Living in Europe, we don’t usually have time for Thanksgiving like is customary in America, on the respective day. Kids have school, it’s a regular work day and November is, well, mostly its true, gloomy self. Statistically not even the darkest month of the year – that trophy goes to February – it can still be a pretty difficult month for many who struggle with seasonal affective disorder. One by one, trees and shrubs drop their gorgeous bright foliage, making one beautiful color after another disappear for the time being. All through October, I find myself taking pictures, hoping they will bring me joy over the coming months. Collecting colors, as Frederick the Mouse would put it. Well, he was one of my childhood heroes, so I guess that must be where that habit comes from.
Today, I’ve given myself a day off after a few intense weeks of being highly disciplined and productive. Inspired by the awesome recipes I see on my Instagram feed (yes, I do follow Martha Stewart!), I’ve decided to do a bit of grocery shopping later, and prepare a modest copy of the traditional American abundance, maybe not tonight but tomorrow. Chicken, not turkey, because we’re only 4, and small quantities of the usual suspects: mashed potatoes, corn, cranberry sauce, spinach salad, maybe Brussels sprouts, even though only my husband and I like them, and one pie.
When we celebrate, we try to remember that it’s also Native American Heritage Day, and talk about the sordid true story of genocide behind the traditional narrative of the kind natives feeding the starving new settlers. What really happened certainly bears commemorating, much as we live with the daily reminders of what happened in Nazi Germany, never to be forgotten and hopefully never to happen again.
Aside from the feast, which I truly enjoy, to me personally, the best thing about Thanksgiving is taking a moment of mindfulness to reflect on what I’m grateful for this year. We do this round of everybody having to name one real and one silly reason for being thankful, before eating. It’s always interesting what the others have to say.
This year, I have a number of things to be thankful for. First and foremost, health. We’re all good, and vaccined. My son’s recent Covid infection after an ill-advised, if understandable – the lad’s 19 – night of clubbing took a mild course. Secondly, I had a great run this year work-wise, always gratifying and not to be taken for granted. Today especially, I’m thankful to have met my deadline yesterday. It was a bit of a struggle, because I’d accepted just one too many assignments, and my resilience is, shockingly, not endless. But as I submitted the manuscript yesterday night around 10 p.m. – technically still the required date, despite office hours being long over – I felt an overwhelming sense of relief, and literally a little weak in the knees when doing the last walk around the block with the pup. Lastly, and this is a reason for gratitude every single day, there’s my lovely, ridiculous dog who makes me laugh, exercise and play, and who provides cuddles like nobody else I know.
Have a happy Thanksgiving, if and wherever you’re celebrating, those of you who aren’t, have a perfectly ordinary, good Thursday – and thank you for taking the time to read.
Daylight Saving Time is such a scam! My husband insists that this is the natural state of things, but my metabolism doesn’t seem to agree. Lack of daylight and sunshine puts a damper on my mood, and I have a problem with the sun going down at 4.25 in the afternoons, even earlier, come December. I try to make a run for the outdoors whenever possible over lunch, just to grab a few extra lux, and still I feel sad when there’s no light but still so much day left…
Comfort food is a good strategy for this time of year, and to me this means, first and foremost, soups. In the following, I’d like to share three of my favorites: Cream of potato and mushroom, pumpkin and ginger soup, and a lovely corn chowder with a bit of chili. These are just a few of many that I love – If I were to write up all of them, I might as well write a cookbook ;-). One day, maybe!
Cream of Potato and Mushroom Soup
Potato soup is reportedly Chancellor Merkel’s favorite, and I can relate to that. I don’t know what type she likes, for there are many, often with the addition of bacon or sausage, which I’m not particularly fond of. Those do add flavor, but in my opinion, herbs and a bit of cream do the trick quite nicely, no meat needed.
5 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 stalks celery
3 twigs fresh parsley
3 twigs fresh thyme (or 1 TSP dried)
1 l vegetable broth
50 ml heavy cream (or the vegan equivalent)
100 g fresh mushrooms (portobello, or porcini if you can find them)
1 clove garlic
2 slices stale crusty bread, cubed
olive oil, knob of butter
salt and pepper
Peel potatoes and shallots. Clean mushrooms and slice. Use the stems for the soup. Set aside a few pretty slices for decorating later. Chop the shallots and sauté gently until translucent in olive oil with the thyme. Don’t let them brown. Add broth, celery, parsley, mushroom pieces and potatoes and boil until tender. Remove the thyme and parsley stalks. Puree. Taste carefully.
In a bit of butter, carefully sauté the mushroom slices. Set aside when browned. In the same pan, fry the bread cubes and unpeeled, slightly crushed clove of garlic in butter and olive oil. Salt lightly. Remove from pan when browned and discard the garlic.
Reheat the soup, stirring, and pour in the cream. Ladle soup into bowls, and top with a few bread cubes and a slice or two of sautéed mushroom. A nice bowl of fragrant fall happiness :-).
Pumpkin and Ginger Soup
A Thanksgiving classic, the following soup is loved by kids and grown-ups alike. I used to make this in huge quantities for the kindergarten kids when they were little. They loved it, especially if it came with fried batter pearls to add a bit of crunch ;-). For grownups, it’s quite good without any addition at all.
