We are in the thick of June now, aren’t we? Seems so sudden but the neighbor kid across the street bounces his basketball at all hours of the day instead of just after school, and we’ve had a few real sundress afternoons in Seattle. I remember when summer used to be this broad expanse of what seemed like endless time. There were trips to the local library with my mom, outdoor sprinklers, mid-day naps and sleepovers that included spoonfuls of raw cookie dough with my best friend, Kristin. It obviously looks different now. There is a noticeable lack of mid-day naps and raw cookie dough, that’s for sure. There are deadlines and work obligations, but at least they’re often punctuated with sunny mornings, outdoor cocktails at our funky little picnic table, occasional gardening and quick camping trips.
While the days are longer, for some reason they tend to fill up just as quickly so lunch often ends up a haphazard meal — usually a combination of leftover grains, some vegetables from the crisper and a fried egg. Alternatively, a substantial salad or Sam’s coleslaw is a good fill in. But this year, I’ve gotten really into cold soba noodle salads. The noodles cook in a mere 4 minutes and they’re just as good cold as they are warm. If you’re new to soba noodles, they’re made of buckwheat so they’re naturally gluten-free (just be sure to buy the buckwheat variety if gluten is a concern as they do make wheat-based soba noodles now, too). They feel much lighter than traditional pasta noodles, making them a natural choice for the warmer summer months.
Along with seasonal lunch slumps comes the inevitable summer hustle of weddings, graduations, social obligations … you know. In the midst of all that, it’s often easy to retreat into quicker, easier ways of coordinating our days. Last week I read a great article in The New York Times by Jonathan Safran Foer called How Not to Be Alone (thanks to Olaiya for passing it on). In it, Safran Foer discusses how so many of us have begun to prefer substitutes for actually connecting with family, friends and neighbors instead of the real thing. I’m just as guilty: I’ll often prefer text messages over phone calls to quickly arrange meetings with friends. Sam chides me at the farmers market because there are some people who just like to stand at the booth and chat — obviously not intending to buy a bag of granola and, truthfully, blocking the table for others who may wish to. He always assures me they could be customers someday once I make a genuine connection with them. Or maybe they’re just having a rough day and need to chat. In Sam’s camp, Safran Foer mentions that “everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy.”
The final paragraph of his essay really caught my breath. I read it a few times. Then I thought about it for two days straight: “We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.” It’s easy to forget all of that. It’s easy to look past the people standing at your farmers market booth who want to say hello — just because. It’s easy to text your friends with business questions instead of calling or curse your landlord for not having email, thereby forcing you to actually pick up the phone.
I can’t say that I’ve mastered any of it. I still like emails and text messages to coordinate with friends and family; it gives me time to measure my response and check the calendar. But this article made me pause as I think about my last post and how much better I feel having more people in my day-to-day life now. I guess I was saying the same thing as Safran Foer — just not as eloquently. Connecting with each other is all we have. Today it’s easier to skirt around it than to actually dive in. But maybe, just for the summer, we can all practice the fine art of the dive. I’m going to try.
After I put the photos of this recipe up on the site, I realized it looks quite similar to this pasta salad with avocado dressing that I made weeks ago. I must be in a the mood for seedy pasta dishes with flavor-forward sauces — because here we are again. But this one is quite different, I assure you. Since seeing the parsley pesto recipe in Bon Appetit, I’ve had parsley on my mind. My version has a bit of added garlic and lemon zest for brightness. It’s super green — which I love — and is a great way to use up leftover parsley.
Beyond the noodles, this salad has all of the textures a good noodle salad should have: crisp radishes and English cucumbers paired with mild sheep’s milk cheese and toasty seeds — a most satisfying summer lunch on its own or a great accompaniment to a larger dinner spread. In truth, you can add any vegetables (or cubed tofu) you’d like here: blanched asparagus, summer carrots or English peas would be colorful and delicious. Or chop up a mess of summer greens like kale or arugula and fold those in at the end. If you try a variation, I’d love to hear about it!
I like this salad cold but you could certainly rinse the soba noodles under hot water instead of cold water, toss it all together and serve hot. A quick logistics note: there are pepitas in both the salad and the pesto, so plan to purchase and use 1 1/2 cups total. Next time I make this, I’m going to top each serving with a bit of lemon zest, and maybe even fold chopped parsley into the salad itself. Red chile flakes would be nice, too.
For Parsley Pesto (Makes about 1 1/4 cups pesto)
Cook the soba noodles in a medium pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes. Drain then rinse thoroughly under cold water. Drain again and pat dry.
Toast the seeds: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lay all of the pepitas (1 1/2 cups) in an even layer on one side of a rimmed baking sheet and sesame seeds on the other side. Toast for about 5 minutes, or until slightly fragrant — the sesame seeds should become more golden than white. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Make the pesto: Pulse 3/4 cup toasted and cooled pepitas in a food processor until smooth. Add parsley, garlic, chives, oil and Parmesan and process until smooth. Fold in lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.
Assemble: In a large bowl, toss together the soba noodles with the radishes, green onion, cucumber, toasted seeds (I reserve about a tablespoon of each to sprinkle on top) and ¾ cup – 1 cup parsley pesto. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the ricotta salata at the end. Divide into serving bowls and sprinkle with some the reserved toasted seeds. Leftovers will keep for 2-3 days if covered and refrigerated.
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.