There were lots of goodbyes. This is true. There were going-away parties with friends I see often and others with those I haven’t seen in over a year. Or maybe two. We’re talking about lots of cocktails, a few beers, a pizza, some Chinese food, and a few donuts. Really, I felt so loved and reluctant to leave this amazing group of people who know how to make me laugh and what to say when the cards are down. It felt a little sudden and sadder than I thought it’d be. But then, Sam arrived.
Everything was set into motion. Just like that. Saturday morning we packed up the Uhaul in Oakland and drove to Marin to stay with my mom for the night. We putzed around the house, Sam napped a little, I ran around the backyard with the dogs, and my mom made a citrusy halibut. We drank rosé and tried not to be sad. The next morning I woke up early and made us sandwiches for the road. My mom walked us out and took a photo of me guiding Sam out of the driveway in that big beast of a moving truck.
Sam joked that he’d never seen two grown women start to simultaneously cry as quickly as my mom and I did. I’m going to miss the heck out of her. When I was doing the farmer’s market she came each Saturday, rain or shine, with a little lunch money, some leftovers from what she’d cooked the night before, and usually a gossip magazines or a bag of M&M’s. Other vendors came to expect and know her, she’d wear something far too stylish for a Saturday morning, and she’d always buy a little pie from me even though I’m convinced she didn’t necessarily want to each and every week. But she’s always been one of Marge’s biggest supporters, and one of my own. And it’s going to take a little getting used to the fact that she’s now a few states away.
But in many ways, a few states is not all that far. I can say that because now, just like that, we’re here. And it’s as good as I thought it’d be. We took two days to drive from the Bay Area to Seattle, stopping in Eugene for the night to stay with Eli and Amanda and their sweet dog, Siri. Eli made a spicy chili and we sat by the fire chatting after dinner. We got up early the next morning and had a proper diner breakfast before hitting the road accompanied by Bruce Springsteen, corn nuts, weak coffee, a little Wilco, and some local radio. When we pulled into Seattle, it was the clearest, bluest day I’ve seen in a long time. It felt like the brink of summer (or at the very least, spring) — warm enough to unpack the truck in t-shirts and crave a cold beer afterwards. My friend Tara stopped by and said it must be a sign that Seattle is truly welcoming me. I like to think that may be the case.
There’s so much more to tell you and show you although, amidst all of the unpacking and settling in, I haven’t gotten around to all that much baking. Until today. See, Sam surprised me Sunday and told me that we had plans at 1 p.m. and I should wear a dress, but he wouldn’t say anything more. When we walked out to the car, there was a card on the driver’s seat and, in it, tickets to the ballet. After Don Quixote, Sam took me to Colombia City Bakery, a sweet neighborhood bakery I’d been wanting to visit for quite some time. We stepped in the door at 4:58 p.m. and they closed at 5. Quick! What to order? We did some haphazard pointing: one brownie, one blondie, a baguette, a gougère (we were hungry), hmm … maybe a tahini cookie! The gougère and the blondie hit the spot, we ate the baguette that night with tomato soup, we gave the brownie to a few friends we picked up from the airport later that evening, and ate the tahini cookie as we strolled down the block back to the car. This cookie was at once completely familiar and like no other I’d tried before.
It resembled one of my most favorite cookies, the Mexican wedding cookie, in shape and stature but it had an amped up warmth from the sesame seeds and tahini. I did some research when we got home and adapted a recipe I found online that I thought might be quite similar — and they were. I added honey for a tinge of extra sweetness and sesame seeds to the actual dough and, let me tell you, we’re in business. Sam says I need to mention that, on the day they’re baked, they really are like a crumbly halvah cookie. So if you’re a halvah fan or know someone who is, these have your name all over them. Even if you’ve never heard of halvah, these cookies are good for afternoons when you need some energy to lug furniture around the house or puzzle over paint colors. Or really anytime at all.
For these cookies, I used white granulated sugar for the dough itself but to sprinkle on top, I used a coarser, raw sugar. If you have sanding sugar at home, that’d be lovely too as it will keep its shape in the oven. And next time I make these, I’m going to experiment with using white whole-wheat flour. I think they’re sturdy enough in nature to accommodate whole-grain flours without even the slightest shrug.
Adapted from: Epicurious
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
Beat together butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in tahini, honey, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 2 batches, mixing until a crumbly dough forms. Transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir together sesame seeds and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll balls 1 at a time in seeds to coat and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are starting to crack, 12 to 15 minutes total. Cool on sheets 10 minutes (cookies will be very fragile when hot), then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
*Hulled sesame seeds are preferable for baking but they’re usually not labeled as such. Look for seeds that are pale ivory in color; they’re more delicate than the mottled beige ones, which still have their outer coating.
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.