all the pieces

This year, we totally cheated the system. All it took was a little tweaking of our holiday to-ing and fro-ing. We spent this Thanksgiving with my mom in Ohio. But instead of hurtling ourselves into the swarms of strung-out travelers on Wednesday and Sunday, we took off for Ohio on Monday and flew back to Boston on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Bam. Two vacations in one: we got our Thanksgiving in all its menu-planning, photo-album-flipping, Mom’s-famous-stuffing glory, and then we got a big fat juicy weekend at home in Cambridge, all to ourselves. Perfection.

We tended to a special task this visit, something I’ve taken to calling The Great Slide and Photo Sort of 2009. Eli set up headquarters at my mom’s dining room table, and for two days straight, he sorted, bagged, and labeled over six-hundred of my grandparents’ slides and photographs for scanning. He was a machine. I helped mostly by flipping through his neatly organized piles, snatching the gems, and running into the kitchen to show my mom. How on earth would he have managed without me?

photo scan project 1

photo scan project 2

On Thanksgiving Day, at the end of our meal, we watched some 8mm home movies of my mother from when she was a little girl. Have you ever seen your parents as kids moving on film? This was a first for me, and it totally blew my mind. It is one thing to see your mother as a child, sitting pretty, hands folded in her lap, smiling and still for the camera. It is another thing entirely to see your little ten-year-old mommy running across the screen, waving, diving, swimming freestyle, gulping huge, purposeful breaths of air with each stroke. My grandfather picks her up in the water and throws her across the pool. She loves it. That the skinny little girl up there would one day be MY MOTHER, well, there are just no words. During the viewing, I must have temporarily lost my mind, because I completely forgot about the pandowdy that I had slipped under the broiler to caramelize the sugar on top. By the time I smelled the smoke, it was too late. I have never seen a sadder, blacker crust. It was all very I Love Lucy, in a brunette, Midwestern way. At least the fruit beneath had been protected by the charred shell, and so we salvaged it, and ended up with something closer to compote than pandowdy. It wasn’t half-bad. No one complained, at least. But I’m beginning to think that you might, dear readers, and justifiably so, seeing as how all I’ve given you so far today is a blackened crust and a bowlful of cooked fruit from a recipe I posted last month.

And so, herewith, the menu:

Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread
Roasted turkey with mushrooms and gravy
Cranberry apple walnut relish
Mom’s famous stuffing (and when I say “famous,” I mean “I like it a lot.”)
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Roasted root vegetables
Candied, spiced sweet potatoes
Cranberry apple pandowdy (turned compote)

We woke the next morning to first Ohio snow. Which means that, in addition to two Thanksgiving vacations, we also racked up an extra first snow this season. I’m telling you, we played this holiday right. (Incidentally, as I type this, our second first snow is falling here in Massachusetts.)

cleveland first snow

We landed in Cambridge on Friday morning, built a fire, and changed into our pajamas. Then, we sunk into our cushy green sofa, and part two of our even cushier holiday. I start to feel all cozy and droopy-eyed just thinking about it. We finished the previous Sunday’s crossword puzzle, watched an episode of Mad Men, and then a romantic comedy whose title and plotline I have already forgotten. We must have been tired from all of that photo sorting and pandowdy burning, because by a little after noon we were both sound asleep, a tangle of arms, legs and blanket, right there on the sofa. Have I mentioned that I loved this day? Finally, we took a break from our high-impact lounging to tackle a little home improvement project, and landed back on the sofa just in time for a dinner of peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks. Lest you worry that your trusty blogger is turning into a slug (or a “bump on a log,” as my mother used to say) let me assure you that I did squeeze in a run along the Charles. It was an uncomfortably windy, sun-in-my-eyes kind of run (I turned back early), but a run nonetheless. And we did slip out to a movie on Saturday night, one that got me thinking about the stories we tell, and why we tell them; about the way reality seeps into our dreams and, if we’re lucky, our dreams spill back over into our actual lives. If Eli hadn’t come down with a fever on Sunday evening and, by 3am, a raging ear infection, I would go so far as to say that it was the perfect weekend. One version, at least. It just had all the pieces, you know?

