Something funny happens when you live with someone instead of dating them from afar. You learn little nuances about each other’s behavior, see the bottom-of-the-barrel sweaters, take out the trash, and buy underwear and shampoo together. Sam calls my beloved furry slippers old lady slippers and, to be fair, they kind of are. And I’ve become well acquainted with his holey “sick sweater,” his eagerness to retrieve the mail in the early afternoon, and his uncanny ability to drink more tea than anyone I’ve ever known. Also, I’m learning things about myself. Like the fact that, apparently, most people don’t eat a whole grapefruit when they sit down for breakfast. According to Sam, they stop at a half.
Also, something funny happens when you both work largely from home. You have to find a certain rhythm to make it work. I think it’s largely unspoken — you discover the other person’s patterns and moods. I can hear Sam pitter-patter into the kitchen around 3 p.m. and I know a cup of coffee or a pot of tea is happening. He knows when I’m in my “efficient kitchen mode,” organizing, baking, cleaning and perhaps photographing, and he quietly sneaks away to his office.
So we’re figuring it out. In the midst, there are many shared evening beers, new-to-me music from Sam’s collection, exploring the Ballard farmer’s market, and walks around our neighborhood (the library! the hot chocolate!). I’ve set up my writing office and am getting used to working in the cold. The writing office doesn’t have heat. The mornings are brisk.
It’s all quieter than our visits which were often packed with restaurants we wanted to show one another, plays and beaches and movies and road trips. And I love it even more — the everydayness of it all. The holey sweaters and old lady slippers and eagerness to get the mail. The pot of white beans simmering on the stove all afternoon. And the fact that we get to sit down and share it together. Whenever we want.
A note on this recipe: This stew is oh-so-loosely based on a recipe Melissa Clark has for a White Bean and Farro Stew in her wonderful book, Cook This Now. In her directions, there are a few very specific steps she takes in preparing the stew — some of which I kept here and some which I altered. I added kale for a more complete meal and used barley because it’s so nice in soups and stews this time of year. In her version, Melissa Clark cooks the farro separately and then spoons the beans over it. I took a hint from her, cooking the barley separately but I mixed it into the stew along with the kale at the very end. This way, while cooking, the barley wasn’t hogging the moisture from the beans.
Soaking the beans overnight is always a good idea if you have the time. If not, the beans will just take a few hours longer; there’s something nice about a pot simmering away on the stove all afternoon anyway. I’ll leave the cook time’s out of this recipe as it will obviously so depend on how you’re preparing your beans (see your options below). Also, for an even heartier stew, you could add bacon or sausage to the pot.
Adapted from: Cook This Now
If you plan on soaking your beans, put them in a bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let them soak for at least 4 hours — overnight is ideal.
Cook the beans: drain (or rinse if you didn’t soak overnight) and place them in a large pot along with the oil, 3 of the whole garlic cloves, celery and onion over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and salt. Cover with water, stir gently, and bring to a boil. Once the pot boils, reduce heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer, partially covered until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on how long you soaked your beans (if at all) or how old your dried beans are. You know your beans are done when they’re soft in the middle but still slightly firm on the outside. You will likely need to add 2-3 cups of extra water as the beans simmer and the water is absorbed–you always want to have the beans just barely covered with liquid, so do keep an eye on your pot every now and then.
Cook the barley: In a small saucepan, add the barley to 3 cups boiling water and stir together. Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to low, allowing the barley to gently simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until it has absorbed the water and is no longer crunchy. Note: Cooking time on barley can vary quite a bit depending on if you’re using hulled or unhulled grains (hulled has only the outer shell removed and takes longer to cook).
Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic. When the beans are done cooking, remove and discard the onion, celery and bay leaf. Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced garlic and puree. Return the pureed mixture to the pot. Add the cooked barley and chopped kale and allow the pot to simmer on low for just a few minutes. This will allow the kale to soften into the stew nicely.
To serve: spoon into bowls and drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, flaky Maldon salt, red pepper flakes, a few chopped celery leaves, grated Parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon.
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.