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If I’m famous for anything in the kitchen, it’s my track record for that most heroic of tasks: Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a beast, but someone’s gotta do it. Best assign it to the person who once claimed ownership of a pre-Pinterest era Thanksgiving binder that housed every T-day recipe from Gourmet to Saveur, classified, naturally, in order of appearance, from cocktails to desserts.

That person would be me.

Last year I cooked two dinners – Canadian Thanksgiving in October, and American Thanksgiving in November. Twice I wrote out long lists ingredients to source; twice I stood on my feet for two days solid, peeling, mashing, squeezing, rubbing, brining and basting until I gave myself a simultaneous episode of tennis elbow and carpal tunnel. Twice I had that foreboding sense that I might not make it to the finish line. Twice I managed to pull it off, poured myself an immense glass of red, and melted, silently, into my leather-backed chair between cheerful dining companions.

This year, we travel. It’s the least we can do – to share our part of the responsibility of getting one’s family, preferably intact, to a home that’s not our own. To brave the two busiest travel days of the year, crossing fingers for no delays, no lost baggage, and most important – no issues with the in-flight wine supply.

But that’s how it goes. You can’t always be the ones to stay at home. To sit back and put your feet up on the sofa, enveloped in the comfort of candlelight and your Frank Sinatra Pandora station, while others brave trains, planes and automobiles to land in this exact place.

But a travel year doesn’t mean that you have to put your excitement about Thanksgiving dishes on hold. There should be a law – let’s call it Jessica’s Law because nobody will pronounce my last name correctly, which could be summarized by the following equation:

TH Factor = (TMT-DTD)/3.14TMT2

In layman’s terms, your TH factor (that’s your Thanksgiving Hunger factor) = (Thanksgiving Miles Traveled – Days until Thanksgiving Dinner), divided by (Pie x Thanksgiving Miles Traveled) squared.

It just made sense to have pie in the equation – make it pecan, pumpkin, it doesn’t really matter.

The gist is that the closer you get to Thanksgiving, and the farther you have to travel, the hungrier you are for these kinds of foods at home.

Lately, my TH Factor has been stratospheric. And it doesn’t help that I’ve found a favorite new squash.

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OK, maybe I haven’t found a favorite new squash. Everyone, their brothers, their uncles, and their kids’ elementary school teachers have discovered it this year. That would be delicata. Do you hear the angels sing when I mention the name?

Not only does the name “delicata” conjure loveliness on its own, but it also follows up its name with a silky, almost custard-like texture that will have you questioning whether you’re eating dinner or dessert. And I’m saving the best part for last….you don’t have to peel the skin.

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Pomegranate molasses
Not long ago I was scared of pomegranate molasses.

It’s not a common ingredient, and to be perfectly honest, anything with the word molasses makes me just a little bit hesitant. My mind jumps to baking and Southern cooking, neither of which are strengths.

Combine my aversion to molasses with pomegranate molasses packaging, which is often entirely in Arabic, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I’d bought a jar years ago when I’d seen it used in recipes from my Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cookbooks. Paul Wolfert, Yotam Ottolenghi, Claudia Roden, all repeat offenders.

But I’d hidden it in the back of my cupboard, along with the Vietnamese rice papers, and there it remained until last year. When for obvious reasons, I pitched the dust-covered bottle into the trash, horrified by its 2010 expiration date.

But I do love sweet & sour flavors. It’s a perfect marriage; Chinese restaurants have made a fortune singing its praises.

A few weeks ago I came across a recipe for sticky Moroccan chicken, and there it was – pomegranate molasses – in all of its glory, with the promise of a gooey, slick, finger-licking sauce.

Seeing that I’d already pitched the bottle of pomegranate molasses, I figured I’d pass on the recipe. But when I peeked into the fridge that morning, I was happy to see a full, unopened container of pomegranate juice. Hmmm…perhaps all was not lost. The wheels began to turn.

One thing I’ve learned in the kitchen is that when you don’t have the right ingredient, improvise. Lime instead of lemon, brown sugar instead of white, and most important, homemade when you don’t have a packaged version. You won’t get the exact same result, but you’ll get something similar. Which unless you’re trading baking powder for baking soda, will still be pretty delicious. Sometimes even more so.

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Before long, I was nose deep on a pomegranate DIY mission, surfing through online recipes and getting excited about the prospect of making some at home.

I found what I needed, cracked open the pomegranate juice, added some lemon juice and a hint of sugar, and I was off to the races.

I don’t know why I was so nervous about pomegranate molasses. It’s one of those simple, flavorful ingredients that every cook should have in his or her arsenal.

Bobby Flay will flay you for not keeping it on hand. (Cue the laugh track, I needed it there). But seriously, he’s crazy about this stuff. Here’s proof. It tastes good on everything. Including straight off the spoon.

Check out some of my favorite ways to eat it, starting with the chicken of course…

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And if you read this postabout my love for kitchen alchemy, you’ll know that the pomegranate molasses has made its way into quite a few cocktails…

Here it is paired with Chambord, key lime and blood orange juice with a hint of soda…

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pomegranate 079

We’re heading into December, and for me that means a lot of things – baking (fruitcake, don’t knock it), the holiday ham and boatloads of mandarin oranges. But there’s another supporting cast member that gets its fair share of attention: pomegranates. Who can resist? The gemlike seeds are so pretty, they make every dish a celebration. Thankfully pomegranate was a hit with the kids, so we’ll see much more of it this year.

ME: Who’s ready for this one?

EMMA: Me!

ME: What is this?

LAUREN: I forgot.

ME: Emma?

EMMA: Um, a Jessica!

ME: Silly girl. Who wants to hold one of the seeds in their hand? It’s beautiful right? It’s like a jeweled fruit. See? You can just open it like this.

LAUREN: Can I try?

ME: Yeah, I’ll give you a whole cluster to work on. What do they look like, these little seeds?

SAM: Doesn’t it look like a jewel?

ME: Yeah, what kind of jewel is red?

LAUREN: A gem?

LAUREN: A diamond?

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