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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.