balancing act

The season of excess is upon us. I considered explaining what I meant by that, but that just seemed excessive. You all know what I'm talking about. And I'm not complaining about any of it. Far from it - I love this time of year.

But it does present one with some special challenges, namely how to balance all that excess and keep yourself healthy during the enjoyment of it. I'm still working on finding my own solutions, and would love to hear how you go about staying sane and balanced. For me, it comes down to accepting that I can't do it all, and so I must lower my expectations of myself or I risk over-exhaustion and inevitably feeling disappointed in my shortcomings. Which wouldn't be very festive at all. So I try to be okay with the laundry piling up, if it means I get to attend a bunch of holiday events with my family. Christmas shopping happens haphazardly, at best, and I've given up on my ideal of giving elaborate handmade gifts. Instead, the goal is thoughtful and personal, in whatever form that may take. And I'm fine with having last-minute, thrown-together dinners because I spent an entire afternoon making and decorating cookies with my boys. Balance, when you find it, sure does feel good.

But speaking of cookies (or, more precisely, the general category of Sweets that they are a member of), I am still very balance-challenged in the food department. I always over-indulge at this time of year, and feel bad about it afterward. And I'm not going to even pretend I'm pledging to do things differently this year. Lots of special, once-a-year treats are so firmly a part of the holiday season for me that I really don't want to resist them. But I do still want to strike a balance of some sort.

So I decided that I needed to have an easy, healthy baked treat to add to my holiday baking mix. Something that could do double-duty as a breakfast item and a mid-afternoon sweet snack. Something I could feel good about my kids eating multiples of, no matter the time of day.

I came up with muffins. I was at my sister's house on Sunday, and she made a batch of pumpkin muffins that filled her home's morning air with the coziest, warmest scent. I arrived home determined to make my own house smell that good! I wanted a mix of whole grains and no refined sugar, to counter what I know are my tendencies toward very sugary, empty starch-filled desserts. But I didn't want anything that tasted too healthy - I still need to feel that it's a comparable alternative to traditional pastries if it's going to be vying for my sweet tooth!

The end product was just what I was hoping for. Despite being packed with whole grains, the muffins are light and tender and not too sweet. Using a strongly-flavored honey, however, resulted in the curious occurrence of a muffin that tastes intensely of honey, without the accompanying intense sweetness usually associated with honey. It may be the first time I've really understood the flavor nuances that using honey in baking can impart; I've never before been able to untangle them from the general overpowering sweetness factor. Using honey as a flavor instead of as a sweetener is something I'd like to explore more.

But until I can find some extra time for that, I'm content to keep making these muffins, an entire batch of which my family can and will eat in a day. I figure as long as we're going overboard for the next month or so, we might as well devote a portion of that indulgent energy to something our body will be grateful for!

And to all of you here in the States, happy Thanksgiving! I hope your day is filled with everything you need to feel nourished, loved, and fulfilled. I'll see you all back here next week . . .

Multigrain Honey-Pumpkin Muffins
yields 12 muffins

80 grams brown rice flour
45 grams light buckwheat flour
30 grams millet flour
30 grams teff flour
30 grams almond flour
30 grams potato starch
24 grams cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp ground cinnamon
dash allspice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
4 oz (8 Tbsp) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup wildflower honey (or your favorite flavorful variety)
1 large egg, room temperature
6 grams (1 tsp) vanilla
252 grams (1 cup) pumpkin purée

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a muffin pan with paper liners, or grease the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a hand mixer), cream the butter and honey. Add the egg and vanilla, and mix to combine. (Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled at this point.) Add the flour mixture and mix on medium speed until the batter is fully blended and smooth, about 1 minute. Add the pumpkin purée and blend thoroughly.

Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center comes out with just a few fine crumbs on it, and the edges of the muffins have just begun to brown. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling on the rack.

Enjoy muffins warm (butter optional), or at room temperature. Muffins keep, covered and at room temperature, for up to three days.


a gluten-free thanksgiving

 There's a flurry of the best kind of activity beginning to happen around here. Lists are being written and revised. Books and magazines have been pulled from their shelves and left open to pages of inspiration. Emails and text messages between relatives are occurring with greater frequency. All thoughts and conversations are inevitably looping back to one consistent topic: Food.

