Down East 2013 ©
This is the month of giving thanks. Feels like there is much to be thankful for in these highly tumultuous times. We have elected a new President, one who fills many Americans (and people around the world) with a renewed sense of hope, and who has already brought about an altogether different feeling about what it means to be an American. None of this mess can be fixed overnight, but I feel deeply grateful that as a nation we elected someone who represents the future and not the past.
I am grateful for family and friends and the love that surrounds me. I feel thankful to live in Maine, a state filled with people who care deeply about things — be it politics, gardening, seafood, or the environment. And I am grateful to all of you who read this column and occasionally let me know what you think of my ramblings and recipes. Please keep your thoughts and ideas coming by commenting below.
This Thanksgiving will be quiet at my house. We are used to having a long table filled with family and friends, but this year it’s just going to be my husband, our two daughters, and my mother-in-law. My parents have been gone for years and, while their chairs sit empty, I can feel them there smiling adoringly at their granddaughters — amazed at how grown up and beautiful they are. I imagine we might not get out of our sweats and pajamas all day. I picture us cooking with no timetable to adhere to, no guests that will be arriving, no fancy table to set. I think I’ll use my mother’s china for tradition’s sake, even though it’s “just us.” At first the thought of this small crowd made me melancholy, but I am so looking forward to the idea of a mellow holiday that focuses on the family and, of course, the turkey.
I’ve ordered a local bird and plan to roast it at a high temperature, and then lower the heat to around 350 degrees. I will baste it with butter that is laden with garlic cloves and herbs. I’ve ordered a bird that will be way too big for the five of us, but what’s Thanksgiving without leftovers? Lots and lots of leftovers.
Although the rest of the menu changes a bit from year to year, our Thanksgiving table tends to look the same. There will be a stuffing filled with all kinds of bread (I start saving up days ahead of time), creamed spinach with freshly grated nutmeg and cardamom, mashed potatoes (because, according to my daughters, it’s not Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes), a rich gravy made from the turkey neck and giblets, steamed green beans tossed with slivered almonds and lemon butter, and my classic cranberry sauce. We will also open a can of cranberry sauce (in honor of my Dad who never trusted cranberry sauce that didn’t have ridges impressed onto the edges). And my mother-in-law will make the annual pineapple-orange-jello mold (some hate it, others have learned to love it). The recipe comes from her aunt Polly, a woman I have only heard about in conjunction with this bright orange wobbly salad. For dessert there will be some version of a pecan pie and perhaps a pumpkin cheesecake. We will groan with the weight of it all, but it’s everyone favorite holiday. No religion to contend with. No gifts to be bought. No tension about who gave whom what and why. Just food. Good, fresh, seasonal food.
I also love the idea that on Thanksgiving morning, when I am in my kitchen basting the turkey, or mashing the potatoes, I can picture millions of others in their kitchens doing nearly identical tasks. It’s the one day of the year when a cook doesn’t feel lonely.
This is the classic sauce for accompanying a holiday turkey. My version is loaded with oranges — fresh orange juice, orange zest, and thin strips of orange rind – candied ginger strips and crunchy nuts. This sauce is also excellent drizzled over pound cakes and butter cakes, as a “dip” for butter cookies, or spread it on morning toast and muffins, pancakes. Of course the ultimate use: a leftover turkey sandwich with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and crunchy lettuce on toasted white or whole wheat.
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 pound fresh cranberries
1/4 cups fresh orange juice*
1/4 cup julienned orange rind*
1 tablespoon grated orange zest*
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped candied (or crystallized) ginger**
1 cup walnut, pecans, or your favorite nut, coarsely chopped
*You’ll need about 2 to 3 large oranges. First, use one orange to remove the zest (the outer peel without the bitter white pith) by slicing it off with a small, sharp knife or a wide vegetable peeler. Use another orange to grate the rind and then use squeeze both oranges for their juice.
**Candied or crystallized ginger is available in the specialty food section of most supermarkets or at chocolate or candy shops.
Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sugar syrup beings to thicken slightly and turn a pale amber color. Add the maple syrup and the cranberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to pop. Add the orange juice, orange rind, and orange zest and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce beings to thicken slightly.
Remove the sauce from the heat and add the ginger and the nuts, stirring well. Let cool completely. Place in a clean glass jar and cover; refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for 6 months.
Makes about 6 cups.
Cardamom Creamed Spinach
This is a standard side dish at our holiday gatherings. The fresh green flavor of spinach, dusted lightly with grated cardamom and nutmeg, and cooked with garlic and cream, is the perfect accompaniment to roast turkey. The spinach can be made ahead of time and reheated just before serving.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
Four 5-ounce bags baby spinach, 20 ounces
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
About 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
About 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2/3 cup heavy cream
Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Add half the olive oil. When hot, add half the garlic. Begin adding spinach to the skillet by large handfuls, stirring as you go, and adding additional spinach until half the spinach is in the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until all spinach is completely wilted, about 5 minutes total. Transfer spinach to a large plate and repeat with remaining olive oil, garlic, and spinach. Add second batch of cooked spinach to plate.
Place a plate of equal size on top of the spinach. Squeeze the two plates together carefully over the sink to rid spinach of all excess liquid. Chop spinach and return to pan.
Over medium heat, stir spinach to release any additional liquid. Add nutmeg, cardamom, and cream, stirring to combine. Bring cream to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook spinach, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add additional nutmeg, cardamom, salt, or pepper as needed.
Creamed spinach may be made up to 4 hours ahead, refrigerated, and reheated in a skillet over medium heat just before serving or placed in a small casserole and placed in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until simmering. Serves 6.