There are moments when I’m truly happy we don’t have cable. This week, a time that finds us amidst the Facebook fiasco, is one of them. Even without TV, I feel like I can’t escape news of the IPO, stock prices, shareholder reactions, and future projections. But in last Sunday’s paper I read something that caught my attention. Mark Zuckerberg’s now wife, Priscilla Chan, made a request of him before moving in together: 100 minutes of alone time each week. And a vacation each year. My first reaction was one of mild shock: only 100 minutes?! I turned to Sam and told him about these agreements that are becoming more and more popular amongst couples — the drive to tell each other what you need from the relationship. The New York Times compared it to kind of an emotional prenup. It all sounded a bit formal and calculated to me. Wasn’t this depressing, I asked Sam? He glanced at me with a look that said that it really wasn’t at all. In fact, at that very moment, we were having our version of 100 minutes.
When you move to a new city and move in with someone for the first time, routines are important. And establishing those routines takes a little while. I’m lucky to have fallen in love with a man that finds routine and ritual very, very important. I know not everyone is like this. So on Sundays for the past month now, we go to one of our favorite bakeries in Seattle and bring the paper. Sometimes we’ll go in the late morning, sometimes we don’t make it until an hour before they close. Sometimes we’re rushing to get the farmer’s market in as well or tearing ourselves away from the computer screen or the garden at a moment that seems completely non-conducive to quiet newspaper reading and croissant eating. Last Sunday was hectic with errands and new projects but Sam insisted we set aside just 45 minutes. It’s our thing.
We order coffees and a chocolate croissant to share (and often a few other sweets). One particular Sunday I may really dive into a meaty article while another morning will find me perusing the Style Section or reading Modern Love and people watching. There’s really no expectation or hope for the morning other than just showing up. Read a few paragraphs or a dozen pages — it doesn’t matter, but be there for that time with each other. It’s become how we do Sunday mornings.
The rest of the week? I’m guessing it probably looks a lot like your mornings. Kind of a harried dash to make coffee and get to work. I’m trying to get better about eating breakfast right away, but it’s usually a later mid-morning endeavor that consists lately of homemade yogurt, farmers market fruit, and toasted amaranth.
If you’re not familiar with amaranth, it’s much like quinoa, a seed that folks generally lump into the category of “whole grains.” It’s gluten-free and especially high in protein and calcium — if you stroll into any grocery store with a decent bulk section you’ll likely see it. As for how to use it, there are a few ways : first, soak it and cook it much like quinoa or millet to make a pilaf to serve with veggies and salads. It also makes a wonderful porridge when cooked with coconut milk. But my favorite way to cook amaranth is by toasting it in a hot skillet on the stovetop and sprinkling it over my yogurt or granola in the morning. The teeny tiny grains puff up much like mini popcorn. Try it. Then toss toasted amaranth on virtually anything: cereals, salads, soups, in smoothies. Maybe it’ll become your new thing — the way you do mornings. On days other than Sunday, I’m right there with you.
As for homemade yogurt, once you make it once, you’ll likely never buy it at the store again. It’s so simple, so much cheaper, and cuts down on all of those plastic containers. I recently bought a yogurt maker and am in love with it, but you can absolutely make yogurt without it, too. I’ll include instructions for both here. Just note that the yogurt will take anywhere from 9-14 hours so you don’t want to start yogurt on a day you actually want to enjoy it. Start it in the evening on a slow weekend and it’ll be all set mid-day on the next day. Sure, you have to think through the timing but that’s about the end of the thought involved.
O.k., I lied. You need to quickly consider your starter. Essentially yogurt is simply milk with added starter that’s kept in a warm place to culture. You can buy a powdered starter like this one online or at a well-stocked grocery store. Or just use store-bought yogurt as your starter. Both work just fine. Just make sure the yogurt you’re purchasing states that it has “live and active cultures” or lists them in the ingredient list. Now about that warm place? I’ve talked with many people who have had luck wrapping their jar of yogurt in a towel and placing it in a warm spot in the house. Our house is old and drafty, so I haven’t had luck with that; instead, I put mine in a little camping cooler alongside a couple jars of hot water. This creates a warm little nest that makes for happy, firm yogurt. The trick is to use as small of a cooler as possible — the larger the cooler, the harder it is to maintain a nice warm temperature.
For this recipe, feel free to use low-fat or fat-free milk if you’d prefer. I think whole milk yogurt just tastes better, so I call for it here. Soy milk generally doesn’t have active cultures, so it isn’t a good candidate. If you’re smart, you may decide to do a double batch of these roasted strawberries and use them later spooned over vanilla ice cream or ladled on top of a simple butter cake. Please note, I didn’t note prep times or cook time in this recipe as it will vary so much depending on how you decide to process your yogurt.
For the yogurt:
Read the back of your particular starter packet for quantity suggestions specific to that brand
For the roasted strawberries & amaranth:
1. Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and over low heat, bring the temperature up to 185 F. Don’t stir during this time.
2. Remove from heat and allow the temperature to drop to 115F. If you want to speed this process up, slightly submerge the saucepan in a sink filled with a few inches of cold water. If your soon-to-be yogurt develops a skin on top, skim it off with a spoon and discard.
3. Once the temperature reaches 115 F, add your starter (powdered starter or store-bought yogurt) and whisk quickly to combine.
4. Process your yogurt:
Yogurt Maker Method: Divvy the milk mixture into the small glass cups of your yogurt maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on processing. You can expect a general processing time of 7-9 hours here.After processing, refrigerate for 2 hours before enjoying.
The “Old Fashioned” Method: Gather 2-4 large glass mason jars (depending on the size of your cooler) with lids and fill two of them with very hot water. Screw on caps and place in cooler. These will help maintain a warm temperature in the cooler. In the remaining jar, pour in the milk mixture and screw on lid. Wrap the jar snugly in a towel, place in the small cooler, and close the lid. Taking care not to jostle the cooler, set in the warmest spot in the house. Check progress in 10 hours. On occasion, depending on temperature and starter, my yogurt has taken up to 14 hours using this method. Once firm, refrigerate for 2 hours before enjoying. Do note that the yogurt will firm up a little further in the refrigerator, so if it’s looser than you like it, don’t worry (and, see “Note on Yogurt Thickness” below).
Roast Strawberries & Toast Amaranth:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment & set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Cut strawberries in half lengthwise. If they’re very large berries, you can quarter them instead.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the honey, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Add the strawberries and toss until they are fully coated.
5. Turn the berries out onto lined baking sheet and roast until the fruit has softened and the juices are just beginning to thicken, about 40 minutes.
6. To toast amaranth: Place a small, dry saucepan over high heat (don’t use a low-sided skillet as the amaranth will jump as they puff). Get the pan very hot before adding the amaranth; shake the pan continuously until most of the seeds have puffed up. If some of the seeds start turning a darker color — that’s o.k. Some are stubborn and don’t necessarily want to pop, so if you have a good mix of puffed and little-bit-darker amaranth, you’re in business. If you have extra, store in a little air-tight jar and use throughout the week.
Note on Yogurt Thickness: If your yogurt is too lose or you prefer a Greek-style yogurt, simply drain you homemade yogurt. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a very fine weave dishcloth and place it above a large bowl. Strain the yogurt. Either discard the liquid (whey) that strains away — alternatively, many folks cook with it. Scoop the remaining thicker yogurt into a bowl; enjoy.
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.