Sam calls Delancey, the pizza restaurant owned by friends Molly Wizenberg and Brandon Pettit, his Cheers. He spoke so highly of it when we started dating, but because I lived in San Francisco at the time I couldn’t quite envision what a special place it was — I hadn’t yet been. After a few trips to Seattle, more than a few slices of pizza, one long, very blustery boat ride out to Coupeville with Molly and Brandon that included Molly’s banana bread and mussels at Toby’s, I started to understand. When I finally moved to Seattle to join Sam, Delancey welcomed me into the kitchen on their days off so that I could bake Marge Granola. The very loose agreement was that I’d stay a few months until I got my feet on the ground and found a production kitchen of my own. I think I was there a good year. And today when Sam and I are too tired to cook, we’ll head over to Delancey to say Hi to Brandon or Joe, give Katie or Kim or Noelle a squeeze, learn one of Mariko’s new signature handshakes, and share a pie. This Winter, Sam’s nephew Kevin moved to Seattle from New Jersey and now he’s there too, working at the bar next door, Essex. Niah, the head bartender, makes my favorite cocktails in the city, and we’ll almost invariably run into neighborhood friends like Ashley and Gabe, Kip and Sasha, or Amy and Michele. So now I get it — it is more than a restaurant. It’s where everybody knows our names.
To back up a moment or two, Delancey is really what brought Sam and I together. I had read Molly’s blog for about a year before starting Marge in the Bay Area and I’d saved enough to think about hiring a web designer for the business. At the time, I found myself caught down an internet rabbit hole one night searching for designers and came across the site credits for the Delancey website. I’d noticed that a guy in Seattle by the name of Sam did the website and… it turned out I really liked his work. I reached out to him and he wrote back with a very formal email (if you’ve ever written Sam, he comes off more like an articulate 80-year old than an articulate 35-year old). Many of you know the story that follows –how we eventually fell in love– but I sometimes pause and think about how it likely wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Delancey … and for Molly. I’m so grateful that I stumbled upon this place that Molly and Brandon have created. And so grateful that it ultimately led me to Sam.
If you haven’t yet been to Delancey and had the pleasure of eating a slice of Brandon’s pizza or snuck one of those delicious sea salt chocolate chip cookies home, Molly’s beautiful new book might bring more than a little of that experience to you. I received the review copy for Delancey probably about a month ago, dove in and finished in a few days’ time. I had a lot going on and remember feeling really guilty for just laying on the end of my bed and reading … but I found myself enveloped in the backstory behind the faces and place I’d come to know so well at the restaurant. But it’s not just the story of building and running a restaurant, it’s also the story of how Molly found her way within it all (ultimately realizing that a line cook wasn’t her destiny), and about how she and Brandon found a balance in their own marriage and time at home. I think a lot of people who haven’t worked in the food business tend to romanticize what it really looks like: you see bakers on their morning shift or waitstaff in linen aprons and think it all looks so lovely (!) when in reality it’s cleaning out a hood at 12:30 in the morning, a chef quitting on you a week before you open, or navigating spreadsheets and payroll and staffing and ordering. Thanks to Molly’s book, you will be drawn into this world, and you’ll be sad that it ends. If you’re lucky and live in Seattle you can just come in for a drink tonight at 5 once you get to the final page. If you live far away, you’ll have to put it on your list for your next visit.
If you’re expecting to find pizza recipes and all of the characteristic specials that comprise the Delancey menu in Molly’s book, you may be disappointed, I suppose. The book is largely narrative with a good number of recipes scattered throughout — recipes that Molly notes are ones they served early on when she cooked there, foods they wished they had more time to make, recipes that friends made for them when there just wasn’t time to cook, and favorites from home. While I have more than a few bookmarked, the one that called to me first was Brandi’s Coconut Rice Pudding. Brandi was the head pastry chef at Delancey in the early days and has since gone on to open her own cooking school and community kitchen called The Pantry. I’ve volunteered and taken a number of classes there and can’t recommend it enough (Craft cocktails! Layer cakes! Cooking a whole salmon!)
I tweaked her recipe just a bit in using brown basmati rice instead of more traditional basmati rice — and in doing so, found that my cooking times differed from what Molly mentions in her recipe. My pudding took almost twice as long to cook, actually (depending on the type of rice you use, this could be a common occurrence). Molly also suggests setting 1 cup of the milk aside and adding it at the very end once the pudding is finished cooking and because I was in a hurry and was, apparently, really excited about this pudding I added it all at once so I will include my method below. I also splurged and used a whole vanilla bean instead of the 1/2 that Molly calls for. It all worked beautifully.
I’m not sure if we’re just hearty rice pudding eaters, but Molly’s recipe notes that it yields 8-12 servings and we definitely found it to be more like 6-8 servings, so I suppose just consider what kind of eaters you have at home. In the recipe, Molly mentions topping the pudding with roasted cherries if you’d like; I ended up roasting a quick batch of strawberries to spoon on top although I think I prefer it plain.
Slightly adapted from: Delancey
Put the rice in a medium bowl, add cold water to cover, and swish the rice around with your fingers to remove the excess starch. Drain and repeat.
In a heavy large (4-quart) saucepan, combine the 1 1/2 cups water, the washed rice, and the salt. Place over medium-high heat. When the water begins to simmer, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15-25 minutes — depending on your rice. If there’s a little excess water, simply drain away. Then stir in the coconut milk, milk, cream and sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the pod as well. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and the mixture thickens to a soft, creamy texture — a good 60 minutes.
Remove from the heat and discard vanilla pod. Transfer the pudding to a storage container. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Serve in small bowls, with roasted strawberries (or cherries) if you’d like.
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.