Every year since I have lived abroad has been a completely different experience of Thanksgiving. I have celebrated with fellow Americans abroad and groups of friends who had never heard of Thanksgiving, but this past year has been one of the best. M and I invited his family over for a late Sunday lunch since I work late on Thursdays, yet that also meant that I had the luxury of a whole weekend to prep and complete a couple hectic visits to the market, make pie crusts on Saturday and keep Sunday morning fairly stress-free. M’s family had never experienced a full American Thanksgiving feast before, so I figured I should prepare all the classics. Mashed potatoes and gravy, stovetop stuffing, roasted sweet potatoes, and instead of turkey, we bought two fresh chickens from the butcher down the block (and when I say fresh, I mean literally alive just before they were handed over) and stuffed them with herbs and lemon and a hefty amount of butter.
The feast was loved by all and devoured quickly. Barely any leftovers. Everyone kept joking that there was no bread on the table and how in the world were they supposed to eat anything without bread as the utensil? (If you have visited Morocco, you will know what I mean)
Sitting around our living room, lazing on the couches and the carpet post-meal, joking, chatting (me understanding about half of what was being said), playing card games, watching my 3-year old nephew sing and dance for us, I felt so grateful for this new family whom I never before could have expected to come into my life. So many little and big events have happened to bring me here, lounging around with my loving, warm Moroccan in-laws and openly exchanging cultures through food and language. I am thankful for all of it every day, but what I tried to be more grateful for on this day of Thanksgiving were the things that are not always so easy and lovable. The mistakes. The mishaps. The seemingly bad things that happened that also got me to where I am today.
I thought about how I am thankful for that first dance performance I ever did in Tangier, even though when I look back, it was artistically an utter failure, but it got my foot in the door and was my first introduction to M.
I am thankful for the people here and back home who have taught me hard lessons about trust and friendship- what it is and what it definitely is not.
For being young, naïve and lost at certain points in my life- during and right after my college days, wandering aimlessly around Berlin, finally making my way back to Tangier out of a pure lack of anything else to do.
I am thankful for the heated discussions that M and I used to have early on in the relationship, usually due to cultural stereotypes and assumptions we had about each other based on those. The hard talks made us stronger, made us crack open those false images.
I am thankful for every hard lesson learned, every misstep that took me somewhere new, every person that has pushed me through growing pains.
We should be grateful every day for the good things, but on Thanksgiving (and during this season in general, seeing that Thanksgiving is over), why don’t we say thank you to the darker things that have gotten us to good places? They need our thanks and a little love sent towards them as well.
What mistakes or missteps are you thankful for?
I have to say, being a self-taught baker, I am very thankful for all of the kitchen mishaps I have had over the years. Flat cakes, rock-hard cookies, and flimsy pie crusts. Without those, I wouldn’t have learned the art of fine tuning a recipe or recognizing a good one on paper. Without those mistakes, my Thanksgiving dessert spread may not have been such a roaring success.
I made a classic caramel apple pie and, my personal favorite of the whole meal, this beautiful pear and quince cardamom crisp, both served with homemade vanilla whipped cream. To add a Moroccan touch to it all, we served dessert with syrupy sweet mint tea and everyone proceeded to fall deep into a sugar/food coma. That didn’t stop me, however, from having leftover crisp the next day for breakfast.
I love the imperfection and simplicity of a good fruit crisp. It is not quite as meticulous to make as pie crust- you can just stir up some fruit with butter and sugar and spices, go wild with tossing some crumble topping over it all, bake it up and there you go. Imperfect perfection. This crisp is ridiculously flavorful and caramel-y from the inside and the topping has a lovely oat and sugar crunch to it. The poached quinces add a hearty, juiciness to it all and the cardamom adds a depth of flavor to both the fruit and the crisp. It is the perfect winter-y dessert (or breakfast for that matter), served up with a dollop of whipped cream and a hot mug of something cozy and frothy alongside. Eat and be thankful for it all.
Pear + Quince Cardamom Crisp
Makes 1 large crisp, about 12 servings, vegan option
Recipe inspired by Les Filles de Madeleine
For the poached quince
- 1 large quince, peeled and sliced
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup (112g) granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
Bring the water, sugar, lemon juice and spices to a boil over medium heat. Add the quince slices and let simmer for about 40-45 minutes or until soft + pink. You can store this in the fridge in its syrup for up to a week.
For the filling
- 4 medium-large pears, cubed
- 1 poached quince
- 2 tbsp butter (or vegan substitute)
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cardamom
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp water
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter then add sugar and spices. Toss in the cubed pear and cut the quince slices into cubes, adding those as well. Stir together and add lemon juice. Let the mixture simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until the pear is soft. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water, then pour this mixture into the fruit, stirring constantly until it thickens. Remove from heat and let cool while you prepare the topping.
For the crisp topping
- 1/2 cup (60g) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup (90g) brown sugar
- 1/3 cup (50g) rolled oats
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cardamom
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp cold butter, cubed (or vegan substitute, once again)
In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the topping except the butter. Mix together, then add in the butter, working it together with the dry ingredients with your fingers until it turns into a crumbly, sand-like mixture with pea-sized clumps.
Preheat the oven to 400ºC. In a medium rectangular baking dish, spread the fruit filling evenly with a spatula, then evenly sprinkle the crisp mixture on top. Bake for about 30-40 minutes (varies depending on your oven) or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.