Each year, chef Lisa Becklund and her partner look forward to their holiday vacation. After weeks of serving decadent meals to guests at a 40-seat family-style table at their Depew, Oklahoma restaurant, they’ve made it a tradition to escape to a faraway destination for a brief respite from their duties.
But this year, Becklund, who recently opened her second restaurant in nearby Tulsa, is staying close to home. Like many of us, she’s anticipating much smaller holiday gatherings than usual—both at home and at her restaurants, which are serving at half capacity and are already sold out for holiday service.
“Usually the holidays are really hectic, and you're running from place to place and going to this party and that party,” Becklund says. “Maybe this is an opportunity to really step back from that—it's going to be more contemplative, quieter, more reflective.”
Though gatherings may be smaller this year, Becklund insists on being more deliberate than ever. For her, that means putting the stress of a traditional holiday menu on hold and focusing on more elemental preparations of seasonal produce.
“This is the time to relax a little bit, to give [yourself] permission to step back and to indulge in something that has culinarily piqued your interest—cook the things that you actually want to eat, not just that you're making to please everyone else,” Becklund says.
Becklund looks forward to flexing her creative muscles this holiday season, particularly when it comes to two of the most indulgent aspects of a feast. Of course, Becklund is talking about dessert and the sometimes daunting task of wine pairings, for which she’ll be looking to a duo of bottles that are up to the task: Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from Oregon-based winery Erath. Both of these Pinots feature elegant, fruit-forward notes and are relatively light in body, which makes them exceptionally food-friendly wines that can be paired with a variety of flavors and textures on your holiday table.
Here’s how the chef plans to create an intimate, wine-centric, holiday-worthy spread this year.
A bottle of wine shared around the table is a requisite when setting a celebratory mood, and Becklund has an interesting approach to pairing it with food: “Rather than try to adapt a bottle of wine to a menu, I kind of go about it the opposite way,” she says. “I think about that bottle of wine and I think about the flavor and what I love about it, and then I start coming up with things that would go really well with it.”
She finds that Erath Oregon Pinot Gris, an aromatic white wine flecked with flavors of citrus, gooseberry, and light spice and pine notes, is particularly versatile.
“Growing up in the Northwest, we're kind of set with a certain standard of ‘you have to have this dish with this [wine],’” Becklund, a Seattle native, says. “I think putting the traditional holiday thing on its head, I could totally see this with lots of roasted vegetables. This wine can stand up to something that has a lot of flavor, you know?”
“Making butter is not that hard. It's time
to go to your local farmer, ask them for their cream, and go home and make butter.”
Fortunately, Becklund anticipates that a cream-based soup made from autumn produce like butternut squash or root vegetables will serve as a great start to her vegetable-centric holiday celebration that’s not too filling. “[It’s] something extremely flavorful, really rich on the tongue, and that's how I want the mood [of the meal] to go,” she says.
Following this, she’ll also serve bread and butter, a classic duo that can take as much or as little time to prepare as you prefer. “There's no excuse right now—everybody's making their own sourdough bread,” Becklund laughs. Better yet, she’ll also be making her own butter, a task that can be done well in advance of the big feast by anyone with the gumption to try. “Making butter is not that hard. It's time to go to your local farmer, ask them for their cream, and go home and make butter.”
Aromatic and fruit-forward, scents of key lime, Anjou pear, juicy melon, anise and a faint pine introduce this Alsatian style Pinot Gris. Melon, honey crisp apple, gooseberry and citrus pith linger on the round, full palate. Clean and quenching on the finish, this is a deliciously versatile sipper!
Rather than centering her holiday meal around a massive turkey flanked by half a dozen casserole dishes that are stuffed to the brim, this year Becklund has set her sights on something a little different: a stuffed leg of lamb.
“All [our] leftover sourdough will get shredded up and stuffed into this leg of lamb with rosemary and lemon,” she says. “I really feel like that will be a special thing.”
While Becklund tries to avoid a heavy hand when it comes to spices and herbs, preferring to let the main ingredient of a dish shine through, there is one element that will be showing up throughout her scaled-back holiday dinner: garlic.
“Having a smaller group means that I actually get to incorporate heirloom garlic into the mix, so I can really give them a chance to taste the different [varieties of] garlic that we have,” Becklund says, noting that the time it takes to peel and prepare the garlic usually limits how much she does with it. This year, she’ll use various kinds of garlic to season and help showcase the naturally bright, crisp flavors of the veggies on her dining room table.
“I can actually spend time making some really special things that normally I wouldn't be able to,” she says.
“The brightness of [something] like a butternut squash—those are the flavors that bring me into the holiday cheer,” Becklund says. “I love to be able to focus on the beauty of the vegetables.”
This year, she’s looking forward to serving blistered beans with caramelized garlic along with chili and pumpkin ravioli, both made with vegetables straight from the Living Kitchen garden. “I can actually spend time making some really special things that normally I wouldn't be able to,” she says.
While Pinot Gris could carry the weight of the lamb and sides through this stage of the meal, Becklund is looking forward to the jammy and tart characteristics of Erath Oregon Pinot Noir. Not only is it a robust accompaniment to meat, with notes of cherry and plum, but it’s also approachable enough to make it a natural fit to pair with green beans and other vegetables.
Classic Oregon aromas of black cherry, plum and currant mingle with hints of anise and sandalwood. Flavors reflect the aromatics with more cherry and plum with a touch of graham. Hearty and robust, yet smooth and approachable.
Even when it comes to dessert, Becklund plans to buck tradition this year. While she can easily envision finishing off her meal with a helping of goat cheese, savory jam, and nuts, she’s also considering a riff on her favorite holiday pie.
“I love pecan pie because it’s the sugariest pie you can get,” Becklund says. “I love the flavors. But I want to [have] a little more creativity with it.”
In lieu of a pie this year, the chef is taking inspiration from a beloved, handheld childhood treat: the ice cream sandwich. “You take the crust and you put the pecan ice cream in there and swirl it with caramel—it’s got all the elements,” she says. Whether you choose to go traditional, savory, or hands-on with your dessert, a bottle of Erath Oregon Pinot Noir can easily pair with a cheese course or shine alongside a traditional or reimagined pie.
“I love pecan pie because it’s the sugariest pie you can get,” Becklund says. I love the flavors. But I want to [have] a little more creativity with it.”
Even though she’s excited about her unique spin on dessert, Becklund admits that holiday classics are classic for a reason. So she just might need to whip up a crowd-pleasing pumpkin pie, too. “Having that pumpkin pie just the way Aunt Margaret made it and not veering from that at all—maybe that’s something that can anchor us,” she says. “Let’s keep that but also have something that’s so unexpected. What these dinners all come down to is connecting with people. Whoever you choose to spend that holiday time with, don't let it slip away this year.”
© 2020 Erath Winery, Amity, OR Pinot Noir