While I’m never one to rush things this time of year, in staring at my little desk calendar this morning, it’s become clear that Thanksgiving is on the horizon. This year, we’re hosting Sam’s family again for what will be the second time, and I’m not going to lie: I don’t feel any more organized or together after Round 1. Last year there was a lot of turkey talk and I panicked (in hindsight, irrationally so), admitted I had no clue what I was doing, and delegated the bird to Sam who really waited until the eleventh hour (i.e. Wednesday) to buy the turkey and we ended up having a roulade situation instead of a traditional roasted bird, which was all fine and good. I made pie and cranberries and mashed potatoes. I recall making a chicory salad but no one seems to remember it, so it clearly didn’t make that big of an impression. Sam’s sister Christa brought her famous stuffed mushrooms and his nephew, Kevin, brought wine. People were happy, so I was happy.
But it does seem that, regardless if you’ve been hosting for two years or twenty, there’s this constant impetus to regroup and reimagine and somehow do it all better each year. And on one hand, I get that: all the food magazines come, each claiming to have the end all and be all in revamped stuffing or the newest trick to mashed potatoes and it’s all … a little exhausting, isn’t it? What I crave isn’t so much the newest, edgiest stuffing but more the gold standards that we pull out every year. Our family’s classics. We don’t have those yet, but we’re working on it. If it were up to Sam, this simple fruit crisp would be a candidate for sure, and if you’re someone who trembles at the thought of homemade pie, this is a stellar way to make life a little simpler this year.
Fruit crisps and crumbles are great because they’re rustic and forgiving and relatively hard to truly mess up. I used to make a Pear and Cranberry Pie in my early days at Marge, when I’d bake in the wee hours of the morning and sell slices at the farmers market in San Francisco. I often had a slice, sometimes still warm, for breakfast in that period of time after I’d set up the booth but before any customers would arrive. Because our market was in a particularly foggy neighborhood that rarely saw sun, the mornings were really cold and damp: I’d layer up and do a lot of pacing and had a little camp heater at my feet. Pie and coffee always helped. So this crisp is inspired by that pie and my fond memories of those days, and the filling is virtually the same. I mixed up the crumble topping by adding Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour, marzipan and sliced almonds to make it a bit more special, a bit less everyday. It’s still as simple as can be to pull together, but feels holiday-worthy. I realize not everyone loves marzipan and the camp seems to be pretty strongly divided, but if you’re in the Pro Camp as we happen to be, I think you’ll be quite fond of this dessert.
I plan to post a few simple holiday recipes this month that I hope you may find inspiring, or may help you round out a holiday meal this season. In truth, I’m doing this a bit selfishly as I’m trying out a few dishes before the holiday myself to see if they’re good candidates for our ‘do again’ list — no crazy four-layer pies or revolutionary ways to do cranberry sauce, but just great, simple classics with perhaps a bit of a twist that I hope you’ll love. We’ll start here, with dessert. Always a solid place to start. Cook’s Note: When shopping for marzipan, if you can find almond paste it’s virtually the same thing, but even better — it’s more difficult to find, so I wrote marzipan into the recipe, but in general, almond paste has less sugar and more ground almonds. Either one will be fine in this recipe.
I generally use either Anjou or Bartlett pears (or a mix of both) for baking as they still hold their shape for the most part and don’t become too mushy. While I love this crisp in the fall, I think it’d be great with berries, too — just keep the proportions of fruit the same and feel free to experiment.
Preheat the oven to 375 F and position a rack in the center of the oven.
Place a 2-quart baking dish (or a 9-inch pie pan or 10-inch tart or quiche pan) and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
Make the filling: In a medium bowl, toss together the pears, cranberries, lemon juice, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, cloves and salt.
Make the topping: In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the almond paste, flour, brown sugar, salt, and butter until the mixture begins to clump together, about 30 pulses (or just let it run continuously until mixture clumps, 20 seconds or so). Scrape into a small mixing bowl, add the sliced almonds and stir to combine. Mixture will be super clumpy.
Scrape the fruit filling into the pan and scatter the topping on top. Bake for 45-50 min, or until the fruit is bubbling up around the edges just a bit and the topping is golden brown. The crumble is best eaten soon after baking but will keep at room temperature just fine for 1-2 days or refrigerated for up to 3 days.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.