When I lived in California, I’d often meet up with my friend Susan and hike the hills of Marin. Situated just North of San Francisco, Marin has some of the most beautiful trails — in the spring, there’d be boisterous waterfalls and in the fall there were dry and humble hills. I owned a tattered hiking book that covered the region and over the phone the night before we’d meet, Susan and I would eagerly decide on a trail to tackle. The funny thing about the book? It wasn’t at all accurate. It wasn’t fact-checked. We got lost each and every time we used it. And for some reason, we kept coming back for more. I’m not really sure why, especially considering I’m not someone who favors getting lost off the beaten path just for the heck of it. Repeatedly. But I do know that, because of the poor directions, an adventure always seemed to sneak into our afternoon hikes. The book got us to the trailhead and then about halfway through, we realized we were very much on our own.
I thought of my hikes with Susan last week while in San Francisco for the IACP conference — a few very busy days filled with food and travel writers, photographers, editors, agents, and PR folks. Being back in the city was wonderful; I met up with many old friends, ate guacamole and vegan tortillas at Gracias Madre in the Mission, met my wonderful editor for the first time, had my fill of Blue Bottle Coffee, finally made it to Craftsman and Wolves, and enjoyed a thick and most glorious piece of toast with strawberry jam at The Mill. At the conference itself, I found myself feeling the same way I’d felt on the trails with Susan: I’d approached the sessions and talks with immense enthusiasm and gusto only to be left halfway through scratching my head wondering where I’d landed. This time there wasn’t an actual trail, but a large room full of people discussing book tours and the like, throwing out tips about corporate sponsorship, twitter meet-ups and “tastemaker” (?!) dinners.
A natural human inclination in scenarios like this, I think, is just to excuse it all as silly. It’s not me. That’s fine for them, but I need to be true to who I really am. And I feel that way. I really do. But at the end of the day we all need to make a living too, and those folks discussing corporate sponsorships and tastemaker dinners have that part much more figured out than I do. So what’s the best way to approach our work then? We can be quietly true to who we think we are and to the craft of writing and making food that we genuinely love, or we can become our own lobbyist and PR firm, figuring out ways to make more of a business out of it all? Perhaps the two aren’t even mutually exclusive in the first place — I don’t know. With a book coming out this year, it all makes me a little nervous to think about. There is some truth to the fact that eventually, to continue to succeed in this wacky digital world we all live in, I’m going to have to get more comfortable with some elements of this business that don’t necessarily feed my soul. This involves a lot of unknowns and a lot of that mid-trail feeling of panic.
There are, however, a few things I do know for sure: I know that I love talking to you all about the kind of food I make at home and the way we eat around here. I’m passionate about whole-grains and about baking with whole-grain flours. I know that I love teaching cooking classes, doing farmers markets for Marge and meeting new people in the community. So this will likely be the way I find my way to the end of the trail. Someone else’s path will likely look a lot different. But that’s the only way any of us are going to get there — focusing on what we love and what we’re inherently good at. All the while, crossing our fingers and holding our breath just a little.
This spring sauce is an appropriate recipe to share with you today because I’m giving you an accessible formula for which to approach it (this is your guidebook!) and then it’s up to you to decide how to use it. The roasted scallions join with the toasty walnuts and the bright lemon for a spring spread that gets a lot of play in our kitchen. With savory recipes, I love a dollop of the pesto-like spread, and keep a little jar in the refrigerator regardless of the season. It does wonders to wake up warm leftover grains, soft-scrambled eggs, or simple buckwheat crepes. It’s nice slathered on english muffins or as a spread for crackers or flat bread. I think you’re going to like it.
Feel free to experiment with adding fresh herbs if you have them around. I’ve made this with a heaping tablespoon of fresh dill and it was wonderful. A handful of fresh cilantro is nice, too. I generally end up adding about 1/4 cup of water to thin the sauce to where I like it, so feel free to use more or less depending on how thick you’d like yours. You can also always thin it out as you use it each time.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and toast the walnuts until fragrant, about 7-9 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.
Increase the temperature to 400 F and roast the scallions with 1 tablespoon olive oil (or enough to lightly coat each) until wilted and slightly charred on the tops, about 12-14 minutes. Allow to cool and slice off and discard the white, nubby bottoms.
Place cooled walnuts in the food processor and grind until fine. Add the scallions, parsley, salt, lemon juice, vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil. Process until smooth. The sauce should be the consistency of a thick pesto. If it’s too thick, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to get a spoon-able consistency that you’re happy with.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.
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.