02 December 2008

Thanksgiving Eulogy... Cranberry Christmas

Thanksgiving was just days ago, but already it is so "yesterday," so completely over, and I'm sorry to see it go.  I'm especially sorry when the spirit of thankfulness for what we have is so abruptly hijacked, twisted by society at large into a demand for what we do not have but want, and what we cannot afford but often buy anyway.  I am proud to say that although there have been past excesses in the family, none of my clan has ever considered credit card debt a mandatory part of Advent; our "waiting" has never been in fear of January interest rates to pay for December foolishness.  This year, with our economy in shambles, it is even more important to keep our perspective.

Still, Madison Avenue continues to sing out its hopeful jingle--"spend, spend, spend"--and the usual signs of a commercial Christmas in the city have arrived.  We will indulge in some of it: enjoy the white lights everywhere on bare tree branches, watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center and maybe skate ourselves (but at nearby Bryant Park, a better value), eat roasted chestnuts sold by the hot-dog vendors, file past the elaborate windows of the big department stores.  This year, for various reasons, we will probably eschew our annual "cut-your-own" tradition in the country and even purchase a city Christmas tree on some corner of Second Avenue (we will be careful to turn it over to a wood-chipper for mulch when the time comes).

So, Christmas is already in the air; carols are being piped in to stores.  Even if you're only shopping for groceries, it's hard to avoid the audio cues of sugarplums and sleigh bells and someone's mother kissing Santa Claus while you pick your eggnog off the shelf.

But this post is a final look back at Thanksgiving, and a reminder that if you're in shopping mode and looking for culinary bargains, this could be the time to buy... marked-down cranberries!  Some of you have already done this, I know.  In fact, this post is dedicated to one of my blog followers, Waterside Mom, who scooped up some cranberries recently and was less than satisfied with the results of the package recipe for cranberry sauce.  Some of you, on the other hand, are perhaps glad to be rid of the focus on this bitter fruit, made too cloyingly sweet in most commercial preparations.

I will simply advocate the following easy-to-prepare recipe, and say that cranberries make a great transition from Thanksgiving to other holiday meals and festivities.  In fact, although I myself tend to associate cranberries with Thanksgiving, it's true that one of the best Christmas decorations in family memory was the year my mom and I made hand-strung garlands of popcorn and cranberries and draped them around the tree.  Plus, I remember a wonderful children's book, Cranberry Christmas, that was around when I was a child, and can still be found on Amazon.com (click the book title to--what else?--shop!).

Here, please find my own modified version of a family cranberry classic.  Enjoy it, and remember to keep the Thanksgiving spirit throughout the year.  We are still very blessed, no matter what losses we suffer.

Cranberry Nut Relish
(for the nut-allergic, simply omit walnuts)

1 pound fresh cranberries, washed and picked over*
1 cup granulated sugar (can be cut down to 3/4 cup)
1 lemon, juiced
8 ounces orange-apricot marmalade or fruit spread**
1 cup walnuts, broken into pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
Toast walnuts in the oven for approximately 10 minutes; set aside.

In an oven-proof (pyrex) dish, combine cranberries, sugar, and lemon juice until well blended.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour.  (Depending on the depth of your dish, you may want to place a baking sheet on a rack under cranberries to catch juice that bubbles over.)

When cranberries come out of the oven, add marmalade and toasted walnuts, and mix well.

Let cool and put into glass containers.  Store in refrigerator.  Keeps indefinitely.

Serve hot or cold.  (We always have it warm!)  If the relish crystalizes, reheat it.

* NOTE: If using frozen cranberries... thaw them first.  I know from messy experience that if you put frozen cranberries into the oven, they will explode and you will not only lose your recipe but also spend hours cleaning out the stove!

** This year I used Sarabeth's brand "Orange Apricot Marmalade" and it was delicious.  The original recipe calls for regular orange marmalade, but the combination of orange with apricot brings a bit more complexity and balances bitter with sweet much better.  The recipe is very forgiving, though, so experiment with whatever orange and/or apricot preserves you have.

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watersidemom said...

Wow! What an honor--thank you!! And thank you so much for this recipe; it sounds delicious. I'll have to try it. As soon as I finish up the rest of my salvaged and "doctored" cranberry sauce...on pancakes!! It's good, actually. I'm glad to hear that it "keeps indefinitely"(!!). Looking forward to more food/family/holiday "recipes"!

Mediterranean kiwi said...

admittedly, cranberries are an impossibility for me here in hania, except in imported produce such as nut bars (i treated myself to one the other day - whoa!)
i simply loved your description of the shops in new york. i know that one day i will be visiting this place with my family.
the christmas madness has come very early in hania - normally we are very very late as a town in setting up a christmas tree at the central market, but this year, with the economic crisis, i think people are trying to induce us out onto the streets tobuy buy buy.
i am hoping for a more subdued peaceful chrsitmas period - for everyone

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