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November 23, 2020

AUSTIN | A Moosewood Thanksgiving

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I want to love Thanksgiving ー family, friends and an abundance of food ー but I have never really been a Thanksgiving person. Thanksgiving has the classic foods that everyone looks forward to, but I just don’t get what’s so special. Turkeys kind of freak me out because they’re so big, sure cranberry sauce is good but it’s over-hyped and I don’t understand why mashed potatoes are typified as a Thanksgiving food.

For all the whining I do about Thanksgiving, it’s hard to not get caught up in the spirit of it. Fall is my favorite season ー the leaves change colors, everything is so crisp and it finally starts to get cold. If the entirety of the fall ethos could be wrapped up and neatly packaged into a single day, it would be Thanksgiving. 

While I may not be the best at following a recipe, I’m exceptionally skilled at procrastinating. Instead of working on the assignments piling up thanks to Cornell’s newly instituted semi-finals season, I baked. Since I’m going home in a matter of days for Thanksgiving break, it was time to start using up all the open ingredients in my pantry.

A couple of weeks ago, I made Chocolate Cranberry Crunch bars. Since then, I have had half a bag of frozen cranberries taking up room in my freezer. In honor of Thanksgiving, I figured it was about time to use them up. In a total lack of creativity, I decided to remake the bars. Last time I made them, I was so careful with every little step I took, and I even used measuring cups the entire time. This time… I just eyeballed everything. 

Before I started this project, I hated using measuring cups. If I did use them, I would often use one and then just eyeball the rest. Since I already recorded the process once for the sake of science, I was able to bake on my own terms this time. This meant very few measuring cups, and a lot of spilled flour.

In stark contrast to my Jackson Pollock-esque cooking style, I pulled out the trusty Moosewood dessert cookbook. Turning to the index, I went looking for “cornmeal.” I truly think cornbread is the one food fit for the Thanksgiving pedestal it’s placed on. It’s moist yet dry, springy yet crunchy and sweet yet savory all at the same time. It’s biologically impossible not to like cornbread because it has something for everyone and is so versatile. You want it sweet? ー add some blueberries. You like it spicy? ー add some jalapeños. 

I went on the hunt for the perfect cornbread recipe, but I made Cornmeal Cookies instead. I admit that I was a bit apprehensive about ruining cornbread by turning it into a cookie, but it was worth a shot. Surprisingly, once again, I had all the ingredients on hand. 

The first step was creaming butter and sugar together, which I’m pretty sure is almost impossible without an electric mixer. I think describing my butter and sugar as “creamed” is rather generous ー it’s probably closer to a “very thoroughly mixed.”  After adding in the flour and cornmeal to the butter-sugar mixture, I realized that I didn’t have a zester to “finely grate one tablespoon of lemon zest (about one lemon)”. I did have a paring knife and the willingness to try and zest a lemon without cutting my fingers off. I stood hunched over a mixing bowl, holding the lemon between my palm and last three fingers and balancing a knife between my index finger and thumb, slicing it back and forth against the skin of the lemon hoping to dislodge little pieces of zest and not giant pieces of pith. After ten minutes, a hand cramp and a bowl of as well zested lemon as my novice knife skills can accomplish, the dough was ready. 

I rolled them into one inch balls and made the topping. The recipe said to mix equal parts cornmeal and sugar, dip a flat-bottomed glass inside and press down on the cookies. I was so confused. Both cornmeal and sugar are dry ingredients, and, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand how they would stick to the glass. I kept dipping the glass and looking in disbelief when the topping mixture wouldn’t stick ー I half expected someone to jump out of my spare room with a camera yelling “Punk’d!” After much trial and error (mostly error), I realized I just had to press down really hard and the mixture would stick to the bottom. I quickly pressed down the cookies and put the first tray in the oven. After the requisite 20 minutes, I took them out only to realize that they were pretty ~crispy~. I left the second batch in for a totally arbitrary 14 minutes, and they were nearly perfect, albeit still slightly browned on the bottom. These cookies had all the best parts of cornbread and didn’t leave the same crumby mess behind. 

Baking for Thanksgiving gave me some sort of reclamation over the holiday. I don’t think I will ever be sold on the whole turkey-gravy-stuffing menu, but both of these recipes were twists on familiar classics. I’m not going to fall in love with Thanksgiving, but I can recreate it on my terms and that’s all I can ask. If only I knew that all it would take were some cranberries, cornmeal and a collegetown kitchen to get over my aversion towards the holiday, I would have tried this a lot sooner.

Sarah Austin is a sophomore in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at [email protected].