My plan today was to share with you what is, without fail, my favorite thing on our Thanksgiving table, year after year. My plan was not, however, to furnish a recipe featuring the exact same ingredients that starred in my last two entries. Maybe, for variety’s sake, you could click around to some other posts on this site, and then meet me back here when you’re ready for more apples and cranberries. Or perhaps if, like me, you cannot get enough of the apple-cranberry combination this time of year, you could make this recipe today. With a solemn promise that nary a cranberry nor an apple will grace Sweet Amandine until at least the end of the month, I once again bring you that delectable sweet-tart pairing of late-autumn fruits, this time in a cranberry apple walnut relish.

I wish that I had a rosy, twinkling glamour shot to insert right here, but it seems that my camera and I missed it, somehow. How about some roasted Brussles sprouts instead?

brussels sprouts

They were good. But back to the relish.

This recipe is so simple, it doesn’t need much of an explanation. Especially when, by now, you’re all pros at filling a pot with fruit and sugar, turning on the heat, and stirring. The difference, here, is that the apples remain raw, for added crunch and an additional layer of tang. Rarely do I insist upon a particular kind of apple in my recipes, but here it is truly best to go green; that old tart, Granny Smith, gives this relish a welcome kick in the pants. It’s stand-up, straightforward, whip-that-tongue-into-shape stuff. I’m crazy for it. No wonder it’s called “relish.” Bite after bite, I heap it onto my fork in the ratio of two parts relish to one part bird. My ritual at the close of every Thanksgiving meal – and I’m talking post-dessert, even – is to eat a few spoonfuls plain. It’s that good. Over the years, this relish has traveled well beyond the Thanksgiving table. It has appeared atop steaming bowls of oatmeal, on toast under a wedge of Brie, and alongside scoops of vanilla ice cream. That last sentence has me seriously contemplating a second, post-Thanksgiving batch. But a promise is a promise. If I decide to go for it, I swear, you’ll never know.

Cranberry Relish
Adapted from the lovely and talented Amy

This recipe calls for peeling the apples, but frankly, I'm not sure it's necessary. I think I'm going to go skin-on next year. As I have indicated, the quantity of sugar is variable, depending on your personal take on the ideal sweet-tart balance, and the sugar content of your juice.

1 pound fresh cranberries
1 pound Granny Smith apples to yield 4 c. diced, peeled apples
1/2 c. cranberry-apple juice (Plain apple or cranberry works just as well.)
3/4 c. - 1 c. sugar, to taste
2/3 c. coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine the sugar, juice, and cranberries in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly so as not to cook the apples. Stir in the apples and the walnuts, and spoon the relish into a bowl. Cover and chill for at least four hours. You can make this relish up to three days ahead and store it in the fridge.

Yield: 4 cups


Rogue Unicorn said...

I'm beginning to think you're descriminating against me in my cranberrielessness :)
Still, it's always nice to read your posts even if I can't use the recipe attached.

El said...

Sounds like you did very well with the vacation plans. It must have been amazing to see the video of your mom and I can definitely see how this resulted in a blackened dessert. However, the cranberry relish more than makes up for it. Hope Eli is well soon.

Jess said...

Rogue Unicorn - I'm very cruel, I know. Thanks for reading, nonetheless. Cranberry-free recipes coming soon!

El - I hope that your Thanksgiving was lovely, too. And yes, that film was quite wild. Thanks for the get well wishes. Eli is up and about and feeling much better.

Jennifer said...

The video of your mom sounds like a special thing to see and remember. Too funny about the dessert but the cranberry goodness to make up for it sounds just as good!

megan said...

So lovely to hear your voice this morning - your week and the food sound just heavenly! And two first snows, lucky you!

A couple of years ago my dad showed us a very short tape of his early life in Hawaii. Everyone sat absolutely transfixed by the smiling little goof who could barely walk: we kept pushing rewind and rewind and rewind. It's hard to describe but I think you're right on - you lose your mind, it seems impossible!


Jess said...

Jennifer - It really was. Thanks for making me feel better about that pandowdy goof.

Megan - Yes! Rewind and rewind and rewind. Of course you would understand precisely. Miss you.

momMe said...

The bean pole grew up, had two beautiful daughters, and lived happily ever after. love you sweetie

Jess said...

Mom - When I read "the bean pole grew up," it took me a minute to realize that you were talking about yourself (and not me)! Thanks for a great Thanksgiving. xo.