I’ve spent three weeks baking in my commercial kitchen for Marge. I’m still running around doing what feels like hundreds of errands each week, but things are starting to become a bit more streamlined. I’ve done two farmer’s markets and a few great local events. I’m meeting lots of new folks who live nearby, making friends with other vendors, and oftentimes selling out before the market even ends. For me Saturday mornings are like a big ol’ bake sale and I couldn’t imagine anything else I’d rather be doing. Friday nights, however, are a much different story.
The night before the farmer’s market always brings about many hours of baking, packaging, usually burning myself once or twice, occasionally getting aluminum foil caught in the convection oven (lesson learned: no aluminum foil in the convection oven!), witnessing occasional drug deals out back, listening to old classic rock on the radio, talking to myself, pacing. And more pacing. For the past few weeks, there’s been very little sleep, lots of anxiety, and questioning if this is really how I want to spend every Friday night into eternity.
When you come to an event or a farmer’s market booth, it all looks so lovely. I have a sweet blue tablecloth, antique fixtures, lots of pies all wrapped in baker’s twine ready to take home. I have postcards and samples and genuinely want to talk to you about vintage recipes. But the behind the scenes is a little more gritty — there’s strewn flour everywhere, ovens that don’t always work, a broken freezer, another freezer that’s filled with pot (I’ve somehow ended up in the kitchen with all the pot bakers), ingredient emergencies (out of cinnamon at midnight? How can that be?!). It’s humbling. It’s challenging. It’s completely unglamorous. And it’s where I find myself.
And so it makes sense that, coupled with all the baking I’ve been doing in the kitchen, the last thing I want to do is spend time on elaborate (or, really, any) meals. So this week, I’ve fallen for lentil soup. And fittingly, too, seeing that it may be one of the more humble, basic, and unglamorous meals you will come across. Throw some onions and carrots together along with lentils, water, and your choice of spices and an hour or so later you’ve got lunch. Or dinner. Or a snack at 2:00 a.m. It doesn’t make any bold or flashy statements. It doesn’t promise greatness or wealth or prosperity. It just gets the job done in a simple and satisfying way. Kind of like my Friday nights as of late.
I hope your week is going well. Sit back and take a moment for yourself. Make some soup. Do something humbling and slightly unglamorous. It builds character, no?
And a moment of minor self promotion: if you haven’t seen the Marge website yet, it’s finished! And it might be one of my favorite websites ever. Go take a peek. Sign up for our newsletter under the “Contact” page and follow us on twitter and facebook if you’re not already.
French green lentils are really your best bet for this soup. They’re smaller and darker than your standard run-or-the mill lentil and they hold their shape really nicely so you don’t end up with a mushy pot of what was once lentils.
Slightly Adapted from: Bon Appetit via Molly Wizenburg
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrot and season with salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and cook about five minutes until onion is translucent. Add half of the chopped garlic; stir until vegetables are soft but not brown, about 4 minutes longer.
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.