Saturday, November 14, 2009


It was nearing dusk when we saw the starlings. A sight that transfixed us as we stood staring at the sky during the ensuing minutes. The birds were mere specks high above as they assembled into a giant formation, swooping through the darkening sky in harmonious flight. They made a bowl-shaped arc, seeming to pulse with one mind. Finally, they alighted in a nearby grove where trees were thinned of their leaves. Soon, I heard a symphony of chirps coming from the flickering treetops.

Later on, we learned that the starlings have been performing their curious dance daily now for the last several weeks. They enact their rite always in the same city park, at the same time of day, and noone can account for why they do it.

I marvel at them - they perform gestures that are unexplained and novel to me. However, these have an embedded logic and import I have yet to discover.

Days later, I found myself saddled with more cranberries than I needed for baking purposes. I had overzealously bought several bags, my grand plan of churning out cranberry-inflected cakes stymied by a crazy work-week. Undaunted, I turned to a dish novel to me -one that would take mere minutes to whip up: cranberry sauce, that most seasonal and American of side dishes.

I did not grow up in a household where a glossy turkey and its attendant trimmings and side dishes awaited us on Thanksgiving Day. Our holiday instead was a patchwork of cultural ideas: a plate heaping with spring rolls beside a pitcher of Kool-Aid, tingling red lobster meat abutting a platter of stir-fried baby bok choy.

Now, I stirred the bubbling sauce, bursting with cranberries and watched the bits of lemon peel fleck the bright redness. I thought of countless cooks doing the same over the years, harried in their kitchens this time in the season, fretting over their Thanksgiving menus. I felt a thin thread linking us across time and space.

While the pot simmered, I prepared tea, Teavana's Copper Knot Hongcha (black tea), one given to me by my visiting cousin, Q, and his girlfriend, K.

The dry leaves were indeed little kinks of interlacing black and gray, brewing up a startling ruby-red liquor. I watched the steam loopily swirl upwards as the color darkened.

The cranberry sauce cooled on the stove into a scarlet sea studded with ruptured globules. On a toasted half of an English muffin, I thickly smeared some of the sauce.

I sat down to tea and sipped from my cup. The taste of the black tea was mildly brisk, faintly smoky, and pleasant with a note of caramel. I bit into the porous muffin, puckering a bit at the invigorating tartness.

Cranberry Sauce:
12-18 oz cranberries
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Zest from 1 lemon
Juice from 1 lemon

On your stovetop, place all the above ingredients into a saucepan. Turn heat to high and wait until the mixture reaches boiling point. Then turn down the heat and simmer the sauce for 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Cool sauce before serving.

1 comment:

A. said...

And I have cranberries in the fridge! I never think of using them as jam. Did you see Jim Stingl's column about the starlings? There's a huge flock downtown, first a few and eventually hundreds, every fall evening at dusk. The column is here:

Great to see you yesterday. I wish I had some English muffins.