Of all of the holidays to spring up in the past few years, Friendsgiving might be the best. Friends are like chosen family—and it’s nice to have the opportunity to express thanks for them, too.
I asked some new friends, Morgan Daily and Kyle Hagerty, if we could gather in their incredible garden, the Urban Farmstead in East Sacramento, to host one such dinner at the start of the season, and to pass along some tips.
The space they’ve created is such an inspiration. Kyle, a firefighter for the city of Sacramento, has been gardening since his childhood, and Morgan is studying sustainable agriculture and food systems at UC Davis. “We are both very passionate about living sustainably” which includes finding ways to reduce water usage and eat seasonably. I can attest that their commitment is apparent—and can’t help but share some photos of the results (aka this dream garden).
We all wanted to know how it came about, and while they attributed some success to trial and error, it was clear there was a lot of planning that went into it: “Being able to enjoy the weather and take advantage of the sun and soil for ideal vegetable gardening conditions was most important to us. Our goal was to incorporate a lush landscape, lounging area, outdoor kitchen, and of course a huge vegetable garden, all in an environmentally sustainable way.” They drew out plans, and amended the soil, before putting in drought-tolerant plants, efficient irrigation, mulch, and organic fertilizers.
Since cultivating their garden, the two have begun hosting a bi-weekly farm-stand for their community. And just over a year ago, they hosted the first Farmstead Supper in their yard—a gathering of community to get back in touch with the source of their food.
We partnered with Bota Box for the evening: As a leading eco-friendly wine producer—each package is printed on 90% post-consumer fiber and is 100% recyclable, creating 85% less landfill waste than traditional glass bottles—the wine was a perfect fit for an evening in such an inspiring sustainable garden.
The two were generous enough to welcome us all for a friendsgiving dinner, and offered some tips for anyone else hoping to do the same.
Tips for hosting Friendsgiving this season…
Enlist help! Host a potluck. During the busy holiday season, hosting an event or, perhaps, another event may seem daunting. But even on a budget, a friendsgiving-potluck is very doable, and doesn’t have to be stressful. If you’re the host, I suggest making an appetizer and main course and asking each guest to bring an item—a salad, vegetable, potato dish, or a dessert.
Plan ahead. Try to do most of your prepping ahead of time, if possible. To reduce stress, make an action plan: grocery shop and prep 1-2 days beforehand. Get out all of your plates, napkins, silverware, and platters the day before, and set the table first thing on the day of the party.
Dress up your table. While the tone of friendsgiving tends toward the casual, it’s easy to make a table look special. Forage a little greenery—like eucalyptus or pine—perhaps from your own yard. Look to seasonal produce for easy tablescapes, like these concord grapes and pink apples, or perhaps sprigs of rosemary. And pumpkins, persimmons, and pomegranates are all easy sources of fall color. (Bonus: you can eat them afterward!) Affordable candles and table runners—like a swath of burlap—can be found at nearby craft stores.
Keep it flowing. Make sure you have plenty of beverages on hand, and your guests will entertain each other while you’re putting the finishing touches on dinner. (Or, more likely, they’ll gather around and join you in the kitchen.) After a fall cocktail, we set out some of our favorite Bota Box varietals and let guests help themselves. And, for dinner, we decanted some for the table.
The turkey is fair game. If you’re comfortable cooking (or committed to cooking) a turkey, then by all means! But feel free to break with tradition. You might consider roasting a couple chickens or chicken breasts. A vegetarian option could be a winter squash risotto. [Editor’s note: at my first Thankgiving with Aron’s family, they served salmon!]
Let the season inspire you. When choosing what to make, visit your farmers market and see what’s in season. An easy go-to fall salad consists of mixed greens and arugula; a seasonal fruit, like Fuyu persimmon or pear; a nut; and a cheese (I like walnuts and chèvre). It’s a simple recipe for a reliably delicious salad.
Perfect a specialty. Whether you’re a host or a guest, it’s good to have something you love in your recipe book. Roasted winter squash—my favorites are acorn, butternut, and delicata—makes a great side dish or a nice addition to a salad. This shaved brussel sprouts salad or this butternut squash soup would also be fitting.
You don’t have to make the dessert. Dessert tends to get plenty of volunteers, but if no one is eager to bring homemade pumpkin pie, you can always turn to a local baker. This cheesecake came from the Upper Crust Baking Company booth at the Davis Farmer’s Market and could be adorned to fit the occasion.
Keep it simple! It’s a busy time of year, and not everyone will be able to attend. Trying to accommodate everyone adds stress and friendsgiving should be anything but stressful. Keep guests to a number you’re comfortable with. And set a date and stick to it.
Have you hosted a Friendsgiving? What tips would you add?
A big thanks to Bota Box, the nation’s leading eco-friendly wine producer of premium 3-liter varietals, for sponsoring this post and helping to bring us all together.
And thank you to Kyle and Morgan for hosting. You can follow the garden’s seasonal harvests and find inspiration at @urbanfarmstead. (This overview shot of the vegetable garden is one of my favorites.)
P.S. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bota Box over the past two years and want to congratulate everyone there: their Nighthawk Black was just named the #1 Red Wine in Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys of 2016 out of more than 21,000 red wines reviewed! Read previous Bota posts: we love them for picnics and day-hikes around Northern California, and took them kayaking earlier this year, and see the adventure summit I took with the team in Big Sur.