Hobbies, Traditions, and Cranberry Sauce

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We tend to define ourselves by our money making ventures, but the things we do purely for pleasure are much more revealing. I’m currently reading a memoir—Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk—about a woman who copes with the loss of her father through acquiring and training a goshawk. Spending time with a fearsome animal may seem an odd way to grieve, but for her it is essential, a ritual that allows her to experience her loss without being overwhelmed by. Cheryl Strayed deals with her grief in a similar way, hiking thousands of miles while processing the death of her mother in Wild. Deaths are not the only losses that can overwhelm, and I’ve begun to think that our hobbies are an essential part of how we understand and cope with our individual stresses.

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I’ve been cooking for a long time, but I didn’t start baking regularly until the last year or so. Cooking is practical and immediately gratifying. Baking is more personal and time consuming. I share my bakes, but I don’t select them based on other people’s preferences. I make things that I like, I bake for my own joy. After decades of unhealthy relationships where I obsessed over other’s happiness, I am finally learning to value my own. Baking makes me feel capable and comforted. It’s a chance to practice slowness, carefulness, and close attention.

This sauce isn’t difficult, but it does require watchfulness. The cranberry sauce I grew up with was the kind that came out of a can, carefully slid from its metal sheath and placed in a cut crystal dish. When I finally discovered the homemade stuff in my twenties, I fell head over heels. A good cranberry sauce is beautiful, tart, and easy to make, one of those small touches that elevates the otherwise mostly brown smorgasbord of a typical Thanksgiving table. This version is less sharp than most with tangerines, cinnamon, and star anise mellowing the tart cranberries.

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Cranberry Clementine Sauce

1 package fresh cranberries
4 clementines, zested and juiced
1 cup granulated sugar
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick

Place all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, until sauce is thickened and cranberries have burst.

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