As many of you may recall, I lost one of my best friends earlier this fall. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever gone through. Sure, I’ve lost folks I love very much, but they’ve always been older and it’s never been out-of-the-blue. But Jean was my age with dreams the size of Texas and a heart of solid gold. I’m talking 24-karat. I still have moments where something happens and I think about what a kick Jean would get out of it. Lady Gaga and Elton John at the Grammy’s. Jersey Shore (no one loved bad reality TV more than Jean). This Friday would’ve been her 30th birthday, so I’m flying out to Boston to attend the first annual “Jean-a-bration.” We’re celebrating a big birthday and a big life that we all miss so dearly in a big way. And you know what? There’s nothing that girl liked more than a party. I know she’ll be proud. I’ve really never tried to celebrate an event or landmark when it’s tinged with this much sadness–so we’ll see how it goes. I guess there’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
I went to graduate school in Boston and haven’t been back since. So I’m excited to visit all my old haunts. I’ll take photos for you and share some of my favorite places to eat when I return. And if you have any favorite Boston spots, let me know! It’s been a few years since I’ve been back, and I hear things have changed a bit, so I’d love any suggestions. In the meantime, I wanted to leave you one of the best comfort drinks I know, perfect for heavy hearts or just a really gray afternoon: Mexican hot chocolate made with Ibarra.
I first learned of Ibarra when I was around sixteen. It’s when I started drinking coffee because–you know–everyone else started bringing to-go mugs to class and it all seemed very adult. This great bakery downtown did Mexican mochas made with Ibarra and I jumped on the wagon. They had a rich chocolate flavor with spicy cinnamon notes. It all seemed magical and mysterious until a few years later when I realized you can buy Ibarra at the store and the drink I loved so much was pretty darn easy to emulate at home.
Now this particular recipe is for Mexican hot chocolate, but feel free to add a shot (or two) of espresso to make yourself a Mexican mocha. You can find Ibarra at a Mexican grocery store or a well-stocked gourmet food market. It is made with granulated sugar so a) don’t munch on it right out of the package–it’s grainy! (I tried) and b) no need to add sugar. I have a friend who puts a little almond extract in her whipped cream, and I think that’d be a nice touch for this, too. So drink up. In the name of love and chocolate and life and memory and gratitude. And while you’re doing all that, I’ll drink to Jean.
Chop tablet of Ibarra into blocks for easier melting. Then warm the chocolate, chile, milk, and dash of salt in a small saucepan. Heat until the chocolate is melted–should be quite hot (although not boiling).
Froth with a hand-blender (or blend in a blender) until the bits of chocolate are completely dissolved and the top becomes foamy. Top with whipped cream and cinnamon and drink immediately.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.