Harvesting Fall

This morning I have been gorging on the online Thanksgiving ideas offered by the food sections of Washington Post, NY Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle (my winner: the Chronicle, because it includes a vegetarian menu on its site that is not composed of Tofurkey or a veggie loaf). My loving one is going to Los Angeles for the holiday, and it is unclear if he will be able to celebrate, and I will be visiting my parents in Sonoma County where my mother will do most of the cooking. So, I have decided to have a pre-Thanksgiving, late-harvest dinner party this weekend to satisfy my need to cook a large meal myself, and to provide him with a bit of festive eating in case he finds himself eating burritos instead of cornbread next week.

When I lived on the East Coast I was often the hostess for Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition that began in college when my brother started school at the University of Pennsylvania. The first holiday we spent together, and it was just the two of us in a small basement apartment because my room mates had gone home for the long weekend. We made a mushroom pie, risotto, salad, and a pumpkin pie, all with ingredients from the local organic market. Later meals were more involved, and the year I had my first apartment seule, I hosted a gathering of Sebastopol-expatriats in my studio. I basted the turkey in my small oven because my friend (who had moved to an apartment across the street just days earlier) couldn’t get his oven working, and made a cherry pie a few days in advance. The following year I had ten people for a dinner that probably literally made the table groan — I vaguely remember making butternut squash and apple soup, a medley of green vegetables, the requisite mashed potatoes, corn bread, an apple tarte tatin … most guests contributed their own favorites (and my friend’s oven was finally working so he made the free-range turkey and carried it over), which consisted of stuffed mushrooms, sweet and sour tofu, among others. That was also the year of the cheese plate, and the year I needed to have enough seating for all my guests at the table — a buffet would simply not do. A few days before the event we built a small table as an addition, and with the loan of a few folding chairs accomplished the objective. I’d plan my menu days — if not weeks — in advance. One of my guests was masterful at table-decorating and we picked golden leaves off of the tree outside my apartment building in the cold to make the atmosphere even more festive. Luckily she will be here this weekend, too, and I am counting on her expertise.

So Thanksgiving is something for which I very much enjoy preparing, and as usual I want to make my meal a bit more special, and a little out-of-the-ordinary. I have the additional challenge of forgoing dairy and eggs for my harvest meal, because two of my guests are vegan — and of course the whole meal will be sans turkey. I’m planning to visit the Civic Center farmers market early Sunday morning to peruse the selections, but I’m already mulling over a few ideas, involving pumpkins, apples, and phyllo pastry. I’d like to incorporate a Southwestern/American Indian theme if possible, with the main focus on fresh, locally grown, and organic vegtables (fairly easy, if I’m relying on the farmers market). I want my dishes to be simple in ingredients but heavy on flavor and crunch.

We’ll see if I can pull it all off.

And as a side note:

When I lived in DC, I’d often run down to the Border’s near my office on my wee breaks and stuff myself full of Donna Hay’s magazine:


If I could afford the very high subscription cost, I would — but at $8 (or so) a pop it’s not very cost-effective at the moment (plus, my current subscriptions to Runner’s World, Gourmet, Cook’s Illustrated, Vogue, and the New Yorker, plus the NYTimes Sunday edition should suffice, no?). But I still buy it on occasion as a special treat.

nicole spiridakis © copyright 2023