We’re now entering the whirlwind winter holiday season, when our weekends are crowded with holiday concerts, skating parties, dinners, Yankee swaps and other gatherings with friends and family. When schedules are this packed, one way to fit in more festivities is to host your holiday get-together in the morning.

Not only does an early gathering free you and your guests to attend other events later in the day, it also means you can serve the delicious combination of sweet and savory foods that put brunch in a culinary league of its own.

For vegetarians, brunch offers the added benefit of already being relatively veg-friendly. Once you ditch anything that comes from a pig (a move made easier knowing that the World Health Organization recently reclassified cured meats as carcinogenic), creating a meat-free morning feast comes down to deciding which mouthwatering recipes to serve.

Your first decision? Whether your menu should lean sweet or savory. If you don’t have strong feelings either way, aim for roughly half of each.

My friend and longtime vegetarian Deborah Gordon has leaned toward the savory side during more than four decades of organizing plant-based brunches and other social gatherings, most recently in her West End home. Gordon says the one dish she always serves at brunch is a savory carrot pie, loosely based on a recipe from the 1972 classic “The Vegetarian Epicure” by Anna Thomas and a cousin to quiche. As her family’s diets changed, Gordon “veganized” the recipe by adding cashew cream and nutritional yeast to the sautéed mix of shredded carrots and onions.

Gordon also likes finger food made from tofu, walnuts, brown rice, tamari and oatmeal, mixed together and baked. And this season she’s making a parsnip soup for brunch, inspired by an “incredibly good” parsnip soup she ate at The Gothic in Belfast. Her one nod to sweet eats at brunch is a gluten-free, vegan muffin made with buckwheat, garbanzo bean and almond flours and whatever berries she has on hand.

Chef Cheryl Farley of Augusta, who conducts plant-based wellness programs for corporations and other groups, prefers the sweeter side of brunch and to that end she shared her recipes for crepes and Indian Cornmeal Delight. That said, she also serves a plant-based “cheese” ball – made with tofu and cashews – and cut vegetables which she has a unique way of serving: She wraps a medium-sized Styrofoam ring in bunches of fresh parsley, attaching them with floral picks. Then she sticks toothpicks through cut veggies (cherry tomatoes, red peppers, baby carrots and cauliflower) and attaches those to the parsley-bedecked ring. The result? A parsley wreath decorated with vegetable ornaments. She places a bowl of dip in the center.

Portland resident David Trafton recently gave up eggs, but he fondly recalls making spiced scrambled eggs with sautéed onions and bell peppers as his go-to brunch dish. For Maine Animal Coalition president and Portland resident Beth Gallie, a favorite holiday brunch dish is a Russian recipe for beets that have been cooked, cooled, shredded and mixed with mayo and fresh garlic.

While Thanksgiving has come and gone, many local vegetarians like to serve a plant-based roast at their holiday meals all winter long. In Susan Fekety’s Portland home, the recipe she and her sister have made together for years (and that Fekety once submitted to Vegetarian Times magazine, where it was featured) uses crumbled and seasoned tofu molded around stuffing.

Fekety said her sister “Sally worked for years at the Humane Society of the United States and this was a dietary staple at the holidays there.”

When it comes to sweets, many of my readers and friends said they like to serve pancakes for brunch. Bill Linnell of Portland makes his using almond milk. Chef Tracy Vis of Livermore told me she recently hosted a vegan brunch that featured a waffle bar, where guests chose among toppings such as fresh berries, sliced bananas, nut butters and coconut cream.

“I also served breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, and my Southern favorite – grits!” Vis said.

Once your menu is set, get out your dishes and flatware and pick a centerpiece and other decorative flourishes. You’ll also want to consider how you will present and serve the meal.

According to Gordon, one of the keys to a successful brunch is to cut or pre-plate larger dishes, especially items like pie and quiche and baked entrees such as lasagna. It’s a good way to make sure that all your guests gets a piece.

