Posts Tagged ‘thanksgiving’

ever thankful

Ever since graduating, I have missed my high school’s annual Thanksgiving Assembly with a powerful gut-punch of nostalgia. We would gather in the C/A and, after a few words from the headmistress, start lining up on either side of the stage– students, teachers, administrators, coaches, all —  to read our lists of thanks. You worked on your list of thanks. They were long. And even if the assembly went over, which it almost always did, everyone got to speak. I wouldn’t stake my dad’s apple pie on it, but I bet I have a couple old write-ups lying around. Somewhere. But that’s for another time, and since I don’t feel like whipping out the hankies (or eye-rolls) for my younger self, let’s stick to present-day.

I am thankful for my simply awesome parents and my perfect friends, even though I am still mad at all of them for either moving to Cambodia, London, France, and L.A., or for staying in New York or D.C. and laughing uproariously when I suggested they crawl into my suitcase and come to Iowa with me. Speaking of, I am thankful for having moved to Iowa over a year ago to live in a century-old house that may leak heat in winter but also happens to house Boyfriend, who turns on the portable bedroom heater hours before I go upstairs every night and finds my ever-lost slippers before I get up every morning.

I am thankful for letters, email, and Skype, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, and the Sweet Valley Twins, because at least I read something better than the Clique books when I was in 6th grade. (I am also thankful for Casablanca and Shakespeare.) I am thankful for spending my teenage years at Greenway, where I met my best friends, learned to write five paragraph essays in 90 minutes flat, read Kafka and Morrison and Kerouac, got feminism, and where teachers inspired me, which increasingly feels like an anomaly in this day and age. I give thanks for for hair curlers and contacts, for my cats who think they are the world’s first breed of cat-dog-kangaroo, for boots made for snow, rain, and crisp fall days, respectively, and for Anthropologie, even when their creativity comes with too high a pricetag.

I am thankful for the four kinds of flour in my pantry that sometimes make me question my own sanity, my Cuisinart, cheese and good bread and red wine and Champagne. I am thankful for Grandma Smoot’s Sweet Potatoes, not my grandma but a fine woman who decided that sweet potatoes mashed with two eggs, a stick of butter, and a cup of sugar should be called a savory dish and served before dessert: I salute this spirit. I am endlessly thankful for being physically and financially able to travel and the fact that Boyfriend makes the best travel buddy, and so I am thankful for crepes-Nutella, falafel, and the Orsay in Paris, for sunny sunny Vienna and night trains and good walking shoes. I am thankful for a camera that is far better at taking pictures than I am. I am thankful for ART, and that I get to study it, and grad schools if you are listening in, I will be thankful for admission + scholarship too, thanks!

I am thankful for puff pastry, hot showers, kindness, apple picking, nights on the deck, and Sam Sifton’s Thanksgiving Help Line at the New York Times. I am thankful for the audacity of hope, both sentiment and author. I am thankful for 23 years with my Kansas Grandma, who wore fierce leopard print shoes, fried eggs in bacon fat, let me spend hours pounding out bad poetry on her ancient typewriter in the basement, and never, ever forgot a birthday. I am thankful that, when she offered to “take me shopping” on a visit to DC at least ten years ago, and I said, “Great, to the pet shop we go!”, she humored me. And while we’re on the topic, I am ever thankful for my Memere in France, who makes the world’s best chocolate mousse, hand-knit me a sweater the color of the French flag with an Eiffel tower on it when I was little, and at age 91 is still eating raw oysters. I am so thankful for the families attached to each side of the Atlantic, and the ones I have made for myself.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope yours feels as good as mine tastes.



why buy it when you can make it yourself: part pumpkin puree

Just in time for Thanksgiving. Break from your chains of supermarket servitude! Make your own pumpkin puree! Avoid that last-minute, second-circle-of-Hell run to the grocery store on Thursday morning because you forgot a can of Libby’s on your Official Tuesday Trip, only in between the pounds of butter, pounds of potatoes, overpriced pecans and vats of brown sugar you forgot the pumpkin puree, and it’s a family reunion this year and your sister definitely won’t speak to you if you forget her favorite dessert because you probably did it on purpose anyway, and you may as well NOT GO.

Don’t let this happen to you! Pumpkin puree is as easy as, well, pie. Just make sure you grab one of those small pumpkins, usually labeled “pie pumpkins,” so you can’t miss it (and if you have, just ask); the jack-o-lantern Halloween ones tend to be tougher and stringier. Then all you need’s an oven, a blending device (food processor, blender, potato masher even), and some water. Oh, and a knife. But I promise, that’s it.


Pumpkin Puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut pumpkin in half from head to toe and scoop out the seeds. You can save them to make pepitas* later, unless, like a certain twelve year old girl I know, you find such a prospect disgusting. Also weird. You want to get the stringy guts out, too, but don’t worry about being perfectly thorough.

Roast the pumpkin halves — skin up or down, doesn’t matter — for 45 minutes, until the flesh is fork tender.

