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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.