I’ve loved fall for as long as I can remember. The trees are on fire, radiant with color for several weeks until the deeply hued leaves dance to the ground, only to provide another layer of joy as your boots kick and crunch through them. From the abundance of pumpkins and apples at farmers markets to the smells of cinnamon and nutmeg-filled baked goods wafting from ovens, I just can’t get enough of the season. As a Midwest transplant living in California, I love many things about my current home state but miss the autumns of my childhood terribly. Warmth and togetherness just seemed to spur naturally from the season as the air turned crisp and temperatures began to drop. I decided to create a cozy, comfortable gathering for my closest LA friends that communicates the glory of fall through food and introduces the spirit of the season to my California-born buddies.
Utilizing ingredients such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, kale, Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, walnuts and mushrooms, I created a menu that showcased fall’s bounty. To indulge my Texas-born husband, a braised brisket our main attraction, filling the house with velvety rich, soulful smells as guests enter our apartment. Make two at the same time and you’ll have incredible leftovers for days.
To ensure my guests feel comfortable in our home from the moment they arrive, I try to make everything slightly elegant but still accessible. Our apartment and dinner table is adorned with mini-pumpkins, gourds, persimmons, dried fall leaves, candles inside pillars stenciled with leaves, and empty seasonal large-format beer bottles. Hand-etched leaf plates serve as perfect accent plates for seasonal dinners like this and spare stems of rosemary and sage can be sprinkled near the hors d’oeuvres. The dinner table is set with a mix of gold cloth and paper napkins, various sets of dinner plates, silverware and glasses. We place colorful bowls filled with roasted spiced pumpkin seeds around our apartment to encourage mingling and create a natural event flow. Spilling a few crumbs on the floor, laughing and talking loudly is highly encouraged.
At every home gathering, I like to have a couple of standout dishes — like the brisket, and an eye-catching dessert, such as a galette. They look impressive but won’t have you hunched over the stove all day. The preparation for the galette and the brisket can even be done the night before, lessening the workload for the gathering day itself. It’s easy to round out the menu with quick sides and appetizers that highlight the glorious seasonal produce so readily available in California. A hearty kale salad, a velvety polenta with sage and mushrooms, and a smooth sweet potato hummus are easy to whip up in advance and serve family style. A classic cocktail with a seasonal twist, like our pumpkin old-fashioned, adds another dash of autumn to the meal and complements the main event. We time the brisket to come out of the oven just before we are ready to serve dinner and watch our guests smile as food is passed around the table. The spirit of the season emanates through the meal.
Words and Photos by Elizabeth Held