It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we’ll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I’ll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There’s no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we’re thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they’ve been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there’s something new at the table. I think as you get older this idea of traditions changing can become more noticeable. And with two grown sisters, it’s inevitable that the holidays are going to start looking different sooner rather than later. This year we have a new addition, and my sister Rachael is actually doing all of the cooking while my mom has a much-deserved break. A few family friends will join us for the first time, and Zoe and I are scheming up a very un-Thanksgiving like dessert. Newness abounds. But there are old, important traditions, too. The way my mom and Cathy talk early in the morning about how long to leave the turkey in (after 30 some-odd years of doing it on their own, I’m certain they know, but it wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving morning without the obligatory check-in), the Thanksgiving cocktail (thank you, Zoe), three onion casserole for Stefan, and the evening walk with the dogs after dinner.
It’s always kind of a chaotic, haphazard walk that begins with everyone lumbering around the house locating jackets and scarves and basketballs they may wish to bounce along the way. Dogs are leashed, dogs bark, and there’s inevitably someone who — right around this point–drops out of the walk and volunteers to do the dishes instead. On these walks I’ll sometimes turn around and look back and see “cousins” Kelsey and Elliot who have grown up before my eyes, the dogs who have slowly aged throughout the years, and the usually constant but little-bit-rotating crew of dinner guests — everyone’s shadows in the night. Well-fed, together: That brings the happy.
I recently discovered a sweet blog, Remedial Eating. In talking about her family’s Halloween this year, blog writer Molly Hays said, “And that’s when I remembered the important thing about traditions, that they’re only as good as the happy they bring. And sometimes that looks like repeating what was. And sometimes that looks like forgetting all that.” Both are important: remembering what was and keeping it if it works, but not being afraid to ditch it if it doesn’t. And welcoming the new with anticipation. This year there will be familiar happy and new happy, and I couldn’t be happier about both.
An appropriate recipe to share with you today is a pie. It’s part traditional and part completely new and innovative. I first saw it while flipping through the pages of Food and Wine while house-sitting for my mom a few weeks back, and knew it needed to happen. At its core, it’s a simple custard pie infused with apple cider, cloaked in a layer of lightly-spiced whipped cream and thin slices of baked apples. If you’re looking for a new Thanksgiving dessert, this could be a contender. If you’re set on a traditional apple pie, I might urge you to give this one a spin. You never know when a new tradition could be born.
The pâte brisée recipe yields enough for 2 9-inch pies, so you can go ahead and freeze the second disk for future use. Without the whipped cream, the pie will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator. Once you put it all together it’s really best the day of although the second day is o.k., too.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
Prepare the pie shell: Scatter flour across your work surface and roll out the dough to roughly an 11-inch round (don’t stress too much to get it exact). Lay it into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate and trim any overhand that exceeds 1 inch from the rim. Fold under and crimp. Chill in the refrigerator until quite firm, about 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425°. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with dried beans to weigh down the shell when baking. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the crust is barely set. Remove the parchment and pie weights and cover the edge of the crust with strips of aluminum foil. Bake for about 15 minutes longer, until the crust is just set but not browned. If it starts to puff up, prick a few holes in it with a fork to release the air. Lower the oven temperature to 350°.
Make the custard filling: while the crust is cooking: In a medium saucepan, boil the cider until it’s reduced to 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Whisk in 3/4 cup of the sugar, the sour cream, nutmeg and salt, then whisk in the eggs. Remove the foil strips momentarily, pour the custard into the pie shell, and replace the foil strips.
Bake the pie for 35 to 40 minutes, until the custard is set around the edge but the center is slightly jiggly. Let the pie cool completely.
Prepare the decorative apple slices: While the oven is still hot, slice the red apple very, very thinly. Use a mandolin or work slowly and carefully with a sharp knife. You don’t want your slices to be too thin so as to be transparent, but close. Spray your baking sheet with non-stick spray or very lightly brush the slices with vegetable oil. Bake them until the edges start to curl up and they start to turn golden, roughly 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the heavy cream with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and the cinnamon until firmly whipped. Spread gently on top of the pie, cut into wedges, adorn with baked apples and a dash of cinnamon on top, and serve. If you’re not serving right away, refrigerate until you are. If there’s pie leftover, refrigerate — it will be great the next day, too.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.