Remember when you started middle school and didn’t really know what to expect or what kind of shoes the other kids would wear or how the heck to open a damn locker? But within a matter of days you kind of slyly studied the older kids out of the corner of your eye and put together the pieces pretty quickly? Well the thing about a long-distance relationship is there aren’t really any older kids to study closely and teach you exactly how it all goes down. I guess I should back up and say that I have a few wonderful friends (and so many of you who commented on the last post!), that have offered great advice and shining examples, but ultimately I think on this one — there’s much you must discover on your own. You have to account for two sets of schedules, different needs, and worries and joys. But you navigate, as you must. As you do.
For us, there have been some unexpected ways of doing this. Last week Sam asked me out on a date. Yep, he from Seattle and me down here in Oakland — we both had a lot of work to get done so we had a work date. I was writing about food, he was designing a website and we checked in on each other throughout the night, knowing that we’d talk at the end of it. And a few days ago, I was feeling a little restless with the day and Sam asked if I wanted to go on a walk with him. So he laced up his Seattle shoes, I laced up my Oakland shoes and off we went. On my walk, I saw a neighbor’s orange tree, lingering cherry blossoms, one outdoor wedding, two runners, one chubby squirrel, an impromptu soccer game and a curb-side barbecue. And I thought of Sam the entire time. And then there’s going to sleep at night. We plan our evenings so we’re getting into bed at the same time. There’s something comforting about it — reassuring and important in its own small way. With these things, the distance shrinks. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t say it collapses. But it shrinks. And for now, that’s what we’ve got.
The thing about planning your evenings in this way is that there are some late nights. Sometimes, there’s just a lot to say and that can easily stretch into the wee morning hours. Or sometimes there’s not a lot to say and it still manages to stretch into the wee morning hours. I’ve pretty much stopped drinking too much wine after dinner and bourbon’s out completely or I’d be asleep by 8 p.m. So instead,I’ve been making homemade chai. It has just enough caffeine, is warmly spiced and a tiny bit smoky. I’ve come to look forward to it.
I started making this chai after visiting Samovar Tea Lounge a little while back, a wonderful tea shop and cafe located on a quiet, leafy San Francisco street across from the Zen Center. I met up with my friend Anne who writes a beautiful blog, just wrote a book (!), and has recently gotten engaged to her love, Sean. We sat over two cups of chai tea in the early afternoon and talked about the city, writing, and love. After leaving, I set about to try and duplicate Samovar’s version on my own. For nights with Sam. For late mornings after the coffee pot has been put to rest. For any old time.
Now I know it may seem like a pain to go out and buy spices that you don’t have on hand just to make tea that you could buy ready-made. But for me, there’s something about mixing up all the different spices and taking the time to brew the tea the old-fashioned way. Sure, it could be quicker; it could be easier. As could many of the really good, special, important things in life. But those are sometimes the things that are worth just standing and waiting a while, stirring, tending, steeping, brewing. As it often goes with friends, with tea, with love.
This recipe yields one cup of well-balanced, warmly-spiced Chai tea. Once you make it a few times, play around with the proportions until you get it just the way you really like it.
Pour water and milk into a small saucepan, and begin to heat on the stove-top over medium heat. Before the mixture comes to a boil, add the fresh ginger and remaining spices. When the spice mixture boils, add the loose-leaf black tea. Turn off the heat and let steep for 2-3 minutes. Pour through a sieve to strain out tea leaves and spices. Add the sweetener of your choosing, and pour into your favorite mug.
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.