I’ve been in the slow process of cleaning out my home office this week, and yesterday I stumbled upon some notebooks containing previous year’s Summer Bucket Lists (if you may recall, I used to write sort of elaborate lists of things I wanted to learn, see or accomplish during the summer season). Scrawled throughout these pages were lines about baking sourdough bread, starting a garden for cut flowers or taking a road trip and discovering new towns in the region (or beyond). This year I don’t have such a list. The days feel more like a race to get our work done, figure out how to feed ourselves, take care of the plants in the backyard, be a good friend, be a good sister, be a good mom and a good partner. Walk to the park. Point out airplanes, trucks, buses, vans, birds and flowers with Oliver. Drink a cocktail and watch The Handmaid’s Tale with Sam at night. Buy wedding presents and shower presents. Show up.
These simple things seem to take up all of the time that perhaps I once used to spend baking more bread or taking more road trips. I remember the one summer a few years ago when I made loads of peach jam, ate it with homemade yogurt, sewed a gigantic quilt, and wrote a book proposal in my free time. That, my friends, is not this year. Instead, this summer I’m hoping to simply cook more and get outside more. Oliver has some new sandals he’s jazzed about and we bought him a sun hat with realllllllly full coverage that he tries to rip off, as if he knows it’s slightly humiliating to show up at the neighborhood park donning such a wardrobe atrocity. I got him a little mini rake to accompany his sand pail and shovel, and have big plans to head to the beach to shovel, rake and cap things off with a vanilla soft serve cone.
The one trick I always have for guaranteeing I’m cooking more is to think a lot about Future Megan — in other words, my Tonight Self or Tomorrow Self. We try to make a pot of grains on the weekend and have some fresh herbs and lemon around, and thanks to summer produce (tomatoes! corn! tomatoes again!), the rest often kind of comes together naturally, however haphazardly, which was the case with this summery salad.
In one of the classes I teach at The Pantry here in Seattle, we make a similar whole grain bowl with millet, but I received some beautiful farro and french lentils from a whole grain company in Canada that I love, Grain, and was excited to put both to work this week. The lentils are a nice touch because they make this much more of a complete meal, so we can spend a little less time thinking through the components of dinner and a little more time shoveling and raking, and stopping to wave at passing trucks.
This salad is a particular favorite when all of the ingredients are at their peak of freshness (now!), and are given space to just do their thing. A tough recipe to mess up, the one piece of advice I do have here is to try your best to be attentive while cooking the lentils so as not to overcook them — I taste them every 5-8 minutes or so to make sure they’re still nice and toothsome. As for making this salad even simpler, you can certainly use frozen corn although I will say it’s so, so good with fresh, sweet summer corn. I generally always double the dressing recipe, too, and save half for a future green salad, soba noodles or a whole grain bowl later in the week.
For the Salad:
For the Dressing:
Cook the farro: In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the farro, 2 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Simmer until farro is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. If there is excess liquid after the farro is done cooking, simply strain it away. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
Meanwhile, rinse the lentils. In a separate small saucepan, add the lentils and 1 cup water. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to low (should be a gentle simmer) and cook lentils until just tender, about 25 minutes. Strain, rinse with cold water and set aside to cool.
Cook the corn: In a large nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil and add the shallot. Cook over medium heat until just soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the corn and generous pinch of salt and increase heat to medium-high. Cook corn until it’s just beginning to brown on the edges and soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. In a large salad bowl, toss together the cooked farro, lentils, corn mixture, tomatoes, feta and herbs. Fold in the dressing. Serve immediately.
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.