SUSAN FEKETY’S STUFFED TOFU-TURKEY

Serves 12

4 (16-ounce) packages extra-firm tofu

2 teaspoons ground dried thyme

2 teaspoons rubbed sage

1 teaspoon onion powder

2 (6-ounce) packages vegetarian store-bought stuffing

¼ to ½ cup low-sodium tamari or soy sauce

¼ cup olive oil

½ teaspoon sesame oil

THE NIGHT BEFORE:

Let 3 packages of tofu come to room temperature. Squeeze the tofu into small bits with your hands, mixing in the thyme, sage and onion powder as you squeeze.

Fold a cheesecloth into thirds and wet, then wring it out and smoothly line a colander with it – no wrinkles. Dump in the crumbled tofu, and press it into the sides and bottom of the colander, making a bowl within a bowl. The “tofu bowl” should be about 1-inch thick and almost reach the top of the colander.

Hunt around to find a bowl that will fit perfectly inside the tofu bowl. Gently press it into the colander. It will make an expressive sound. Dig through your pantry to find something heavy (can of peaches?) to press the bowl into the tofu bowl to help the tofu drain.

Tuck the corners of the cheesecloth over the top of the tofu to keep the edges from drying out. Stand the colander/cheesecloth/tofu/bowl/weight construction in a dish to catch liquid. Refrigerate overnight.

THE DAY OF:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Prepare the stuffing according to package directions. Remove the weight and bowl from colander. Fill the tofu hollow with stuffing to make a tofu turkey. Crumble the remaining 1 package of tofu, and use it to cover the stuffing, pressing flat to the edges of the colander.

Find a large oven-to-table baking dish. Place the dish over the colander. Hold tightly, invoke the spirit of good cooks, and invert the colander so the tofu turkey drops gently onto the dish. Peel off cheesecloth to reveal, uh, half a big, white basketball.

Combine the tamari, olive oil and sesame oil in a bowl, and baste tofu-turkey with a brush. (Now it’s a big golden-brown basketball. Much better.) Bake 15 minutes. Baste again. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F, and bake 1 hour, basting as inspired.

To serve, cut once across the middle and then into slabs about 1 1/2-inches thick. The turkeys thank you!

CHERYL FARLEY’S INDIAN CORNMEAL DELIGHT

This recipe makes a baked vegan Indian pudding, a twist on a classic New England dessert. Cashew meal is simply ground cashews, which you can make it yourself (in a food processor or a blender, process raw cashews into a fine meal; be careful not to let it go too long or you’ll have cashew butter) or buy it; it’s kept in the refrigerated section of natural food stores.

Serves 6 to 8

1 quart of soy milk, regular or unsweetened

1 cup cornmeal

¾ cup honey

½ teaspoon salt

3 cups diced apples

¼ teaspoon cardamom

¼ cup raisins

¼ cup cashew meal

Spray a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish with non-stick vegetable spray. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the soy milk, cornmeal, honey and salt in a saucepan. Stir thoroughly. Let the mixture cook until it starts to bubble, remove from the heat and stir in the apples, cardamom, raisins and the cashew meal. Stir well.

Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole and bake for 45 minutes to an hour until it is somewhat firm to the touch – remember it is like a pudding so you don’t want to overcook it.

CHERYL FARLEY’S TENDER CREPES

You can find brown rice flour and raw cashews in the refrigerated section of a natural food store.

Serves 4

8 ounces silken tofu

2 cups brown rice flour

¼ cup raw cashews

1 tablespoon apple juice concentrate

½ teaspoon salt

Preheat a non-stick griddle.

Blend all ingredients with 3 cups water in a blender until smooth.

Pour ¼-cup portions onto the heated griddle (spray the griddle lightly with oil if necessary), or pour in 1 cup portions for larger crepes, spreading the batter into a 10-inch circle with the bottom of the dipper. Cook until well browned on the bottom and dry with a bubbled surface on the top (about 1 minute per side). When the bottom is cooked, slip a spatula around the sides to loosen, then flip.

You can make a few ahead and keep warm in the oven. Try to make them thin, but don’t add any more water than called for, or they will be gummy.

Fill with strawberry filling (wonderful!) or with scrambled tofu for a breakfast on the go.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila