I’ve been dreading writing my vows for months now — much in the same way I dreaded writing term papers or tackling really big, looming projects. To cope with the fact that I wasn’t yet actually writing anything down on paper, I bought different journals, thinking the problem was that I didn’t have the right note-taking vehicle. I bought a little black Moleskine. Still wasn’t feeling inspired. I picked up an Indian-print handmade paper journal at the student bookstore in the University District. It collected dust. I pulled out an old notebook covered in a print of Babar the Elephant doing yoga — surely this would be the ticket. Sadly, not so much. I finally pinpointed what my problem was: I had no idea what writing vows even looks like. I knew it was important to both of us that we do so, but most of the weddings I’ve been to have been pretty standard and I hadn’t seen many examples of couples writing their own. Enter Google. YouTube. Enter deciding to give up for weeks on end. And then one night, I poured myself a cocktail and decided to make a batch of cookies. Sam was out with a friend and as I sat waiting for the cookies to bake, I started to miss him and think about all of the reasons I love his company. The vows wrote themselves that night. No Babar journal, no YouTube inspiration — just the smell of warm walnut-flecked cookies and thoughts of why I looked forward to seeing Sam walk though the door.
As with many creative projects, I suppose, writing vows became much easier the less I focused on how they’re supposed to be done. That wasn’t doing anyone any favors. Because let me tell you, if you start googling advice on writing your own vows? You get some very bland, heavy-on-cliche… very, very bad vows. I won’t say much more about what I came up with here; we decided not to show them to one another so they’d be a surprise on our wedding day. I made Sam stick to a word count limit because I worried he’d veer into Moby Dick territory (if you know Sam, you know this is a valid concern). When I read them out loud to myself to make sure there weren’t any clunky parts, I realized I can’t at all imagine keeping a calm, steady composure in front of close friends and family. So I suppose I’m going to have to really work on that. Or maybe not. Maybe the less overworked these things are concerning how they should or will be, the better.
So instead, let’s talk about these cookies. How they beckoned me into late night baking. How I had all of the ingredients on hand at home. How we ate them for breakfast, and how Sam loved them so much, he sent many a cookie emoji requesting more. The cookie recipe is from my friend Nicole’s new book, Flourless. Nicole and I lived in San Francisco at the same time, way back when; I think we first met at a literary reading in the Mission in a very crowded, very hot cheese shop where we both read pieces of our work and tried not to sweat or stumble too much. I feel like we succeeded. The last time I saw Nicole before she moved to Morocco, we had toast at The Mill in San Francisco with our mutual friend Anne and talked all about our books (little did I know both Anne and Nicole were pregnant at the time!) and the joys and difficulties of being a first-time cookbook author. So when I received this gem in the mail a few weeks ago, I was particularly excited: here it was in the flesh! And so, so good.
The thing I love about Flourless is that the recipes are all gluten-free but don’t rely on gums or binders, instead using nut meals / nut flours and fluffy egg whites. In the Introduction, Nicole notes that this is a book full of recipes “that do not call for hard-to-find ingredients and that also happen to be gluten-free — the naturally flourless concept made real.” Nicole’s style reminds me of my own (which is probably why I’m so fond of the book): she doesn’t shy away from dark, dark chocolate and gravitates towards fruit-heavy breakfast sweets and desserts. The book doesn’t feel like many gluten-free baking books I’ve come across in the sense that the focus isn’t at all on what’s not there (wheat flour) and how to compensate for that lack; instead, the focus is on big, bold flavor and decadent desserts that you could make on a late Tuesday night … or take a bit more time with for a special occasion.
I was particularly drawn to this cookie recipe because it has no added sugar; it’s sweetened solely with banana. And I love the generous addition of oats and ground almonds along with the toasted coconut. As I suspected, you could really rename these Banana-Coconut Breakfast Cookies, and we basically did. They’re so wonderful in the morning with a cup of coffee, and I didn’t think twice about doing so thanks to the good, wholesome ingredients and lack of sugar. I’d like to credit them for helping me write my vows — and they very well might have. But perhaps the act of mindlessly working through a physical task instead of sitting and staring at a blank journal was just what I needed. That and a night without Sam to recognize all of the things I appreciate when he walks back through the door.
A note on nut flours / nut meal: Nut meal is becoming more and more common in the store. Bob’s Red Mill makes a line of Almond and Hazelnut Meal and Trader Joe’s just came out with a great cashew meal. You can certainly make your own by grinding down nuts in a coffee grinder or food processor — just do so slowly so as to avoid over-processing and making a paste instead.
In a way, these are great ‘clean out the pantry’ cookies as you can sprinkle in any leftover nuts and seeds you have lying around. While Nicole doesn’t call for sunflower seeds, I decided to add them at the last minute and love the extra bit of crunch. Because these aren’t at all too sweet, the extra bit of flaky salt on top really amps up and rounds out the flavor.
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together the banana and coconut oil. In another bowl, whisk together the oats, ground almonds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Stir in the walnuts, coconut and sunflower seeds.
Drop by the heaping tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheets. With the palm of your hand, gently press down the tops of each cookie to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake until the cookies are very lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
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.