One of the best food books I read last year but rudely never got around to telling you about (in my defense, this time last year was a little nuts) was a 135-page, photo-free and straightforward guide called Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well by the New York Times former restaurant critic and sometimes newsroom editor Sam Sifton. And although I realize there is barely a page on the internet or of printed matter near you right now not currently angling to be the one that gets to walk you through the biggest home cooking holiday of the year next week, I like this one more. Maybe it’s because one of the earliest lines in the book is “You can go your whole life and then wake up one morning and look in the refrigerator at this animal carcass the size of a toddler and think: I have to cook that today. There is no need to worry. Thanksgiving does not have to be a drag,” and continues in that empathetic but not remotely patronizing tone for the remainder of the book, cheering you on through turkey purchases and homemade stock, classic sides and newer ones worthy of consideration, game plans and even tidbits on seating, such as whether it’s okay to separately seat the Republican, Marxist and Free Spirit factions of your extended family (in short: yes, absolutely yes).
When my husband had a bit of, uh, bonus awesome free time on his hands this summer, he got into the curious habit of running while not being chased*, which led to him taking part in his first 5K a few weeks ago. To celebrate, we had people over for a little New York brunch (that is, bagels and lox, no, not homemade, not when they’re this good) back at our apartment, and, still trying to dig out from under our overzealous apple-picking, I made apple cinnamon buns. I didn’t think they were a big deal; I mean, they were good, just your standard cinnamon bun with two apples, diced small, scattered over the filling but it turns out, you cannot causally mention homemade apple cinnamon buns on the internet without causing a RECIPE PLEASE ruckus. I should know this.
In one of my favorite October traditions, we picked too many apples a few weekends ago. As in maybe perhaps 25 pounds more than we needed? It’s hard to gauge. I realize that if you’ve never been in an apple orchard in October, when you’ve escaped the city to find yourselves in a quiet grove as the leaves are just starting to turn and the sky is unimaginably blue and you’re wearing your first thick sweater of the season, it’s hard to imagine how one accidentally picks 25 pounds too many apples. But I bet if you’ve been there and felt that, how fun it is to pluck crisp, unblemished, unwaxed apples from trees and let the branches snap back and the leaves flutter droplets of last night’s rain over your face, you’ve probably gotten carried away too. I think picking too many apples in October is about as important of a tradition as burning food on a backyard grill over July 4th weekend and going through a whole jar of cinnamon every fall. It’s going to happen either way; it’s best to embrace it.
This may look like an ordinary piece of plum cake, but it is not. It is a famous plum cake, so renowned that I suspect half of you out there have already made it, and the rest of you will soon commit it to memory, because this cake is like that — it is worthwhile enough to become your late September/early October staple. First published in the New York Times by Marian Burros in 1983, the recipe had been given to her by Lois Levine, her co-author on the excellent Elegant but Easy), the recipe was published every year during plum season between then and 1995, when the editor of the food section told readers they were cutting them off, and it was time to cut it out, laminate it and put it on the refrigerator door because they were on their own if they lost it. As if anyone would dare.
Here are the things I jotted down on my cooking wish-list whilst (!) I was in the UK: baked cauliflower cheese, a “proper” English Sunday roast (with
mash fried potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, creamy horseradish sauce), the “full English” breakfast (authentic = every item must be fried, apparently!), cider vinegar + Maldon sea salt crisps with champagne, please, chunky olive oil and mushroom risotto, clotted cream and marmalade scones, Welsh cakes, chocolate-dipped digestives and fall apple-plum crisps thickly drizzled with fresh cream.