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When it comes to cranberry sauce on my Thanksgiving table, I’m a traditionalist. I make this triple cranberry sauce every year. Made with fresh cranberries, dried cranberries and cranberry juice it is bright, full of flavor and I love it. I might make a second one, spiced with ginger or zapped with horseradish or whatnot to mix it up, but the triple-cranberry version is non-negotiable. I might even make an allowance for a canned jelly, which is as much a tradition in some families as the turkey, but a whole berry, chunky sauce is a must have. Regardless of which direction you go, canned or homemade, we can all agree that cranberry sauce in some manner is required, especially on a leftover turkey sandwich. But what about cranberries in other parts of the meal? Like dessert? This year I decided to try something different and came up with a cranberry tart to cap the meal. I have to say, I’m quite happy with the results.

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The season is winding down for my little community garden plot, yet it still continues to surprise me. I still get a nice handful of tomatoes every week and the basil, giant and bushy all summer, is still showing a little life. The massive kale, surprisingly productive peppers and chilies and other hearty herbs will go strong for a few more weeks at least. To my delight, the beans I quickly planted in late August are doing quite well with a few nice bunches of green, yellow and purple beans just in time for the close of the garden. Typical. Over the weekend I looked at the bowl of tomatoes I’ve been collecting, bright orange cherries and slightly larger golf ball size red ones, and thought pasta. I probably let them sit a little too long so this had to happen fast. It was time for an end of the season sauce.

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The outdoor farmer’s market season started here two weeks ago. This is a big deal for some of us. We Chicagoans view the start of the outdoor market season as a beacon of hope that better, warmer, sunnier weather is coming. Though this past winter wasn’t too bad, we cling desperately to every little sign possible. It’s been a tough start; the first week was chilly and I was caught in a deluge, arriving at my car soaking wet. The second week was downright cold and I received several warnings not to plant the basil plants I had just purchased until it inched up over 55°F. Oh I know, I replied, I’ve been bitten in the ass by that before. We laughed knowingly as only those who have had to yank out frostbitten tender seedlings can. Looking around, I saw the usual suspects of a new market season: asparagus and rhubarb. Harbingers of spring and predictable or not, into my bag they went.

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Throwing springtime dinner parties, such as Easter dinner and sunny Sunday brunches, perplex me the most. The main dishes are typically set – Easter ham or Polish sausage for example, but filling out the side dishes always give me a pause for thought. Green, spring-y vegetables are a given, such as sugar snap peas and asparagus. Easy. A bright, vinegary cucumber salad is always welcome as is a fruit salad of some sort. But what else?

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Driving to a friends Wisconsin home a few weeks ago, we passed several farms on our way off the highway, many with big pumpkin displays covering the front lawns. Never one to pass something interesting, I stopped. Coming and going, I stopped. The first time, I bought a giant white pumpkin for 2 bucks and a half dozen delicata squash for 25 cents a piece. Score! On the way home a few days later, I stopped again and picked up a few additional squashes – red kuri, a fat pie pumpkin and some strange blue-grey variety who’s name I’ve long forgotten. I spent a total of $6 on both trips, happily stuffing my dollar bills in the honor box while the farm dogs sniffed my muddy boots. Of course I stopped twice, once in the rain. Wouldn’t you?

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All right. If you’ve been reading along the last few weeks, you know that my little garden plot has been rather prolific this summer on the tomato front. A steady 3-5 pounds have made their way home each week and I’ve been plugging along, making all kinds of things. This week I have a two-fer; two final tomato recipes for the season. Two recipes that are easy, delicious, perfectly do-able for a quick weeknight dinner and highlight what’s best about these late season tomatoes. So get in there while the going is still good and all these amazing tomatoes are still hanging around the markets. They’ll be gone before we know it.

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We’ve rounded the corner on summer when everything hits at once – the last holiday of the season, first days of school, work schedules pick up, garden produce is almost too much to handle and unfortunately, fall is in the air. I’ve been cooking quite a lot these last few weeks, making old favorites a few times over and searching recipes to deal with an overachieving garden. Nearly everything I’ve made has been from a published recipe, executed as written, and they’ve been good. Really good. Good enough that you might want to make some of these things too. So let’s chat.

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