I got an email from a reader last week that made me think. And then smile. She mentioned how she liked my blog because it was about food while simultaneously being nothing about food. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she’s probably right. If you really just wanted a quick granola recipe, there are many other places you’d probably go first. But here we are. And it’s late on Tuesday night and it kind of feels like fall rather than summer and my sixteen year old dog is snoring at my feet. I’ve made a fresh batch of granola for the morning, there’s a giant mosquito buzzing around my desk that I can’t seem to catch, I’m drinking lime fizzy water from a straw and wishing my sister a happy first day of work tomorrow. So, yeah. I like talking to you about baking and salads and homemade ice cream. But I also liked talking to you about books and yoga and how amazing afternoon naps are. About movies and wacky seasons and travels. And hopes and family and pretty dishes. All that. Hopefully you’re down. I’m guessing since you’re still reading this paragraph, maybe you are.
Coincidentally, I’ve been powering through a book that’s relevant to this idea of being about something while not being about it at all. Have you read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running? On the surface it’s a memoir about Murakami’s long-distance running career. But if you asked me what the book was about, I probably wouldn’t even mention running. Instead, it’s about finding happiness in what you do, questioning why you commit yourself to certain activities, “the blessed right to grow old” and change. It’s a sweet exploration of one man’s passion and how it has seeped out into every other area of life. It makes you think about yours: passion and life, that is.
“I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run–simply because I wanted to.”
There’s this kind of loose logic to Murakami’s life narrative that I admire. While it’s quite structured with running schedules, book tours, and teaching gigs–it’s also quite spontaneous in that he follows the pulls that lead him towards happiness or fulfillment. He doesn’t question them. He doesn’t try to make much sense of them (because how can you really make sense of getting up at the crack of dawn to run 26.2 miles?). The blind following of those pulls and tugs: we don’t do that enough. At least I don’t. It’s much easier to excuse them as too whimsical or expensive or unrealistic. But lately I’m all about diving in. Right now I have friends that are starting their first business, beginning new jobs, being published, getting married. There are thresholds everywhere I turn and it’s exciting and full of risk and craziness and blind dives without looking back.
It doesn’t always have to be marathons or marriages we’re talking about here. It can be as small as trying out a new granola recipe because you’re pretty sure it’ll knock the socks off your mornings in early August. That’s what I did today. Many of you may remember the buzz around this time last year when The New York Times published their recipe for Olive Oil Granola. I never tried it because I’m basically married to my own recipe which I created while, coincidentally, training for my first marathon in Colorado. But lately I’ve been curious–what if I took the components I love about my granola and blend in olive oil, maple syrup, and kosher salt as the New York Times does? Well, a whole lot of goodness happens. That’s what.
So I’ll leave you with this simple, adaptable, morning-changing recipe and a quote from Murakami. He should have the last word here.
“And I hope that, over time, as one race follows another, in the end I’ll reach a place I’m content with. Or maybe just catch a glimpse of it”
I love making granola in a convection oven because it cooks evenly and you don’t end up with burned bits around the edges. So I’ve included cooking times for both a convection and a standard oven here. This recipe is also forgiving, so feel free to use your own mixture of nuts and dried fruits. And play around with different olive oils. It’s amazing how a fruitier oil honestly conveys that taste once baked. I’m hooked.
Preheat the convection oven to 275 or the standard oven to 300 F. With the exception of the cherries, mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl and spoon out onto a large, rimmed baking sheet.
–Convection Oven: 35-40 minutes, stir every 15 minutes.
–Standard Oven: 45 minutes, stir every ten minutes so granola doesn’t stick to the sides of the pan and burn.
Granola will be done when it’s golden brown and well toasted. Remove from the oven and stir in the dried cherries. Let cool completely. Serve with dollops of plain yogurt and fruit.
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.