The last couple weeks:
Full—of visitors mostly, and conversation, and good food too. The three always happen to coincide, don’t they? Earnest walks, feet pounding pavement to the tune of miles of city blocks, great big swathes of condensation disappearing into the air as we talk, scarves up to our ears, gloved hands stuffed into pockets. The cold is omnipotent and inescapable.
The couch served double-duty as a bed, throws unfolded and refolded and finally heaped together over the rip in the couch. Towels bunched up on the rack, foreign toothbrushes and contacts and creams on the counter. Squished together like sardines around the table. Plates and bowls cycled over and over. Coffee and coffee and coffee and coffee. The twice-daily sauna turning us into captives of the heat, shedding layers as if on cue as the radiator whistles on.
And then there was Thanksgiving. I can’t even think about it. So much food. My role as the preparer of brussels sprouts, though, thankfully, not much else. Watching as the guys prepared the turkey, standing on tiptoes with my cameraphone poised above the headless carcass. It was salted, backbone cut out, pushed down hard until its breastbone cracked. Piercing it with a meat thermometer a million and one times, unsure why its internal body temperature kept vacillating. As a result, dry white meat but done in 90 minutes. For dessert, a pumpkin pie. There was also homemade cinnamon ice cream—thanks Alanna for implanting the idea in my mind! It tasted just like Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The return to normalcy. Decompression. Time once again ours. Sleeping in and in and in. Leftovers. Sitting on the couch which was once again a couch and streaming Breaking Bad until Walt started getting annoying. Christmas tree shops set up on street corners, and wreaths, big ones and decorated ones and plain ones too. Cracking open my computer for the first time in what felt like weeks. Black Friday emails days late, but overflowing my inbox nonetheless. I also ate my first apple cider doughnut.
And then I had to make them.
Because what I ate was cushiony and soft, full of air pockets, a real treat for gluten-vores. It was also heady with autumn spices and dusted with coarse sugar, really underscoring the apple cider flavor just like they should. In short, it was completely unlike anything I’d expected, and it was amazing.
I’m not usually a fan of cake doughnuts. In fact, I’m not sure the doughnut I had on Saturday was a cake doughnut – it was far too luscious and fluffy. But I love anything apple cider flavored, so I decided to make my own version with yeast.
This recipe is close. It’s not fluffy enough in my opinion, but then again, I wonder if the doughnut of my dreams is exactly that: not real. Nevertheless, there’s something really exciting about making doughnuts at home (another one of those look-what-I-made! foods), and these taste delicious when they’re fresh out of the, um, fryer? Is that what you call your pot when you’re using it for deep-frying?
We recently sorted out that we’re hosting Thanksgiving this year. Nothing big, just some friends over for a small gathering, but still, Thanksgiving! The most important meal of the year! Talk about performance pressure. But, I think I’m just going to take it one step at a time. I’ve already decided we’re spatchcocking, and besides the turkey, isn’t everything else just gravy from there?
Did you know, up until I met Chris, I’d never eaten turkey? Thanksgivings with my family were such non-events, I can’t at all recall what we used to do. Really, I have no clue, and I’m really racking my brain here. I don’t think my sister and I ever felt like we were missing out though, because you can’t really desire something you’ve never experienced. It meant a week off from school, and that was good enough for us.
When Chris and I started dating, Thanksgiving was always fraught with separation anxiety. We were young, barely into college, and the idea of being apart for FIVE WHOLE DAYS was unimaginable. Obviously, our relationship survived. But just barely. Just kidding. (Actually, the first winter break we spent apart, my family decided to take a month-long trip to China, where all communication was virtually impossible. I’m still mad at myself for spending so much time moping around feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t really get to enjoy the visit.)
Now that I’ve been through a couple real Thanksgivings, complete with turkey and pumpkin pie and the whole nine yards, I can confidently voice my day-of preferences: NO cranberry sauce, NO stuffing, LOTS of mashed potatoes and gravy, dark meat, two slices of pie, and more Brussels sprouts please!
