Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eating my way through Advent and Christmas

Well, now that the secular season of parties and the religious season of Christmas are almost over, it may be time to chronicle my efforts and thoughts.

They began the first Saturday in Advent, taking in the Holy Trinity Faire. It wasn't so much what I ate and saw there, but a conversation I had with some friends. I said I was planning to take in the Slow Food holiday party because I could actually afford it. Only $15 and bringing a dessert or a bottle of wine. "Why," they asked, "if you are bringing something, does it cost $15?"

The next day I was at St. John's, and the word persimmon somehow crossed my lips. An instant offer of some fuyus was forthcoming. Sometimes if feels like persimmons are the zucchinis of December. It was wonderful to meet all of Susan's animals at their place in Upper Lake, and I came away with some eggs and lots of persimmons. The yolks' color matched the

I searched the web for ideas, and made a persimmon cake (the recipe was purported to be an old Sunset one, which sounded good) for my contribution to the Slow Food event.

The cake was great, satisfying the needs of those of us who like fruitcake without being fruitcake.

But the event had all the friendliness of certain suburban congregations' coffee hours. I went prepared to assert myself, but not for a crowded stand up event. Later, as I began to meet people, and actually found some sitting at a table to join and get convivial (key word for Slow Food) with, one person asked why the members of Slow Food Russian River always seemed to be in such a hurry. I learned some things from my conversations about the history of this chapter, pie, and rare fruit growing - and think I might actually attend again if there were another low or no cost event.

The counterpoint to this was getting together with John Jeavons on Advent III to plan what we are doing at Epiphany West. An off hand remark John made stuck with me whenever I was offered treats of the season, or stepped into my kitchen to cook something up: many in the world can't afford oil or sugar.

My favorite event of the season is the Landpaths party. Food is a component there, but not everything. People bring their sandwich or whatever, and sweets or snacks that can be eaten out of hand to share. (I baked some cranberry-pumpkin muffins.) But it's set in the context of hiking, a campfire, conversation, music, wreath making, and other crafts. I'm in it for the wreathmaking. There were a number of families there this year who are involved at Bayer Farm, the mini-park and community garden which Landpaths does in Roseland. Several people from the Food System Alliance were there, too. It felt like my people.

I did not get carried away with baking this year. I did try a recipe for lavender cranberry bread - a not sweet loaf, rather like the artisanal yeast-risen walnut breads, only different - and then tinkered with the recipe and made it again to give away. And I did make some date nut bread, two small batches of cookies, and some fruitcake gems. And I bought too much cheese. Most of it will be gone by Epiphany, when I must once again ask the question - will this be the year I curb my gluttony and lose the stop smoking weight, and the menopause weight, and, and...

For my Christmas dinner, actually on the 27th, I prepared a meal with the needs of some who don't eat sugar (and one no sugar or flour) in mind. For someone who thinks baking is the primary cooking mode, this is not easy. We had herring and cheese and crackers plus an edamame dip and raw veg first. For the main course, one of those variations on scalloped potatoes or Jansson's Temptation - this one potato, celery root, onion, smoked salmon and cream. The recipe is on the BBC good food site. A salad of beets and oranges on greens from my garden and some limpa in the form of rolls alongside. Cookies and gems, fresh pineapple and persimmons, and walnuts to crack for dessert.

I've still got a number of winter squash left, so for New Year's Eve I tried to tie it altogether by copying a pizza we'd had at the Slow Food event - with melty cheese, roasted squash cubes, caramelized onions, and sage. It was good, but needs work.

And a few persimmons. My last Christmas cooking adventure will be turning them into some chutney to brighten a gloomy day. Though they are lengthening a bit - the days, not the persimmons - there is still a lot of winter left.

With a Christmas gift of a credit for books, I got, among other things, Nigella Christmas. Drooling over a recipe for "pumpkin and goat's cheese lasagne" I read this intro, found my self in it, and thought it worth quoting here.
"One of the questions I am asked most often is how do I come up with recipes? The answer is simple: greed. When I'm not eating, I am thinking about what I might want to eat..."

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