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cranberry, chestnut, and apple salad with lime dressing

Browse any website or magazine rack beginning early November and you’ll come away with one vision of Thanksgiving: it’s about the food. It’s almost as though the idea of being thankful has been quietly engulfed in glossy photos of turkeys and latticed pies, and for a while it bothered me as a “socially conscious” high school sophomore that the defining characteristic of our holiday of thankfulness was excess. I can’t say my self-righteousness was entirely misplaced, but there was so much joy to be gained in letting it go.  The role of eating and food in celebration is sacred, and really, what better way is there to express gratitude?

For the last several years my family has shared hosting Thanksgiving with close friends, and this year we made the pilgrimage to their home for our holiday meal. I use the word pilgrimage with absolute seriousness, because Nick and Jane’s home has always held a special spot of reverence in my parents’ (very) discerning eye—it is beautiful in a way that is both effortless and tasteful. Then there is the food… gold-rimmed plates with soft-rind cheeses and soft-boiled eggs in china egg cups and large wedges of tea cake resting regally on the counter. It is one of the few places I know that is truly wonderful to visit.

This salad exemplifies the ways Jane’s cooking has inspired my mother and I over the years–simple and visually stunning, it was the perfect accompaniment to cold slices of ham and turkey the day after Thanksgiving. One week later the five of us sat at Manresa tasting the arugula flowers I’d shown them in the garden, and in a way I felt I’d come full circle: after the beautiful way of eating I’d experienced in their home since childhood, I had the chance to share something of my time on the farm with them.

Cranberry, Chestnut, and Apple Salad with Lime Dressing

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, November, 1981

1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, cut in half

3 Tbsp sugar

2 bunches of watercress

1 cup chestnuts

3 green apples

1 Tbsp grated lime rind

juice of 3 to 4 limes

2 tsp Dijon mustard

pinch salt

2/3 to 1 cup olive oil

Zest the limes and set aside. Toss cranberries with sugar in a small bowl and let sit at least one hour covered and refrigerated.

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, combine 1/4 cup lime juice with the mustard and salt. Whisk in the olive oil.

Core and cut the apples into bite size pieces.  Toss into the dressing.  Quarter the chestnuts and add to the bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

Line a glass bowl with the watercress (set the stalks up against the side of the bowl to create a nice visual presentation, and add more leaves on the bottom). Add the apple-chestnut mixture creating a small hollow in the center, then fill the hollowed-out space with the tossed cranberries.  As a final touch, sprinkle the lime zest over the salad and serve.

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