grown-up cranberry sauce

It’s kind of sad that I don’t get a full-fledged Thanksgiving this year. I know that every day is a feast with the comparative abundance I enjoy on a daily basis. When you’re living with a foot in two countries whose fall holidays don’t match up, though, planning a proper feast can slip easily by the wayside.

This year, our last-minute host in Ottawa delivered some fine impromptu stuffing and sweet potatoes. Days later, my visiting chef (mom) whipped up a pumpkin pie to help us refuel after our marathon. This Thursday, on the American holiday, we’ll likely share a smorgasbord of non-traditional dishes with other left-behind friends.

And so for this most humble of Thanksgiving posts, I had to reach way back into my photo archives for last year’s grown-up cranberry sauce, which I discovered on one of the first food blogs I started reading regularly. I have only one thing to say about this sauce: we’re still talking about it a year later.

I know what you’re thinking–why mess with perfection? But trust me on this one. It’s not so far off from the original, really. And after 20+ years of eating plain old cranberries n’ sugar, don’t you think it’s time for a change? I mean, let’s face it, life is too short for the same old. And If you hate it, I promise you someone will be happy to take it off your hands. (Express post to our place works as well.)

There’s something about an old favorite with a twist, like a reminder that old things too can be made new. What could be better accessories to tart, sweet cranberry sauce spiked with ruby red port, piney rosemary, and melt-in-your mouth figs.

My deepest apologies go out to turkey: there are some sauces that are just too good for you. This one deserves to be eaten by the spoonful. Or at least spread on crackers with a nickel of goat cheese.

But don’t despair, dearest bird. For you there’s always the recipe on the back of the cranberry bag.

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when life gives you apples

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday saturated with the smell of fallen leaves baking in the sun, I went apple-picking. For for the first time. Ever. I know, I had a deprived, prairie childhood.

Sure I’ve plucked a few sour crab apples from the tree we had out back as kids. But that doesn’t count. This was good old-fashioned, eastern-style apple picking, right in the heart of the Empire state.

We debated the merits of Galas, Macs, and Cortlands. We ate fresh apple fritters, just out of their hot oil bath. We bought salty cheese curds and they squeaked against our teeth. We wandered the orchard in the feeble fall warmth.

Normally I don’t post photos of myself on here, but I got kind of a kick out of this one. It’s so posed, and I look so proud. With all the time I’ve spent in grocery stores in my lifetime, apples seem ubiquitous. Perfectly piled, row upon row, making ruby pyramids that greet you from the produce section.

Picking them from the tree is an entirely different thing. The apples, Empire in the case, appear like swollen purple grapes nestled in their spindly trees and pruned for prime production. You wrap your hand around one of the firm fruits, pull gently, and feel the snap of stem dislodged from its lifeblood. It’s such a simple gift of nature.

And when nature gives you apples, there’s just so much you can do. We ended up eating most of them raw, shined up on shirt sleeves, but I did managed to eek out a few containers of applesauce.

This stuff was a mainstay of our family’s dessert repertoire. Ladled out into bowls or over ice cream, the cinnamon-laced chunky brown applesauce was all the bedtime snack we needed. I’ve hated the baby food jarred stuff ever since; chunkiness and sauce go hand-in-hand in my world.

This year, the applesauce surprised me with its bright shade of pink. It must be those Empire apple skins, redder than a whole bushel full of blushing Republicans.

So many dear dear apples, straight from the tree into my pot. My childhood, slurped up from a silver spoon.

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skippin’ jenny (vegan hoppin’ john)

I’m having a blast with Veganomicon, a cookbook that arrived on my doorstep one dreary afternoon from the sunnier climes of Berkeley. I had a bit part in helping its sender find an apartment in Syracuse, and I can’t wait to try more of its recipes out on her when she arrives. It’s my first vegan cookbook, and so far it is proving itself a mighty contender beside the omnivore-focused books on my shelf. Filled with recipes that are sure to stun even the most die-hard flesh eater, this book promises no end of fun with my favorite food group.

New York is the furthest South I’ve lived in North America, yet still miles away from the soul of Southern cookery. But since I’m a sucker for smoke (give me bonfire-perfumed sweaters, lapsang souchong tea, smoked cheeses and fish any day), Southern cooking seems right up my alley. So, wanting to branch into Southern cuisine a little more, the BBQ Black-Eyed Pea Collard Rolls jumped to the top of my list of things to try. I don’t know what exactly drew me to the recipe—something about it sounded smoky and satisfying, and different from how I normally cook.

My only contact with smoky food was purely of the accidental sort, up until landing a job at the Ouisi Bistro in Vancouver. There I was introduced to Cajun and Creole cooking, slinging their marinated Alligator, Andouille gumbo, and Jambalaya for eight months straight. And their cornbread? I left Vancouver carrying 12 extra pounds of it. Some souvenirs are tough to lose, even when they’re strapped right around your belly.

But onto the recipe: Black-eyed peas star in the famous Southern dish, Hoppin’ John. Eaten on New Year’s Day, the dish is thought to be lucky and is consumed widely. The beans’ characteristic markings are supposed to symbolize coins; when your plate runneth over your proverbial cup is said to follow suit. Collard greens, large cabbage-like leaves, are often served alongside Hoppin’ John. In this recipe, they star right alongside the beans, wrapping them tenderly like a rotund grandmother.

Now for the fun part. According to Wikipedia, on the day after New Year’s Day, leftover Hoppin’ John is called Skippin’ Jenny and shows a continuing frugality supposed to last throughout the year. Little did I know I had a namesake dish!

I happen to like Skippin’ Jenny much better than BBQ Black Eyed Pea Collard Rolls. My apologies to the cookbook’s authors Isa and Terry, but I might just have to re-christen your creation. After all, your lighter, greener, more vegged-out version is quite likely to make this Northern cook want to skip. I promise I’ll give you credit.

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