I really love this time of year. In the third week of November, I usually start to feel a magical buzz in the air, which always seems to have a crescendoing effect up to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it is a holiday that is not materialistic or greedy, but one that simply brings family and friends together for a meal. Thanksgiving, historically, was a harvest meal celebrating the cooperation between the English settlers and Native Americans in 1621 in which thanks was given to the successful bounty of crops. I really love Thanksgiving’s symbolism and while most Americans are not literally giving thanks to a successful crop season each year, our Thanksgivings – or at least mine – truly does symbolize a harvest meal.
The anticipation and preparation of Thanksgiving is almost has much fun as eating the meal itself. This year, while I am not hosting Thanksgiving or preparing the turkey, I am making a few side dishes. I am very excited for my role this year, mostly because I feel like I have graduated from sous-chef or kitchen helper to “chef contributor.” I take my role seriously and have well-researched the types of dishes I want to prepare, focusing mainly on recipes that can be made from fresh and local ingredients.After deciding on a brussel sprouts dish and perhaps a cauliflower gratin of some sort, I made my way to the Alhambra farmers’ market. Alhambra, a town nestled between San Marino, South Pasadena and San Gabriel, offers a farmers’ market every Sunday that is a real treasure trove of fruit and legume wonders. Although I was at the farmers’ market to buy just the few items I needed for my Thanksgiving side dishes, the spirit of the the harvest got me a little produce-happy. Quickly forgetting that it is a short week due to the holiday, and that we are traveling this weekend, I bought enough fruits and vegetables to last us two weeks. Armed with fresh plums, pears, and blackberries, a few varieties of basil, four pounds of brussel sprouts, a head of cauliflower the size of a garbage can lid, a few pounds of string beans, heirloom tomatoes, baby zucchini, and the list goes on…I left the farmers market feeling the need to give thanks to my bounty of crops.
While I think George is slightly skeptical of the farm that is now residing in our refrigerator, I have devised a culinary plan in which George and I will honor Thanksgiving’s symbolism by having a harvest meal every night this week. And our meal last night did just that. Using the fresh blackberries, I made a blackberry-red wine reduction and served the sauce over sauteed pork chops. This recipe idea, while admittedly novel, is not one that I would recommend. The reduction was bitter and almost a bit acidic, and even though the ingredients seemed so benign, (shallots, wine, chicken broth, blackberry puree and salt and pepper), the sauce did not come together as I hoped. Fortunately, the rest of our dinner did and we enjoyed perfectly roasted potatoes and carrots and a fresh salad that incorporated the heirloom tomatoes I had bought earlier in the day. And for dessert, well that just took the cake…or tart!Check out this plum tart! Not only did it actually look beautiful, but it was a simple recipe that accentuated the flavors of the fresh plums. The filling was simply quartered plums placed symmetrically around the tart shell with a sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and lemon juice batter poured over the plums. The tart was so tasty and thankfully off-setted my blackberry reduction debacle.
Our Sunday night dinner may have made a dent in our produce-laden refrigerator, but it also jump-started this important holiday week. While George and I will have another harvest meal tonight, The Alhambra Farmers’ Market – and the local produce Southern California has to offer – certainly puts the meaning of Thanksgiving into perspective this year.
Happy Thanksgiving and until next time…
Tags: Alhambra, Alhambra Farmers' Market, blackberries, blackberry reduction, blackberry-red wine reduction, brussel sprouts, califlower, California, Farmers' Markets, heirloom tomatoes, plum tart, plums, Southern California, Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving history, Thanksgiving meaning, Thanksgiving symbolism, Thanksgiving traditions