It is the season of Thanksgiving, and we are in our element. For people who love food and everything that comes with it, Thanksgiving is an incredible holiday. Not simply because food plays a large role on that day - Christmas, July 4th, Labor Day, these holidays also come with culinary traditions. No, the extraordinary thing about Thanksgiving is that it is the one day each year when we are encouraged - expected, really - to make food the primary reason for our celebration. To devote an entire day to a mammoth meal of the best possible dishes we can come up with, and to gather our family close to share it with us? This is a gourmand's dream. And when the day comes steeped in history and tradition and deep gratitude, the simple act of coming together at the table begins to border on the profound.

However, there can be complications, issues that disrupt the festive mood. I'm not talking about Aunt Nancy who's still mad at Cousin Harold for that insensitive comment back in September, or the children who simply can not make it through the day without arguments and tears, or the disgruntled teen who is relegated to the kid's table for yet another year. These are problems every family deals with, and there is nothing I can say that will help solve them.

What I'm talking about gets at the very heart of the Thanksgiving spirit and table: inclusiveness, sharing and feeling welcome. It is difficult to feel fully included in the celebration of Thanksgiving if much of the meal - both the literal and figurative central theme of the day - is off-limits to you. Unfortunately, for those with celiac this is often the case.

Gravy, thickened with roux. Stuffing, made from cubed bread or gluten-full cornbread. Dinner rolls. Casseroles with bread crumb toppings. Salads tossed with croutons. Platters of crackers, to be paired with cheese or savory spreads. A parade of pies. So many common Thanksgiving foods traditionally contain gluten! It can be so disheartening as a celiac to sit down to a meal like this, knowing that, in contrast to the surrounding cornucopia, your plate will be meager. Plain turkey, boiled peas, mashed potatoes. I know. I've done it before. It hardly feels like a 'real' Thanksgiving when you can't take part in the abundance all around you!

It doesn't have to be this way. Having to eat gluten-free should not preclude a person from experiencing the joys of Thanksgiving. All it takes is a little extra forethought and planning. Which, given that this holiday is focused on thinking about food anyway, shouldn't be too much to ask. Especially when the reward is knowing that everyone at the table will feel welcome and included, and will eat safely and happily, with love and gratitude. Wonderful things to give thanks for, I'd say.

This idea of using food to make people feel included has been on my mind a lot lately. With Wylie's surgery last week, we've been traveling a lot and eating away from home much more than normal. And I've come to appreciate all over again how hard it can be to eat well when you don't have complete control over your food. It's discouraging, and more than once I finished a meal feeling unsatisfied, and still hungry. Someone actually offhandedly said to me, "Oh, you celiacs always manage to find something to eat." Um, yes, this is true. As a segment of the population, we are generally not a starving group. But oh my goodness. To go through life in a gluten-full world, just managing to find something here and there to eat that won't make you sick? That is a demoralizing way to live, for sure. No one should have to settle for that; we all deserve better.

Josh and I have been talking lately about the things that restaurants can do to be more accommodating and welcoming to the growing gluten-free population. I've shared with him my sense of relief and the overwhelming appreciation and excitement I feel when I eat out at an establishment that not only has gluten-free items on the menu, but has a knowledgeable staff that is gracious and helpful when I mention my dietary restriction. It's in stark opposition to the sinking feeling of dread I get when I realize I am not at a celiac-friendly restaurant - disheartening feelings that I'm sure no restaurateur wishes to cause his or her customers! Things are better, for sure, than they were a decade ago. But there's still lots of room for improvement.

Which is why, I say, it's so important to work to make everyone feel included in the meal when, rather than anonymous customers, it's your own dear friends and family that you're feeding. When you can sit across the table from them, and watch them eat with gusto rather than trepidation, and see their obvious appreciation of your efforts, and know that you are contributing to their good health and joy. At Thanksgiving especially, this should be something we strive for. To people for whom ingredients are not a constant concern, going out of one's way to make gluten-free food may seem unimportant and headache-inducing. As someone who obsessively reads labels and asks questions wherever she goes, however, I can assure you that when it happens, it feels like a precious gift, an act of compassion not to be taken lightly.

