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Meatless Monday: Celebrating Everyone's Mother

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Welcome to a week of mythical proportions, from Cinco de Mayo on Wednesday to Mother's Day on Sunday. There's a lot to celebrate, and a few myths to bust, too.

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day -- that's September 16. We tend to make a bigger deal of May 5 in America than they do in Mexico, but it's still a great day, commemorating Mexico beating back the invading French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. They did it in four hours, showing France and the rest of the world they'd stand together and protect their country.

Then there's Mother's Day, the day we celebrate our moms, made an official holiday by Woodrow Wilson in 1914 and made commercial pretty much ever since. It does not have to be a day of overpriced command performance brunches. Nor does Cinco de Mayo have to entail guacamole guzzling and tequila shots (not that there's any thing wrong with that).

The thing is, these two holidays both started for reasons heartfelt that got lost over time and in translation. We can put the meaning back by standing together, as Mexico did in 1862, for our mother. I'm talking Mother Earth. Think of all those excellent resolutions you made last week for Earth Day. Follow through on just one of them. Instead of buying your mother the obligatory bouquet of roses (flown in from somewhere else and sprayed with chemicals -- not earth-friendly, folks), plant a tree for your mother or even better, plant a tree with your mother. Get involved in community garden projects.

Planting gardens, installing solar panels, they're all good and green, but one thing we do every day can make a big impact on preserving the environment -- we eat. So instead of going out for that megabrunch, cook for your mother, or cook with her. Start by shopping together for sustainable ingredients at your local farmers market. Connect with where your food comes from and how it's grown. And make a meatless meal.

Farm animals out-eat and out-poop us seven to one. The way most livestock is produced in America destroys habitat and ravages resources, requiring up to ten times more water than growing grains and produce. It boils over with greenhouse gases and as David Kirby writes in Animal Factory, it's a health hazard for the environment, the animals and for us.

Going meatless, even if only for Mother's Day, is environmentally conscientious. Shopping farmers markets encourages you to eat locally and seasonally. The fresh produce you find there is rich in antioxidants and assorted nutrients, grown by someone you've actually met, is excellent for your health and tastes pretty damn good, too. We're talking value far beyond an all-you-can-eat Mother's Day brunch and a headier experience than a tequilathon (no hangover, either).

Happy Cinco de Mayo, happy Mother's Day -- let's celebrate by honoring and protecting the mother we all have.

Roasted Beet Salad with Chili-Lime Vinaigrette

Mexican food is more than refried beans and cheese. Beets, mango and jicama (also known as Mexican turnip) are Mexican crops and they feature in spring and summer salads like this one, sparked with a chili-lime vinaigrette. It's suitable for Cinco de Mayo and pretty enough for Mother's Day.

2 beets
1/2 jicama (also known as Mexican turnip), peeled and diced or 1 young white turnip, peeled and diced
1 orange, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 mango, if available, chopped
2 to 3 cups fresh spring greens, such as arugula, butter lettuce, watercress or spinach
1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup almonds or pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon balsamic or apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teasoon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Wash beets, wrap them tightly in aluminum foil and roast at 400 degrees for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool. The skins will slip off and the beets will be sweet and tender. Beets may be roasted a day ahead and kept wrapped and chilled in the refrigerator.

Mix vinaigrette. In a small bowl, combine lime jice, balsamic or cider vineger, honey or agave, olive oil, mustard, cumin and chili powder. Whisk until well combined. Makes about 1/3 cup of dressing, ample for salad plus leftovers.

For salad, arrange greens on a platter or on individual plates.

Top with greens with diced beets, jicama or turnip, chopped mango, chopped nuts and cilantro.

Drizzle dressing on top.

Serves 4 to 6.

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