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.
There are a million (a gillion?) green bean recipes out there and you’ve likely got your holiday favorite. I used to be a green bean casserole gal, and then I fled from the cream and hydrogenated little cans of crispy onions. But these green beans are special. They’re slow-roasted for about an hour at a pretty high temperature so a lot of the moisture is sucked out and they’re no longer snappy and crisp. Instead, they have a slightly chewy, tender sweetness, softening along with the garlic, scallions and seasoning. Really, they’re a top contender.
Every year for Thanksgiving there seems to be this need to reinvent the wheel, to choose recipes that are somehow different and truly inspired. You see it in the food magazines, you hear chatter over it at the post office or coffee shop. It all starts to feel really tiring. I love my mom’s cranberry relish and three-onion casserole. She’s made them every year since I can remember. Turkey, classic mashed potatoes, a big green salad of some sort, and a few special pies. While the line-up changes a bit each year, these are the standards. So suffice it to say, I really wasn’t on the hunt for these green beans, but they happened to find me this week. And I think we may just invite them into the mix this year.
If you read Bon Appetit, maybe you stumbled across Michael Chabon’s beautiful piece on Thanksgiving this month. He writes about the year his family spent the holiday at Manka’s Lodge in West Marin, a pretty magical place I’ve had the great fortune of visiting before it burned to the ground a few years ago. I related to Chabon’s descriptions of the place itself, but the essay really struck me because it’s a beautiful piece of writing. I don’t often get the time to read things these days for the pure joy and admiration of the craft and construction of the words themselves. That’s the case here. In very general terms, Chabon describes the place and the meal and his thoughts on Thanksgiving. He and his family like to change it up each year, not getting too tied down to any one location, habit or tradition. Of that practice, he says:
Nothing lasts; everything changes. People die, and marriages dissolve, and friendships fade, and families fall apart, whether or not we appreciate them; whether or not we give thanks every waking moment or one night a year. For the act of returning to the same table, to the same people and the same dishes–to the same traditions–can blind you to life’s transience. It can lull you into believing that some things, at least, stay the same. And if that’s what you believe, then what have you got to be grateful for? None of our Thanksgivings are ever coming back; we’ve lost them. They’re gone. And so this year, let’s go somewhere with strange customs and unfamiliar recipes and the latest collection of ill-assorted chairs, and give thanks–not for everything we have, but for everything, instead, that we have lost.
When I showed the piece to Sam and told him how much I enjoyed it, he agreed that it was wonderful but was ultimately confused why I was recommending it: Really? But it’s everything your family is against. You love tradition. This is true. We’re not big fans of changing up the routine in the Gordon household. I look forward to coming home to California and seeing the inevitable fall wreath on the door; my mom’s l-o-n-g grocery list on a big sheet of yellow legal paper taped to one of the kitchen cupboards; the annual call to my aunt Cathy to chat turkey times even though she and my mom have been doing the turkey for a million (a gillion?) years and know full-well how long it takes; the cocktails; the long evening walk. It wouldn’t feel right without all of that. I wouldn’t want to give that up just for the sake of not getting mired down in doing the same thing year after year after year. There’s a very real comfort in the repetition of those things — it’s what makes it feel like not just any other day, right?
So why was I so drawn to the piece? I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a few days. Sure the writing is beautiful and it’s about a landscape I know and love. But there was something else. The only answer I could muster was that maybe it’s because I read it more like an exotic postcard, like a hello from a family who does things differently than we do. In that sense, I had to read it a few times, thinking through what it would be like if we traveled from house to house, some years eating take-out, other years making lasagna. Just for the heck of it. Just so we didn’t get stuck in any one way. It felt like a peek into somewhere new, a no-less passionate take on Thanksgiving, but a Thanksgiving that couldn’t be more remote from where we pull up a seat each year.
Adapted from: Bon Appetit
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl and season with pepper. Toss everything until well combined and turn out onto a large rimmed baking sheet.
Roast the beans, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking, until wilted, shrunken and browned around the edges, about 45 minutes – 55 minutes*. Towards the end of the cooking time, you may need to stir a bit more frequently to avoid sticking.
*Bon Appetit recommends roasting these beans for 1 hour, but they’re also working with 2 1/2 pounds of beans whereas I used 1 1/2 pounds to account for the fact it is just the two of us here. I did roast mine for almost an hour but I’ve been hearing from a few folks that they’re finding them rather crisp so use your intuition and check them after 45 and then every 5 minutes thereafter until they’re about where you’d like them. I like them crisp, but maybe not everyone does… Happy Thanksgiving!
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.