This Thanksgiving, it's easier than ever to create a gluten-free meal everyone will love. A tremendous group of food bloggers has answered Shauna's challenge to make Thanksgiving gluten-free. All across the web you will find recipe upon recipe of time-tested, family-favorite Thanksgiving foods, now made gluten-free. All created with the intention of making the Thanksgiving meal inclusive and delicious for as many people as possible. It's an incredible effort, and I encourage you to go over to the Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef site to see the complete list.

It's no coincidence that Shauna is the force behind this virtual event. She and her husband, Danny (aka the Chef) are in the midst of promoting their new cookbook titled, appropriately, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef - A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes. I've already told you how much I love the book. But I may have neglected to mention how strongly a feeling of inclusion runs through it. It's not merely a collection of gluten-free recipes. It's a book that sets out to teach anyone - gluten-free or not - essential techniques of cooking. It's a book of delicious, inventive recipes that everyone will love, that just also happen to be gluten-free. It's a book that encourages the reader to make food for the people they love, to share meals with friends and family, and to welcome everyone to the table, every day. In short, this book embodies everything I love about Thanksgiving. If you have any gluten-free people in your life, and what I have written here has resonated with you, you need to own this book. Actually, I'm betting you'd love this book even if you don't know anyone who needs to eat gluten-free. Simply loving good food is enough of a prerequisite.

My contribution to Shauna's Thanksgiving baking challenge is an addictive gingerbread cake. I've always loved the intoxicating flavors of gingerbread, but my childhood memories of it are of a dry, pale brown cake. Looking back, I realize that I always had gingerbread that was Not Enough. Not enough molasses, not enough fat, not enough ginger. The recipe I'm giving you solves all those problems, and then some. It is a rich, dark cake, studded with pieces of crystallized ginger, a cake so moist it glistens. It's so easy to make, you'll find yourself reaching for the recipe long after the holiday season has past.

You could make just the cake, dust it with powered sugar, and have a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving dessert offerings. Or you could do what I do: gild the lily twice over, in this case with a spiced brown sugar caramel sauce and a bourbon Bavarian cream. It takes a great cake and makes it phenomenal. It's well worth the extra effort, which, as you'll see, really isn't that much at all. But in the spirit of making everyone feel special this Thanksgiving, every little effort counts.

So here's to Thanksgiving, and all the eating and sharing and gratitude that can fit into one day. Welcome to the table.

If you feel you need even more inspiration as you plan your menu, here are a some other good bets to grace your table:
Roasted Squash Soup
Vegetable Soup
Best-Ever Gluten-Free Pie Crust
Apple Rosette Tart
Simply Perfect Apple Pie
Spiced Persimmon Tart

Gingerbread Cake with Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream and Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel
serves 8-12

Gingerbread Cake
1 1/4 cups (170 grams) Tara's all-purpose gluten-free flour mix
1/2 cup (72 grams) Tara's gluten-free pastry flour mix
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1/4 tsp guar gum
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly-ground cloves
1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) dark molasses
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (54 grams) packed light brown sugar
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) safflower or canola oil
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) boiling water
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment, and butter the parchment.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, xanthan and guar gums, spices, salt, and pepper. In another bowl, whisk together the molasses, sugars, and oil. Whisk the liquid mixture into the flour mixture until smooth.

In a small bowl, stir together the baking soda and boiling water. Whisk this into the batter.

Add the eggs to the batter, whisking until smooth, then stir in the chopped crystallized ginger.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling. Cake may be made up to three days in advance. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature.

To serve, dust cake with powdered sugar, and serve with drizzle of Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel and a dollop of Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream (recipes follow).

Vanilla-Bourbon Bavarian Cream
This Bavarian cream is looser than a traditional one. It has a consistency closer to whipped cream than to Jell-O, which makes it perfect to pair with cake. For a non-alcoholic version, simply omit the bourbon and increase the cold water to 2 Tbsp.
2 tsp cold water
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp high-quality bourbon, chilled
1 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 large egg yolks
2 1/2 Tbsp (43 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) whole milk
seeds scraped from one vanilla bean
3/4 fluid cup (6 fluid oz) heavy cream

Have ready a medium-sized bowl with a fine mesh strainer set over it, and an ice water bath.

Combine the water and bourbon in a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin over it to soften. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and thick.

