Spice up the Holidays

The fall holiday season is upon us.  In our house we light candles (and sparklers) this week for Diwali, then quickly shift into Thanksgiving mode, while looking ahead to Christmas cookies and New Year resolutions, all in short order.

In these parts it’s not unusual for families to straddle cultural divides, bringing together diverse traditions and festivals into a single household, like mismatched, but well-loved clothes crammed into a shared closet.  What were once considered impossible bedfellows—Hanukkah and Christmas, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr—are now chums, living happily under one roof.  And with twice the parties to attend.

Life in a tradition-blending household offers opportunity for cultures to collide, sometimes with explosive results.  More often than not the mash-ups come together in beautiful ways though, as with the vibrant Gujarati mirror-worked embroidery that lies across our antique American table—an impossible-to-miss pop of color that draws attention to an elegant surface that might otherwise go unnoticed.

The same is true of the food.  We pull together unexpected dishes that combine a little bit from this place, with some from that.  Each part supporting the other in perfect harmony.  Sometimes we completely upend convention, introducing food of one culture into a celebration of another.  Many years ago that meant offering my mother-in-law’s Indian-spiced pumpkin at our first Thanksgiving gathering as a married couple.  Those were days when mashed potatoes, buttered peas and cornbread stuffing were more standard fixtures on the holiday buffet.  It was a risky, though calculated move.  After all, what’s more fitting on a Thanksgiving table than pumpkin?  Albeit a spicy, immigrant cousin.  The dish was a sensation, in large part because of its divergence from the same old same old.

For Diwali I serve an unashamedly American persimmon cake that nestles naturally into a deeply-flavored menu, with its undertones of  cinnamon and clove.  Or I might stir-fry vegetables typically passed over in Indian cooking—broccoli or fennel.  Brussel sprouts?!  My guests frown, skeptical eyebrows raised.  Then sit down politely, and devour a plateful in contented surprise.

For Thanksgiving we’ll turn to raw kale salad with Middle Eastern influences:  citrus-tahini dressing, tart-sweet pomegranate, pistachio nuts and salty feta cheese (pictured at top).  And though my mother-in-law’s pumpkin is a guaranteed hit, perhaps we’ll shake things up and roast the vibrant cubes instead (pictured at right) tossed with our favorite Indian spices.

Something entirely new is always part of the scheme—this year, peas sautéed with fresh spinach, coconut and whole spices.  Of course mashed potatoes make the cut.  How could they not?  A bit of tradition is always welcome, even on a non-traditional table.  Excuse us if we can’t resist doctoring a bit.

Happy Holidays to all…

Click on blue words and phrases in text above to link to accompanying recipes.

A note from Freshness Farms:  In order for farmland to provide the highest quality nutrients to our food it requires downtime to rest and recharge.  Freshness Farms’ last delivery this year is this week, November 14, 2012.  Deliveries will resume on February 6, 2013.  Thank you for your understanding and commitment to Community Supported Agriculture.

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