You see, somewhere along the way, I discovered the wonder that is Brussels sprouts. I mean, it’s seen such a huge lift in popular opinion in recent years that I’m pretty sure we’re all Brussels sprouts converts. What’s not to love, when it’s served Momofuku-style, all tart and spicy and refreshing? And who could possibly resist the rendition I present to you this year, tossed with lots of bacon, garlic, thyme and a hint of juniper. Not I. Especially since it comes from the cookbook of another lauded chef, the great April Bloomfield.
Here’s what Bloomfield has to say:
“In this dish, each bite is different—in some you get a nutty, sweet nibble of garlic, in others you’ll fork a sprout along with a big piece of pancetta. The juniper comes through just now and again. You might eat a sprout and not get the juniper, and you might eat another and get the juniper. I kind of like that.”
I kind of like that too, April. This sentiment is echoed throughout the book actually, and I find it unusually wise. The trick is to include just enough of an ingredient to leave you wanting more, but not so much that it gets taken for granted.
One last thing before I leave you with the recipe. The use of juniper berries as an ingredient would ordinarily go against all my instincts. It’s, well, GIN after all, herbal and pungent and seemingly not compatible with any kind of food. But it shines here, in a big but small way, an undertone that just works. Please please please seek out the juniper berries.
I got my teeth whitened earlier this week. It was free, so I should’ve known better.
Besides the fact that I first had to endure the dental hygienist from hell (she gave me the most painful cleaning ever—and I usually never ever ever complain), I was put on the White Diet after the whitening. Your teeth are extremely susceptible to discoloration the 48 hours after, so you have to be very careful about what you eat.
If no one’s patented the White Diet yet, I swear I will. Here’s what Day One looked like: a white bread sandwich with mozzarella cheese and egg whites for lunch, a white bread sandwich with feta cheese and egg whites for dinner, and white bread toast topped with condensed milk (which isn’t actually white you see—it’s more a beige, which technically is still a no-no) for breakfast. I suppose none of those things are particularly healthy, but I was so afraid of eating anything not on the list that I didn’t really eat much at all. The worst part: no coffee! I walk away from this experience now knowing that I am extremely hooked on coffee and shouldn’t be allowed to operate machinery without it. In other words, it was really really hard to give it up, even for just a day. I wasted an entire morning being drowsy and sluggish, sitting in front of my computer unable to do any work.
The next day is easier since you get to drink really milky coffee with a straw, and your circle of food expands to beige and cream-colored foods. Thank god. I reverted to my usual fallback: cereal.
So that’s how I survived my white diet. I really shouldn’t be complaining though should I? I mean, I got my teeth whitened for free. My pearly whites are whiter! My smile more dazzling! My mouth looks 10 years younger!! Truthfully, the difference is negligible.
When I think about the things we do for beauty, like abstain from foods we love, I wonder where to draw the line. I mean, the whitening experience was a relative breeze compared to some of the crap people put themselves through. There was a time in my life where food was something of an enemy. Adolescence, you know.
Anyway, as you can imagine, this pumpkin brioche loaf would’ve been absolutely not allowed. Especially since the pumpkin turned its innards a light mustard-y yellow. It’s really really pretty, especially with the swirl (which I’m downplaying because it came out kind of squirrely-looking—but I’m including it in the instructions anyway because it really is delicious).
I had a bit of trouble with the dough. You know when you doubt a recipe and start tampering with it? Probably not the greatest idea when you’re dealing with something as delicate as brioche, which is this whole complicated ecosystem of ingredients. But I managed to salvage it, and it came out smelling richly of pumpkin and all its accompanying spices. It captures the taste too, but subtly. Don’t expect pumpkin pie. Instead, imagine soft and glorious air pockets, a thin, toasty crust, and a murmur of spicy pumpkin flavor. It’ll make a hell of a French toast this weekend. And I won’t have to worry about my teeth turning yellow.