp and ask how we do it without meat," LaFleur says. "They imagine a group of people sitting around and sharing a carrot."
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at blogs.tampabay.com/dining.