In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, combine the milk and vanilla bean seeds and bring to a boil. Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan, and bring back to a boil, whisking constantly. Boil for 1 minute, continuing to whisk.

Pour the custard through the strainer set over a bowl, whisk in the softened gelatin, and set the bowl in the ice water bath to cool.

In a clean bowl, whip the heavy cream until it just holds soft peaks. Gently fold into the cold, but not yet set, custard. Chill for a minimum of 2 hours.

Bavarian cream can be made up to three days in advance. Keep chilled.

Cinnamon-Brown Sugar Caramel
1 cup (217 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp + 3 Tbsp cold water, divided
1 Tbsp cold unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp water. Whisk to combine.

Set pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Boil for 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and quickly whisk in 3 Tbsp cold water and butter. (Be careful - the caramel will sputter and steam, so stand back!) Pour caramel into heat-proof jar, cool to room temperature, and cover. Caramel can be made in advance and stored at room temperature for up to a week.


our little q-tip

This is my life right now:

Adorable, right? The head covering, to unsuspecting passersby, apparently looks like a legitimate hat, so I guess it's not obvious to most people that it is actually a pressure wrap designed to keep the swelling down around the incision site of Wylie's recent surgery.

Doesn't that sound horrible and scary? I haven't figured out a way to say it that doesn't make it sound weird or more serious than it really was. It wasn't head surgery, not in the invasive way that name implies, at least. To be very specific, it was scalp surgery, but that sounds bizarre and gross. I'd like to not think about in those terms. Considering that it was performed by a plastic surgeon, I suppose we could just celebritize it and call it a 'procedure,' and leave it at that.

Whatever you call it, the result has been a child in need of extra attention as he recovers and tries to deal with wearing a 'hat' no one will let him take off, that is getting itchier (and dirtier!) by the day, and a sore head that he doesn't understand the cause of.

There is of course a second child in the mix, one who also - in spite of being a tremendously helpful and understanding big brother - needs a more-than-normal amount of individual attention, to compensate for the temporary imbalance in sibling neediness. Needless to say, I have been breaking up a lot of fights and soothing out-of-nowhere meltdowns these past couple days.

I have discovered that I need a chart to keep track of when and which medicines to administer throughout the day, and that I am not above using M&Ms and melted ice cream to get that medicine to go down. To further complicate things, it hadn't occurred to me that we would have wardrobe issues post-surgery; Wylie doesn't have anywhere near the number of wide-collared, easy-to-slide-over-a-sensitive-head shirts he needs to get him into next week, when the wrap comes off.

But you know what? This is all fine with me. It seems like a small price to pay for an easy, non-invasive surgery that was as untraumatic for the patient as could possibly be imagined. And most of all, for a healthy child. There are far too many parents whose children must undergo intensive, life-saving surgeries, or who bravely live with chronic illness, or who suffer in ways I can't even think or write about. But us? We are very fortunate. I am not complaining.

But I do miss having more time to devote to food. I wish I had more than ten minutes at a time to devote to planning Thanksgiving dinner (which is a pretty big deal in this food-centered family!). I wish midday was calm enough for me to make a real lunch for the kids, instead of rummaging around in the fridge and laying out an assortment of this-sort-of-passes-as-lunch type foods. And I wish I had more time to bake, of course. I console myself on that last point by acknowledging that we really don't need any more sweets around here, and at the very least not making them saves me the work of all the extra dishes.

I did, however, decide to make time today to prepare a real dish for our supper. One that required some forethought and time, both for preparation and cooking. One that would hopefully be nourishing and comforting to all those in need of such qualities (and yes, I include myself in that group).

Naturally, I made soup. Unfortunately, there are no photos. Simply getting it on the table before a sleep-deprived Wylie fell asleep on the couch was a challenge, and I ate quickly, with the nodding-off child cuddled against me. Bedtime occurred immediately afterward. And honestly, any photos I might have taken would necessarily have been unflattering, bathed as they would have been in the light from our energy-efficient-but-very-unnatural CFLs. I still haven't figured out how to take natural-looking dinner photos at this (dark!) time of year. Someday, there may be fancy lights . . .