1 hokkaido pumpkin (or mid-sized butternut squash, in which case you add a potato), seeded and cut into chunks
2 cm fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
1 l vegetable broth
60 ml cream
1 twig fresh rosemary
salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan, gently sauté the shallots and ginger until shallots are translucent but not browned. Add pumpkin (potato, too, if using butternut squash) and broth and cook until pumpkin chunks start falling apart. Purée. Add more liquid if necessary – soup should not be too thick. Put back on very low heat and stir in the cream. Put in the rosemary, cover and go do something else for a few minutes.
Remove the rosemary before serving. You can top this with the aforementioned fried batter pearls, of with pumpkin seeds and a slosh of nutty pumpkin oil, and you can give in an Asian twist with some cilantro leaves and a wedge of lime squeezed in.
Corn chowder and chili
Depending on whom you’re feeding, you can go nuts with the chili flakes. Since I have one Little Person in the house who doesn’t enjoy spicy foods, I add the chili flakes mostly for taste and less for the hotness. This recipe lends itself particularly well to cooking vegan – just substitute the cream with coconut milk.
2 cans corn
2 shallots, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 l broth (vegetable or chicken if you’re not doing the vegan version)
200 ml heavy cream (or coconut milk)
1 TBSP chili flakes
Pinch of sugar
For this recipe to be smooth and silky, a food mill comes in handy. If you don’t own one, either live with the inevitably coarser texture you’re left with when pureeing in a normal blender, or pass through a sieve. If you want that dreamy velvety consistency, there’s nothing for it but doing the work. It’s a careful weighing of energy and time versus elegance – the flavor will be good either way.
First, sauté the chopped shallots and celery in a few TBSP oil until translucent. Add the corn, potatoes, broth and chili flakes, and cook until vegetables are tender. Puree, and either pass through a food mill or through a sieve. Taste carefully. Add liquid (such as the liquid from the corn cans) or more broth, as well as the cream, reheat, taste again, add a pinch of sugar if you like, and serve with a slice of bread for dipping.
You can’t really discuss soup without mentioning bread, as my Balkan upbringing has me conditioned to think. It’s just lovely for dipping, mopping up dregs and ultimately feeling happy and full :-).
In Berlin, I’m lucky enough to have access to a wide selection of excellent bread, ranging from hearty sourdough loaves, fluffy white breads, crusty baguettes to lovely and healthy sandwich loaves heavy with grains and nuts.
If you live in a place that offers only sad bricks of blandness or plastic-wrapped sliced rubber foam, here’s a loaf that tastes great and can be made in any oven at home. It’s a home-made no-knead bread, which became quite popular a couple of years back. The secret, here, is time: You make your dough the day before baking, and do not touch it until you transfer it into the baking dish.
No-Knead Crusty Bread
I use simple spelt flour, but you can experiment with rye and other types, sourdough instead of yeast, add sunflower seeds, nuts or other grains – the principle remains the same: Make your dough, cover, leave for 16 hours +, then find a lidded baking dish, heat it for 30 minutes in a hot oven, scrape the dough into the dish and bake, covered, for 45 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for another 30 minutes. Out comes a loaf of bread with a lovely, thick, crunchy crust, and you’ll be impressed and delighted you made it yourself, I promise.
The formula I use for the dough is: 750 g flour, 1 cube yeast, 500 ml water, 1 TBSP sugar, 1 TBSP salt
So much for the theory. This is the recommended ratio, but: not all flours are alike, and dry yeast reacts differently from fresh yeast. Just be attentive and add liquid or flour as required. You want a soft, smooth consistency, slightly stickier than usual.
First, dissolve the yeast in a small quantity of warm water, add the sugar and a few TBSP flour, combine to a paste, cover and let rise for 20 minutes. Then add the rest of the ingredients and combine to make a moist dough. Dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and walk away from it for 16 hours or longer so the yeast can do its thing.
The next day, proceed as described above. If you heat your dutch oven or whatever dish you’re using properly, the dough won’t stick to the bottom, but will start cooking instantly. The moisture from the dough will simulate a baking oven within your lidded pot, a closed environment that creates the crust you want as well as the yummy, airy crumb with lovely large, uneven holes. Good luck, and enjoy!
So, this was fun, and made me want to make soup for dinner ;-). Let me know what the favorites are at your house. I (almost) never met a soup I didn’t like, with one or two exceptions like Arabic Molokhiya (couldn’t handle the slimy consistency) or Greek Magiritsa, an offal soup eaten during Lent before Greek Easter (no disrespect and Chronia Polla, but …).
This weekend, I’m planning to spend a good bit of time working on my ribbed cardigan. I have made some progress, decided I’d like it to have a v neck complete with buttons, and tried to make that work – flying, as always, by the seat of my pants and not following a tried and probably perfect pattern.
I haven’t quite figured out how to make the neckline work in terms of raglan and v neck and such, but I’ll get there, I hope. I’ve mastered the buttonholes, so I’m proud of that. I just hope I won’t screw the whole thing up… the yarn is not very forgiving when it comes to ripping it back up because it’s mohair, and dainty. I only just remembered that sometime in the Nineties, I had a brioche-stitch cardigan I loved in this color, which I unfortunately washed to death. It was by Esprit, and it was part of my ad agency uniform of white shirt, Levi’s 501s and chunky heeled boots.
I’ll hopefully be able to show more progress when I post next. For now: Thank you for reading, enjoy the soup and bread recipes, and have a beautiful sunny picture of the gingko tree at the small park Charlie and I go to in the mornings.