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!
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.