[Pumpkin, barley and root vegetables, November 2008.]
For all of my incomprehension about just how exactly we’re right smack in the middle of November and not still ensconced on a deserted beach somewhere along the California coast at the end of July, I’m finally starting to feel that little thrill that comes along with the holidays. Thanksgiving arrives in just a week (!) and then there are cards to make and cakes to bake and all sorts of cookies to contemplate. I’m sort of getting into the mood — at last — of ‘can’t really wait.’
I wrote about Thanksgivings past last year for the Chronicle and this year I wrote about vegetarian main dish Thanksgiving options for Kitchen Window. I’ve included recipes that aren’t too time-consuming but which still make a lovely presentation on the holiday table (please note you could serve these any time — including, say, for that New Year’s Eve dinner party you may, like me, already be planning). All dishes make good use of seasonal vegetables — which, as you may know, is a concept near and dear to my heart.
Any day I have an article out is a grand one but today is especially special because it’s my (‘baby’) brother’s birthday — happy birthday Kurt! I think it fitting tribute I’m thinking not only of ways to incorporate seasonal produce into my Thanksgiving meal but into my every-day dinner plans as well. I owe a lot to him — my new-found adoration of Brussels sprouts, for example, and an undying affinity for heirloom tomatoes — but most of all I owe a commitment to eating gloriously: locally and in season. This year I wonder if we all could avail ourselves of our farmers markets this coming weekend — the very important pre-Thanksgiving weekend — what we could do! Certainly we’d come home weighted-down with many sweet potatoes for biscuits, piles of burgeoning fall/winter greens for wilting into mashed potatoes, and lots of pumpkins, for soups and pies.
[Roasted potatoes and carrots, June 2008.]
My brother and I have cooked quite a few meals together over the years — including many Thanksgiving dinners — while sometimes fighting for counter space and cheerfully making a mess of the kitchen floor. I think the one I remember with the most fondness is one we did over three years ago when I stayed a few days with him at his apartment in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I was a bit at loose ends — unemployed, not sure if I was going to stay on the East Coast or finally move to San Francisco — but I’d signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon, trained in a blind rush that fall, and landed up in Washington hungry and ready to run. I’d sublet my own apartment in between traveling, and so I was spending some time at his place right before the race. He invited over a few friends that night, as did I, and we cooked.
It wasn’t a very complicated meal: I made a sort of spinach-shallot pie with lots of cheese in a whole-wheat pastry flour crust while he sauteed green beans with almonds until the whole pan was crispy and steaming. I think there was also a spinach salad. I’m sure everything had been obtained at one of the area’s farmers markets; even after he stopped working at Wheatland he still worked the various markets and if not working at least stopped by to pick up his week’s supply of vegetables. It was a good one, for sure. And maybe I remember that meal so vividly because I felt taken-care of somehow by my younger brother, when I’d often been the one to take care of him.
Then, too, everything tasted really, really good.
In this last week before one of my very favorite holidays (I mean, how could it not be — it’s a day to celebrate the harvest, to cook and eat delicious and simple food, to be grateful and appreciative just to exist, in the smoky, sun-filled fall air) I’m sure we’re all thinking about what to put on the table. My little wish for 2008 is that your feasts include lots of things from your local farmers market or, if that’s not possible, incorporate as much seasonal produce as possible. Maybe this will be the year the traditional green bean casserole is tossed in favor of roasted Brussels sprouts, or sweet potatoes will be mashed with a drip of sesame oil and swirled with soy milk and sea salt. Maybe instead of pumpkin pie you’ll dig out a recipe for pumpkin ice cream — from fresh pumpkins, even — a scoop of which, slipped alongside a warm piece of spiced ginger cake, makes for an unexpected and unique finish to the feast.
Whatever your menu entails, however, I’m sure it will be absolutely delicious.
Last night in Bath, Me., the temperature sunk to 27 degrees — here in San Francisco it was nearly twice that but still chilly, and I piled on the blankets when I tucked myself into bed early (still a little worn out, alas). I drifted off to sleep to visions of salted butter caramels and applesauce and wool socks and Wildcat Camp in a warm December (though perhaps I was already dreaming when I imagined that one) and spending time with my favorite cook awfully soon. Dear brother mine, I hope today in New England dawned clear and bright for your 29th and that your honey takes — or makes — you out for a nice dinner tonight; I’m sure she will. In a week we’ll be bickering contentedly over who gets to cook what for Thanksgiving dinner, and I can’t wait. I hope this next year is better than all those preceding it (though truth be told they haven’t been half bad) and you are treated to something sweet today — like lots and lots of cake.
I love you and will see you soon.