So anyway, imagine if you will a pale, glowing, mustard-colored soup, shimmering slightly from the olive oil and fat from the homemade chicken stock, with an earthy, sweet scent that one immediately knows means root vegetables, and a behind-the-scenes whiff of something familiar, yet unexpected. (Hint: think Parmesan.) This soup is only partly puréed, so the remaining pieces of vegetable imply a heft and heartiness that completely creamy, smooth soups rarely have. The soup was perfect on this cold, blustery November evening, and infused the house with a scent I wish we could bottle and bring out every time the mercury dips. We dipped pieces of this bread into it, which was perfect, but if any of you decided that instead you wanted to smear your bread with a nice soft goat cheese, I for one would not stand in your way.

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I almost always like every soup I make. The boys, on the other hand, do not. But tonight, Kalen not only ate lots of his serving, he even asked me if I'd like to make the same soup again sometime. And when I said yes, he wisely followed up with, "Well, did you write it all down so you can do it again?" (When did he get so hip to the fundamentals of recipe development?) To which I fumbled something along the lines of "Well, no, but I'll remember, I'm sure I can do it again." That boy knows me well, though; I would very likely forget not only how I made it, but that I ever intended to make it again if I didn't write it down. So, for Kalen and my future soup-making self and all of you, here it is: Vegetable Soup to Nourish and Comfort on a Cold Fall Night. Kalen thought it should simply be called Tara Soup, but that's not nearly rambling and romantic enough, don't you think?

Vegetable Soup to Nourish and Comfort on a Cold Fall Night
serves 4-6

1/2 large Spanish onion
2 stalks celery
1 large carrot (mine was white, but any color is fine)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic
1 delicata squash, peeled and seeded
1 large russet potato, peeled
6-8 sunchokes, scrubbed clean
1 Parmesan cheese rind (the rinds have lots of uses, from flavoring soups to risottos to sauces - don't throw them away!)
1 quart homemade chicken stock (alternately, you could use a high-quality, low-sodium broth)
kosher salt and freshly crushed black pepper, to taste

Dice the onion, celery, and carrot. Heat oil in a large soup pot (I like to use my Dutch oven) over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the mirepoix (the onion-celery-carrot mixture) to the oil, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften and the onions just begin to get some color, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince the garlic. Cut the squash, potato, and sunchokes into medium-sized cubes roughly all the same size (to ensure even cooking).

Once some of the onions in the pot have begun to turn pale golden brown, stir in the minced garlic. Continue to cook, still stirring frequently, until the onions are a deeper brown and the garlic has begun to brown, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the cubed squash, potato, and sunchokes. Stir to combine, then add the chicken stock and Parmesan rind. Increase heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer for 25-35 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove pot from heat and fish out the Parmesan rind. Discard. If you have an immersion (stick) blender, use that to purée the soup about halfway, leaving some vegetable pieces whole. Otherwise, use a blender to carefully purée half of the soup (you may need to do this in batches), stirring it back into the pot once it's velvety-smooth. Season to taste with kosher salt and freshly crushed black pepper. Serve hot with your favorite warm bread.

Soup keeps, refrigerated, for up to 3 days, but will thicken, so you may need to add additional chicken stock when reheating it, and adjust the seasonings accordingly.


once upon a time

My, that was quick! October - gone just like that. Truly, last month seemed like a blur to me. A good blur, yes, but that month felt nowhere near in line with the slowing-down-and-turning-inward time of year that Deep Fall always makes me crave. Hopefully, all of you were equally busy with your own lives, and didn't have much time to notice my infrequent presence here!

So now, let's all take a collective deep breath and relax for a moment. An essential act in the weeks (moments, really) leading up to the hectic holiday season.

Let me tell you a little story.

One day, right in the midst of Life, with a business to run and hungry children clamoring for snacks and attention and a barking dog impatient to be let back into the century-old house with its own never-ending list of attention-grabbing needs and the juggling act of social engagements and family responsibilities and the pursuit of personal goals, right in the middle of everything ordinary and not, a husband and wife suddenly paused for a moment and looked up, locked eyes, and realized that they never saw each other anymore.

But it was the weekend, and a busy one at that, and the husband worked nights with precious time off and the wife's To Do list was never finished and she hadn't even showered in days, for goodness' sake. Clearly, there was only one logical thing to do.

