GATHERINGS: GIVING THANKS

Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving stands out. There are no gifts to be exchanged, but just the reason of joining family around the table is enough to pull people home from all over the world. Free of any religious associations--and with questionable historic origins--it seems the yearly occasion most up for personal interpretation. Every family has their own unique traditions, their own favorite recipes. And, growing up in Southern California, ours has always taken on a slightly unexpected bent. With sun instead of snow, for us the day has become a blend of both classic Americana and our favorite global influences. Here's a rundown of how to create a memorable and meaningful day.

Pick a Soundtrack: Chopping onions isn't fun. Chopping onions while listening to music? Marginally better. In our house, Neil Young's Harvest Moon has piped alongside our Thanksgiving prep for years, setting just the right seasonal mood that captures both nostalgia and hope, melancholy and aspiration. Now our kitchen, filled with its requisite pumpkin and roasting scents, isn't complete without this particular playlist on the stereo--music creates memories, and comes to embody the feel of the day.

Amp Up the Ambiance: In whatever way that works for you. Want to go kitsch? There's never been a more appropriate moment. Prefer subtle? Bring nature in and select neutral colors. Scented candles, dried flours and gourds are particularly enjoyed in our home--and this year, Swedish holiday garlands have added welcome texture to the mix, for a look that's festive, but restrained. As with any holiday, the easiest decor tip is always lighting. Keep a fire roaring and don't hesitate to light candles even during the day.

Do a Chore: A last minute market run on Thursday morning may sound like torture but, in fact, it's become one of my favorite things to do. The holiday cheer is palpable outdoors, with folks hustling and bustling to stock up on ingredients they've forgotten and readily exchanging good wishes. Next time someone has to do this "dirty work," consider raising your hand.

Get Outside: After a day in the kitchen, surrounded by a veritable parade of food, it's never felt better to be out in fresh air. A light neighborhood stroll is something that can be achieved in (almost) any weather--and provides a mini calorie burn prior to the big meal. On Thanksgiving afternoon, even city streets are silent. It's a rare experience and a wonderful moment to pause and take everything in.

Stock the Bar: A party's not a party without a signature drink. What better way to create a break between the day's toil and evening's celebration than a reason to toast? Get festivities started with something seasonal and, ultimately, crowd-pleasing. For us, that means cranberry margaritas: a simple twist on a classic.

Set the Table: In accordance with all that I do here at beautiful / useful, I believe in setting a table with items that have meaning to your family. Think about getting creative in adapting what you already own for the occasion. In our house, that's a plethora of Mexican fabric, pottery, plates and glassware. We select an autumnal color scheme, then mix and match from there. Roses and tangerines from the garden, my mother's antique silverware and English "poppers" (a tradition passed down from my British grandfather) come together for a globally inspired tablescape that speaks very much to our roots. It's the only table of its kind around--and that's exactly how we like it.

Mix Up the Menu: There are some things you can't change. Classic family recipes take on legendary status over the generations and are great for supplying the staples. To keep the table fun and fresh, however, add some accompanying accent dishes to the mix. Consider the pomegranate quinoa salad I picked up while living in the Middle East--it may seem utterly different in origin, but the crisp herbs and tangy citrus dressing perfectly complement heavier traditional dishes. It doesn't hurt, either, that it looks beautiful on the table. (Recipe below.)

Give Thanks: It's fine to make a big meal and easy to pass out after, but what is it that makes this day unlike all the others? It's an opportunity for everyone to be together, to reflect and to slow down. Whatever your traditions encompass, make sure to acknowledge in some way the spirit of the day. We begin dinner by expressing three points of gratitude each--adding a kernel of corn to a Mexican gourd with every one. Over the years, that gourd has grown heavier and heavier, filled with literal kernels of thanks. And, in doing so, it has become ever more meaningful: That's the weight of our family's loves, hopes and appreciations.

Make New Memories: What makes a holiday special and unique to your family lies somewhere in the mix of old and new: Keeping personal traditions alive while also embracing new ones is key as time goes by. One year, we had a blackout and sat around the fire by candlelight, enjoying a night cap together without electronic distractions. It was, in fact, the perfect way to end the evening and could prove to be a new routine, even if not a necessity. Yes, sometimes it's those surprise "inconveniences" that end up creating something magical and can, in turn, become traditions of their own. Same goes as a family continues to change and grow, with new members bringing their own personal traditions to the table. Welcome and embrace these. There is enough room for all.

Keep On Keeping On: It's a well known fact that leftovers are better than the original meal itself. Don't question why--just roll with it. Enjoy the fruits of your labor longer by setting a casually festive table for a post-Thanksgiving brunch. Then...go out and have a family adventure.

Here's to a wonderful holiday from our family to yours!
And a huge thank you for being a part of my path this year. So grateful for the community that is growing here.

A Thanksgiving Recipe: Pomegranate Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup frozen baby peas
1/2 red onion diced
1/2 red bell pepper diced
1/3 cup each fresh basil, parsley and cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Dressing:

1/4 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

 

In a sauce pan over high hear, bring stock to boil. Stir in the quinoa, decrease heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until liquid is absorbed. The quinoa should be tender and not mushy. Remove from heat and fluff up the quinoa with a fork, transfer it to a bowl and let it cool.

While the quinoa is cooking, place the peas in a separate saucepan with enough water to cover them. Bring the water to boil, decrease heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Add the cooled peas, feta, onion, bell pepper, mixed herbs, tarragon and pomegranate seeds to the cooled quinoa. Toss and mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate juice, orange concentrate, vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Just before serving, mix the dressing again and pour over the salad.