Scrape pumpkin flesh away from the skin. Buzz the flesh in your food processor (or other mashing device) until smooth. Depending on the pumpkin and whether Saturn is in the third house, you may need to add a couple tablespoons of water to thin and smooth it out.

One 15 ounce can of storebought pumpkin puree equals about two cups of the homemade stuff.

I like to store the leftovers by the single cupful in ziplock baggies in the freezer. (If ya put a cup in each baggie, you’ll know exactly how much you have at a glance!) To thaw, leave in the fridge overnight or run under warm water.


*Bonus! Pepitas!

Rinse pumpkin seeds clean and separate from the clingy stringy bits. Lay on a cookie sheet in a single layer and let dry overnight. Drizzle on some olive oil and salt, and stir around to distribute evenly. Bake in a 250 degree oven for an hour, until golden brown. Cool and eat!

what to do with applesauce

And so we begin daylight savings fall as we left equinox fall: with applesauce. Once you’ve cooked and blitzed your fall haul into a velvety puree (review the how-to here — quite as easy and luscious as it looks), what’s to be done with it? I put forth one suggestion, which isn’t to say you couldn’t freeze it until some black January morning, when the stores are filled with parsnips and potatoes, but nothing like an October apple perfumed with fresh lemon peel.

I suggest you make applesauce spice cake instead.

I wanted to make this the second I saw it on Smitten Kitchen, lured in by the promise of “October in a buttered square cake pan”. In the full swing of November, this should give you a rough notion of how long I’ve been plotting an applesauce spice cake Saturday. The cinnamon, the cloves, the ground ginger all lend a sweet, sharp bite, and the applesauce acts as a guarantor against dryness even, I would bet, if you left it in the oven a couple minutes too long. It has the look and taste of an everyday cake, the same crumb as banana bread or carrot cake, rather than a fancy party’s tiered and sugary confection. I like its light, moist casualness, which not only tastes delicious, but — marvelously — whisks away the notion that you need a reason to bake a cake.

Spiced Applesauce Cake

For the cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle. Butter the bottom and sides of a 8 or 9 inch square cake pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in applesauce and walnuts, if using.

Slowly mix in the flour mixture until just combined. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick stuck through the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen it, and invert onto a plate to continue cooling.

For the frosting:

  • 5 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract together until fluffy. Sift confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon over wet ingredients and stir until fully incorporated. Store in the refrigerator until cake is cooled and ready to frost.


pre-thanksgiving: a light(er) take

Don’t share this super-duper secret revelation with just anyone, but between you and me: law school is hard work. So hard, in fact, that Billy eighty-sixed his initial Pacific-side Thanksgiving break plans and stayed (is staying! is now!) in Iowa. And while our ceaselessly diligent worker bee kicks course outlines and exam prep into second (more like fourth) gear, where, pray tell, am I?

Well, er, I decided to fly back to Virginia anyway, because those sweet potato pies, and pecan pies, and cranberry sauces aren’t going to cook themselves. And that’s diligent too, right? Sort of?

At least I left a trail of Thanksgiving in my wake.

Admittedly, this is a French tarte aux pommes. It’s a bit far from the traditional, lidded apple pie that’ll cap off Thursday’s turkey feast — that’s the bad news. The good news is that apples really take the center stage, rather than syrupy cinnamon drippings or slabs of buttery dough. (Wait, that’s the good news?) Put another way: It tastes so light, so pure that you’d feel perfectly sensible having a slice alongside your morning coffee and Cocoa Puffs. (Though if you’re greeting 8am with chocolate flakes, you probably don’t need much convincing. Ahem.)

Finally, since this was my first time (first time!) making my dad’s famous apple tarte sans aide, a few tips: Yes, there will be enough dough. Yes, you should slice the apples as thinly as possible. And yes, of course, you should bathe them in more sugar, cinnamon, and cream than you think necessary.

Tarte aux Pommes

For the crust

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 5 1/2 tbsp cold butter, cubed
  • 1/8 cup cold water, more as needed

For the filling

  • 2-3 apples
  • a shower of sugar and cinnamon
  • a healthy glug of heavy cream and Cointreau

Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture looks like tiny peas. Gradually stir in the water until you’re getting big flakes. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten slightly into a disk. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for a couple hours.

Flour your counter generously and roll out the dough into an approximately 12″ circle. If pieces flake off, just pick them up and roll them right back in. It will work out. Transfer it to a 9″ tart pan, either by gently folding the dough into quarters and unfolding it in the pan, or by rolling it loosely around your rolling pin. Trim and crimp the edges. Cover the dough with wax paper and fill with pie weights. Brush some cream on the edges. Cook in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and slice your apples very thinly. Toss in sugar, cinnamon, and cream.

Arrange apple slices in the pie and bake for 30 minutes. When it’s done, slather on some peach or apricot jam. Try to resist splitting it between four people evenly.