With all the hullabaloo about 100-mile Thanksgiving, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is possibly the easiest Dark Days Challenge week of the year. Maybe it’s because we’ve done this for three years now, and our holiday menu rarely changes much. Maybe it’s because nobody thinks it’s odd to plan this particular meal far in advance, including ordering the main course well before the first leaves turn colors. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is one of the few times each year when Americans eat with the seasons, whether they’re aware of it or not. But to me, planning a locavore Thanksgiving celebration isn’t just fun, it’s also pretty simple.
My mom, sister, and brother-in-law joined us this year, and our family feast included a big pasture-raised bird from Bill Niman’s BN Ranch, with all the traditional sides: Shredded brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon, mashed potatoes and gravy, Grandma Anne’s stuffing, and a new-to-us recipe for sweet potatoes that kicks the usual sickly-sweet toppings to the curb with thyme and a dash of red pepper. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a big slice of pumpkin pie to round out the food coma. (I don’t like pumpkin, but I’ll boldly claim once again this pie will win over even the most vehement squash haters.) Our only non-local dishes were two bowls of cranberry sauce — one plain, one fancy — but since our friend Jeanne bought the berries direct from the Cape Cod farmer who grew them and toted them home in her carry-on bag, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over this little lapse.
Some in our family would say that the best part of Thanksgiving is actually the leftovers, including turkey/pork-sausage hash with poached eggs, a riff on Chuck’s holiday turkey gumbo (made with local Dungeness crabs in place of shrimp), and of course good-old turkey sandwiches on delicious homemade bread.
Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:
BN Ranch, Bolinas: Heritage turkey
Mariquita Farm, Watsonville: russet potatoes, sweet potatoes
Balakian Farms, Reedley: pumpkin
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: shallot
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onions
Fatted Calf, Napa: bacon
Spring Hill Cheese Company, Petaluma: butter
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: flour (pie crust, stuffing bread)
Clover Organic, Petaluma: cream
Vella Cheese, Sonoma: dry Jack cheese
Iacopi, Half Moon Bay: brussels sprouts, garlic
G&S Farms, Brentwood: corn (stripped and frozen in August)
Bariani, Sacramento: Olive oil
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: pastured eggs
Hamada Farms, Kingsburg: clementines
Fleur, Napa and Mackenzie, Sebastopol: wine
…and our own homegrown sage, parsley, celery, and thyme
Exemptions: Salt, pepper, sugar, yeast, nutmeg, cinnamon, cranberries (hand-carried from Massachusetts by Jeanne)
It’s more than a little embarrassing to admit that we’re on Day 19 of this year’s month-long Eat Local Challenge, and I haven’t even gotten our initial post up yet. Here’s the short version: We’re following the same guidelines we used for last winter’s Dark Days Eat Local Challenge, attempting to stick to them for every meal for the entire month of October. Of course, we do this pretty much all the time nowadays, with a few notable exceptions: Specialty ingredients for Thai and Chinese food, and the occasional non-locavore restaurant meal. But this month, we’re going for 100%, or as close to it as possible.
Suffice to say that life has gotten interesting over here — mostly in good ways — and that blogging was lower down on the totem pole than many other end-of-summer activities. We’ve enjoyed three weeks full of fun, including visits from good friends and trip to one of our favorite food cities in the world. We also spent a magical afternoon under the dappled sun at a picnic in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the guest of honor was a whole roast pig accompanied by a beautiful buffet of side dishes, wines, and desserts (which were all way too good to call ‘potluck’).
During the week, we’ve been working like a pair of crazy people, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been eating an amazing assortment of locally sourced meals. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I’m feeling incredibly blessed that we have locavore-friendly Range, Nopa, SPQR, and Beretta within easy shouting distance of home. And, of course, a freezer full of pasta sauce, sloppy joes, and other planned leftovers keep us fed when we’re too busy to cook.
You might be surprised to hear that, amid all this culinary chaos, there’s one dish I’ve loved so much that I’ve made it not just once but three times. When I first spotted this gazpacho salad in a magazine that I’d brought along in my carry-on luggage, I couldn’t wait to get home and try it. Luckily, even though the season for larger heirloom varieties is winding down here, it’s still pretty easy to find cherry tomatoes at the market. I soon discovered that although blanching and peeling a whole pint of cherry tomatoes may sound too fussy for everyday meals, it’s actually a surprisingly quick process that’s well worth the effort.
I’ve made a few changes to the original recipe — I’ve gone more savory than sweet in the tomato brine. Unable to source local sea beans (which I’ve since discovered at Far West Funghi in the Ferry Building), I substituted the tiniest haricots verts I could find. The next time, I left the beans out entirely, and it was equally delicious.
For my first attempt, I used a combination of baby tomatoes, including Sweet 100s, tiny Yellow Pears, and Sungolds. But plain-old cherry tomatoes — as the original recipe specifies — are a better choice. They’re far easier to peel, they all blanch at the same rate, and you don’t end up with yellow varieties muddied by the pulp from their red and orange pals. And, the larger size of the cherry tomatoes gives you a better chance to enjoy the salty, spicy burst of flavor you get with each one.
– adapted from Andy Nusser’s recipe, Food & Wine
- Brined tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 cup water
1 T sugar
1 T kosher salt
1 T red pepper flakes
1 (2 1/2-inch) cinnamon stick [Note: We use the softer, mellower Mexican canela]
3 1/2-inch piece of baguette, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 T plus 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 pound sea beans, or tiny haricots verts (optional)
1 cucumber, seeded (if necessary) and sliced 1/8-inch thick
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 T sherry vinegar
To brine the tomatoes, bring a saucepan full of salted water to a boil. Prepare an ice-water bath and set near the stove.
Trim and blanch the beans or sea beans until just tender, and remove them with tongs or a strainer to the ice water bath. Remove and set aside on a towel to dry.
Blanch the tomatoes until the skins just begin to burst (15 to 30 seconds), and quickly remove them to the water bath to chill. Discard the blanching water.
In the same saucepan, simmer 1 cup of water, sugar, salt, red pepper, and cinnamon until the salt and sugar dissolves.
Drain and peel the tomatoes, and place them in a heat-proof bowl or Pyrex measuring cup. Strain the brine over the tomatoes. Brine the tomatoes until cool, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°. Cut the baguette into 1/2-inch cubes, and toss with 2 tsp of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and bake for 5-10 minutes, until lightly toasted.
In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes, croutons, beans or sea beans, cucumber, scallions, vinegar and the remaining 2 T of olive oil. Season to taste, and serve.