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!
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.