The husband spontaneously took Saturday night off and the wife called up close friends to arrange for last-minute babysitting. She finally got that shower she deserved and they both kissed their darling (albeit confused by the unusual turn of events) children good-bye, with promises of chocolate to halt the tears, and then waltzed arm-in-arm downtown, to dine at their favorite local bistro.

Which, of course, couldn't seat them right away, given that their very impromptu evening had not arrived ready-made with reservations. This suited the happy couple just fine, and they doubled the evenings' venues by going next door to the wine bar and ordering drinks to sip on while munching deviled eggs and radishes and turnips with European butter. They talked design and business and off-the-wall news stories, and it was good.

The bistro owner personally came to collect them when their table was ready, and they proceeded to enjoy a relaxing, hearty parade of dishes. House-made pâté, venison sausage, roasted Brussels sprouts, and local tri-color potatoes with thick-cut bacon, with macaroni and cheese and a Cuban sandwich for the gluten-eating husband. The wife consumed an entire bowl of steamed Maine mussels, tenderly picking the unexpected pearls from her teeth, and told stories of kayaking to wild islands where she steamed just-harvested mussels on the beach and amassed a collection of sea storm-colored pearls. The pair splurged on a bottle of Cabernet Franc, and reminisced about the old friends back in Boston that it reminded them of, people they knew when they were young and naive and mere shadows of their current selves.

When they could eat no more, the sated couple walked home, huddled together against the surprising chill in the air. They opened the front door to a scene of joyful energy, with children laughing and bouncing and rolling around under the living room rug. They were filled in on the dance-and-accordion-music-filled night, the foods that were eaten, the games that were played. Everywhere the wife looked, she saw faces and eyes sparkling with happiness, and the jumble of voices rang high-pitched and true.

It was wonderful for the couple to realize that doing the right thing, the best thing for the family, happened to also be immensely enjoyable for all involved. Healthy, and fun, and an oh-so-needed change of pace. The night ended with difficult good-byes and promises to continue trading the favor, and frequently at that. No payment traded hands, per se; friends don't expect cash from one another.

But there was a tart. A tart made of fruits of the season, with enough warm spices and nutty, buttery crunch to declare Fall its rightful home. A tart that would be as comfortable on the brunch table as on the Thanksgiving table. A tart that couldn't be eaten mindlessly, because the layers of flavor were surprising and demanded that one pay attention to them all. A tart that said thank you in only the way good food made with intention and love could.

A jewel-like spiced persimmon tart. It was the perfect ending to the story.

Spiced Persimmon Tart
yields one 11-inch tart

Poached Persimmons
2 fluid cups (16 fl oz) water
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
1 star anise
2 Fuyu persimmons, thinly sliced
parchment paper

Combine the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Add the spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and add the persimmon slices. Cut the parchment paper into a circle the diameter of your saucepan, make a small hole in the center, and lay it directly on the persimmons. Press down gently to ensure all the slices are submerged in the syrup. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool and store persimmons in spiced syrup (leaving spices in the syrup). Can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to one week.

Honey Yogurt Custard
238 gr (8.4 oz) whole plain Greek yogurt (I like Fage)
3 large eggs
50 gr honey
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate until needed (up to one day).

Graham Cracker Crust
240 gr (2 cups + 2 Tbsp) gluten-free graham cracker crumbs (I was in a hurry and ground up this brand. But if you want to make your own crackers, I like Rebecca Reilly's recipe best)
1 stick (8 Tbsp/4oz) unsalted butter, melted

Put the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter in a bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Place an 11-inch tart pan on a baking sheet. Using your fingers, spread the crumb mixture into the tart pan, pressing to make a crack-free crust on the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Set aside until needed.

Assemble and Bake the Tart
Preheat the oven to 350º. 

Pour the yogurt custard into the prepared tart shell and bake the tart (on the baking sheet to catch any seepage) for 20 minutes, or until custard is just set. Remove from oven. Gently take persimmon slices out of poaching syrup, allowing excess liquid to drip off, and arrange slices on the surface of the tart. Return tart to oven and bake 5 minutes more. Cool completely on a rack, and serve at room temperature. Tart keeps, covered and at room temperature, for up to 4 days.
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