I don’t remember the first time I met Ashley Rodriquez, which in my experience is often the case with friendships that begin online and soon blossom to actual friendship. When I lived in San Francisco, I started reading Ashley’s beautiful blog Not Without Salt and when I moved to Seattle a few years ago, we had the opportunity to actually grab coffee and share meals in person. She’s someone I feel I’ve known for a long time, and I’ve been so looking forward to her first cookbook, Date Night In. I tested a few of the recipes for the book, and knew it was going to be filled with dozens more that I was excited to make. What I didn’t expect was the rich narrative, detailing the challenges and joys of marriage and how Ashley and Gabe navigate having three young kids, vibrant careers and a romantic home life together (and if you know them personally, they do it with admirable style).
On my first read of the book, I noted recipes I wanted to come back to and others I wanted to try right away, and then I got sucked into the storytelling. The basic premise is that, with three young kids at home, it became unrealistic to go out on dates with any sort of frequency and Ashley and Gabe were finding the time they spent at home together to sort of pass by, in a blur of nighttime computer use or resting after a long day. So they set aside a weekly date night in which, after the kids are put down to bed, Gabe makes a cocktail and Ashley cooks a meal (they’ve concluded that Ashley is a better cook, and are both happier when she’s the one at the helm).
While my home life with Sam looks much different as we don’t have young kids, I think the wonderful thing about this book is that it reinforces how important it is to set aside a deliberate chunk of time to spend together. Something to ground you as a couple. We discussed this right after we returned from our honeymoon: after a whirlwind many months of nighttime wedding planning and then a trip to Italy and Morocco that was packed with new sights and places and food — we came home and found ourselves spending evenings on our couch, eating something easy and quick we’d thrown together and often watching a movie or a show. One night we both looked at each other with an “Is this it?” look. It was almost as if, after all of those months of intense excitement and newness, we’d forgotten how to just be at home together on a normal old Wednesday night with leftover chicken and kale salad.
I mention this because I’m inspired by Ashley and Gabe’s deliberate move to figure out a way to focus on their relationship despite all of the little things that so often get in the way, and I think we can all aspire to this — whether it looks like actual Date Night dinners or simply scheduled walks around the neighborhood to get a coffee. I started to think about other ways this could take shape this morning as I chopped and sliced and whisked, and I think the key is being generous and easy with ourselves while still holding expectations for ourselves and our partner. In truth, most nights around here are going to look like simple dinners spent together catching up on our workday. Sam always makes me a cocktail, and I have a New Year’s resolution to read more so I’ve been trying to get in a little bit of that, too. Winters in Seattle are quite dark, so when I start to feel a bit down about the shortness of the days, I look ahead to July and August and September when we’re eating outside and lingering until 10 p.m. with fresh corn and tomatoes and homemade ice cream. There’s no fixed way to be together, and I guess if there were things would start to feel pretty dull. I’ll take the nights of leftover chicken balanced nicely with more planned, special evenings in, too. The best we can all do is strive for a good balance. I think Ashley would agree.
This is the perfect winter salad — bright and fresh with sweet bites of pomegranate contrasted with slightly salty bits of cheese and tart apple. If you’ve never purchased or used celeriac before, it’s not the prettiest root vegetable, but it’s relatively easy to peel and slice right away. And if you want to save yourself a bit of time, a mandolin is really helpful in making the matchbox slices for this salad. Ashley’s recipe did not call for hazelnuts, but I thought they’d add a nice crunch; feel free to use another nut or seed if you’d prefer.
Ever so slightly adapted from: Date Night In
In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Add the celeriac, apple, fennel, leek and Cheddar. Toss well to combine. Transfer to a serving dish and finish with pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts flake salt, and freshly ground black pepper. The salad can be made 4 to 6 hours ahead and store, covered in the refrigerator.
Note: For help or instructions on roasting nuts, I like this tutorial.
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.