I was going to tell you about an apple cider pressing party we attended last weekend. A lovely gathering of people, parents of the children at Lu’s new preschool, standing around a large garage, shuffling their feet against the cold while the kids ran under the apple trees outside. They’re lovely people, both the ones I know very well — former students of mine who now have children around Lu’s age — and the new ones we had only passed in the grocery store before. We drank coffee, ate cheese and crackers, and cut apples together. We talked. Nothing much happened. We turned apples into cider.
But tonight, I feel sort of funny writing about this.
You see, we love our community, both the group of people who live on our island and the small clutch of ones here we know particularly well. But we don’t think our community is any better than the thousands upon thousands of communities out there.
In the daylight understanding of how devastating that storm Sandy has been to people in the Northeast corner of the United States, it’s hard to write about a few hours of relaxed pleasure on this tiny island in the Northwest corner.
You must have been watching it too. So many of us have been refreshing our Twitter feeds, eager to hear that friends are safe. Or looking at photos of entire beach communities pummeled into pulpy bits of wood and waste in now-contaminated water. Or hearing reports of people stranded on their roofs on Staten Island for more than 24 hours, or young women dying because they stepped into puddles, or millions of people without power in darkened apartments for at least the next four days.
It’s hard to imagine that our cider press party even matters.
But I noticed something yesterday, before the storm hit. Every single person on Twitter, it seems, sent messages about baking brownies or bread from scratch. People prepared for a storm to howl down upon their necks by making soup or simmering stew, inviting the neighbors over for poached apples and a glass of wine. It was food that calmed people.
And it is food that people need now. Not cans we send across the country but meals delivered to seniors who are used to being served by home health aides. Restaurants are fighting to be open again. Sure, they need to make money, but I think it’s more than that. People need somewhere to gather.
Meals make people feel better.
There were so many stories from this storm that moved me. Hearing of NICU nurses who manually worked the ventilators for fragile premature babies, all while walking down 9 flights of stairs in the darkness? I tear up every time I think of it. Seeing this photograph of people making a human chain for 13 stories, to move fuel to keep the generator going in another hospital? I want to hang it on the wall of this office.
We come together, over food or trying to find the light. That is enough. It’s what makes us human. It’s community.
And in the midst of a disaster of this proportion, I imagine that the idea of standing around talking about not very much, drinking coffee, watching small kids throw apples into a hand-cranked press and running to see the cider gushing out the other side? That must sound like a surreal, lovely dream.
And so I offer these words, about all I have. There will be apples turned into cider again.
BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH APPLE CIDER SAUCE
We’ve been drinking our friends’ apple cider, in small sips and hot cups. Lu adores it. We thought about making these apple cider doughnuts gluten-free, but we’re already working on holiday treats for you behind the scenes. We didn’t need more sugar.
On a long walk, Danny and I spontaneously had our annual autumn conversation: oh my goodness, we love braising season. Meats that fall off the bone, vegetables softened in their cooking liquid, and the sauces that are rich for all the cooking reduced into even more flavor. We walked home and started prepping this meal for dinner.
We thought you might like to make it too.
8 chicken thighs, bone in
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 large shallots, peeled and quartered
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 cup apple cider
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preparing to cook. Heat the oven to 450°. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Grab a 9x13 casserole dish.
Browning the chicken. Set a large skillet on medium-high heat. Pour in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, lay 4 of the chicken thighs into the pan, skin side down. Sear the chicken thighs until the bottoms are browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the thighs and brown the other sides. Transfer the browned thighs to the casserole dish. Pour in the remaining olive oil. Repeat with the remaining chicken thighs.
Making the braising liquid. Add the shallots to the fat remaining in the skillet. Cook them, stirring occasionally, until they are almost caramelized, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the thyme and cook, stirring, until the scent releases itself, about 1 minute.
Pour the apple cider and apple cider vinegar into the hot pan, scraping up the good bits left on the bottom of the skillet. Cook on high until the volume of the liquid has reduced by 1/2, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and stir. When the chicken stock comes to a boil, pour the braising liquid over the chicken thighs.
Braising the chicken thighs. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Braise the chicken until the thighs reach an internal temperature of 185°, about 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the chicken thighs from the braising liquid and set aside.
Reducing the sauce. Strain the braising liquid of the shallots and thyme. Pour the strained sauce into a large saucepan, set on high heat. Boil the sauce until it is reduced in volume by 1/2, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the butter and stir it into the sauce. When the butter is fully emulsified in the sauce, you’re ready to eat.
Put 2 of the thighs onto each person’s plate and drizzle some of the apple cider sauce on top. We ate ours with with a mix of black rice and quinoa, plus brussels sprouts sauteed with pancetta. You can eat yours any way you wish.