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Thanksgiving, Part 1

I never liked Thanksgiving food all that much. Sure, pie is always good, and my grandma could make the hell out of some pie, and I always loved the sweet potatoes (but only because they were simply roasted with butter, none of that marshmallow crap, which sounds truly disgusting to me and I will never try), but nothing else was of much interest. But once I was able to cook the food for myself and realized that this was a holiday (two whole days off of work) completely devoted to food and shopping, I was in. Dan and I usually make Thanksgiving an opportunity to make food that is a bit more complicated than our everyday meals. And I always have to include as many seasonal foods as possible. Squash and cranberries? Yes, please! This year I set out to conquer pie dough once and for all with two pies, one sweet, one savory. But first up was a soup that I made once before a few years ago, Nigella Lawson’s Lentil Chestnut Soup. I was initially amazed that Nigella had any recipes that were even remotely veganizable, so I had to make it. And every year since, I’ve thought of it over and over. But since peeling fresh chestnuts could send me straight to a mental hospital in less than half an hour, it had to wait for a sale on canned chestnuts. But this soup might have made chestnut-peeling insanity worth it. It’s so velvety and packed with flavor, despite its sad, muddy appearance.
The main course was a butternut squash and caramelized onion galette. The original recipe had some sort of stinky cheese in it, but it was perfect without. And the dough turned out so flaky. Truly worth all the effort. The Brussles sprouts and golden beets up there, though, not too memorable.
Seeing that beautiful galette crust, you’d never know that earlier in the day I’d had a huge fight with some dough, throwing it against the wall and ripping it to pieces before finally sacrificing it to the trash can. Which is pretty much the experience I’ve had with pie dough for the past eight years or so. And amazingly, it’s because I tried to listen to Martha Stewart. While she’s given me invaluable advice on other things, girl just doesn’t do shortening. When I first learned how to make pie crust, it was from a recipe my mother had given me that came from my pie-making grandma. Years later I discovered that this might have actually come from the side of the Crisco can, but it made some damn flaky and easy to work with crust. But then I saw Martha. Her dough was so beautiful and thick and it never cracked. But of course using margarine did not work at all. So over the years I’ve tried more and more crust recipes, most of them with disastrous results. This time I went for Martha’s “alternate fat” recipe using shortening. And it was HORRIBLE. It didn’t stay together, it was impossible to roll out, it ended up in the trash. So then I went back to my grandma’s recipe. And everything was perfect. No sticking, no cracking, no banging my head against the countertop. The conclusion? A food processor is no place to make pie crust. It has never ever worked for me. And pastry blenders are just fun to use, so why use anything else?
For the filling I went with a Martha recipe that I knew was great: Autumn Havest Pie. I made it a few years ago and it was incredible. This time, not so much. The Granny Smith apples were just too tart, and combined with the cranberries it was a bit much. But the natural remedy for this tartness was a scoop of Temptation vanilla ice cream, which helped achieve a perfect sweet/tart balance.
But the highlight of the day was breakfast. Pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Holy crap are these things amazing. I never make cinnamon rolls because the idea of waiting for dough to rise in the morning when I could just make scones and by nibbling on breakfast and doing a crossword puzzle in half an hour is crazy to me. But I planned ahead and make these the night before, putting them in the refrigerator for the second rise and baking them in the morning. They were perfectly moist and just incredible. Dan said the only thing that could them better would be cream cheese frosting, but I’m sure that would have me keeled over with the sugar shakes halfway to lunch.

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