I love the holiday season. I’ll admit it, I am a total foodie and somewhat of a pig. While I pretty much like most foods made with quality ingredients, I love winter foods. Pomegranates, persimmons, apples, walnuts, broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, the list goes on.
In my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ homes, the kitchen and dining areas (indoor and outdoor) were always the focal points of our family gatherings, and a meal, or at least a snack, was the anchor of any visit. My foodie nature led me to try (and usually eat) whatever was put in front of me, which always made me a favorite of my grandmothers.
One household kept an Italian kitchen. Today, the scent of sautéing onions, garlic and fresh parsley makes my mouth water for my family’s polenta beef gravy. The smell of mulled wine takes me back to my grandmother’s red wine-poached pears with hand-whipped cream.
Another grandmother was French. And while she preferred easy-fare cooking and boxed American foods, during the holidays her kitchen was a bustling place. Typically, several women were working in the kitchen with my uncles and my dad sneaking in for samplings. I watched them do it, I saw how it was done, and I snitched a fingerful of my aunt’s ambrosia salad before I was shooed out of the kitchen and steered outside. I still ponder the secret of my grandmother’s pot roast and rich, beefy gravy.
The holiday season is for gathering, sowing love amongst family members, celebrating and sharing. Food is how my family members show and share their love and how they celebrate. Always.
Today, no matter where I celebrate the holidays, or even if I host, the smell of the kitchen brings all past holiday celebrations to the forefront of my memories. Maybe this is why relatives like to tell stories and reminisce at such gatherings; the smells bring back so many emotions and memories.
The recipe below is a great choice for potlucks or for serving at home as the salad portion can be made ahead and only the dressing needs time in a pan, and not much time at that.
Sweet and Tangy Brussels Sprout Slaw
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dried cranberries plumped in warm water
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon butter
1 shallot or small red onion, minced
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds or mung bean sprouts, optional
Toss the sliced Brussels sprouts with the plumped cranberries and the thyme leaves. Set aside until you are ready to make the dressing, which should be poured hot over the salad.
Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the shallot and sauté until it starts to caramelize. Add the cider vinegar, brown sugar and mustard seed. Stir until the brown sugar dissolves, then add the stock and simmer about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the hot mixture over the brussels sprout salad, toss in the nuts, if using, and serve.
Donate to the Napa Farmers Market before Dec. 31 on www.napavalleygiveguide.org and 100 percent of your donation will go to the Market Match program. Market Match helps low-income families purchase nutritious produce at the Napa Farmers Market by doubling their CalFresh (food stamp) dollars.
Kids Activities at the Napa Farmers Market: Bring your youngsters to the market’s Education Station on Saturday, Dec. 29, for Story Time at 10:30 a.m.
On the KVYN Music Stage: Musician Kendall Osbourne will perform at the Napa Farmers Market on Saturday, Dec. 29.