I’m leaving town on a red eye tonight to go to my little sister’s bridal shower outside of Boston. I’ve got my scarf-that-doubles-as-a-blanket all packed and am debating buying one of those neck pillows at the airport. My mom booked a fancy hotel downtown, I bought a new tank top with a tropical palm tree situation gracing the front, and I plan to sleep past 7 am at least once. Hopefully twice. Usually before I leave town, I jot down ideas for Oliver’s meals and lay things out for Sam. From what I’ve gathered from other parents and friends, it seems we all fall into funny, unspoken roles and while Sam almost always bathes Oliver, I plan and prep his meals. Sure, I’m quite capable of giving him a bath and Sam is quite capable of roasting his sweet potatoes, but this is just how things have landed for us. But tonight I’m walking out the door without jotting anything down. While I did stock up on berries and string cheese, I’m not leaving any notes and for the first time, not feeling terribly worried about how much Oliver eats, when he eats, even frankly if he eats. They’re going to be just fine.
I wish I could say this swing in sentiment was just a natural progression, but we had a funny meeting last week that changed things for me. Oliver has been seeing a language therapist for about a month now. I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary, but his doctor was concerned about a delay and it’s certainly true that the few “mamas” we used to get every now and again have disappeared altogether, so every Friday Ashley comes over and hangs out with us, playing blocks, observing and guiding. Last week she came for lunchtime after I’d mentioned that I was concerned we weren’t doing a great job with the food thing, that Oliver only stayed seated for about 1/3 of his meal and became incredibly fussy — that whole hot dog on the floor bit. She asked how he was for smaller snacks and I said he really didn’t snack and never motioned or communicated to me that he was hungry. Something was wrong.
So Ashely visited while Sam diced Oliver’s half avocado and I got his chicken sausage and pasta together — I did notice her eyes kind of widen as we laid out Oliver’s food but I thought nothing of it at the time. Sure enough, at about 1/3 of the way through his meal, O started fussing and waving his hands back and forth indicating he was done. “See,” I said! “This is what happens every time! He just shows little interest in meal times and doesn’t seem all that excited about anything we set in front of him”. She looked at me from across the table and said kindly, “Megan, he’s stuffed.”
It seems we’ve been over feeding out little Tank. Apparently an entire chicken sausage, a half an avocado and pasta is a pretty big lunch for a toddler. I think it was the half avocado that really did Ashley in. That and the fact that I’d typically follow Oliver around the house after dinner kind of popping tortellini in his mouth if he didn’t finish his whole bowl, like a good neurotic Italian grandmother (I’m neither of those things). I’m not sure why I didn’t realize it before, but an immediate wave of relief flooded over me: The problem is us, not Oliver. Poor kid has been trying to tell us for months: Enough already!
Since Ashley’s visit, mealtimes are much less stressful for me. They’re not as loaded — I don’t glance at Oliver’s plate the entire time wondering if he’ll finish or question why he’s pausing for so long. Somedays he surprises me with the amount of something he’ll be into and other days he takes one bite and isn’t interested at all. The result: I have peas and leftover pancake pieces for lunch more often than I care to admit. Other days, we eat like kings at breakfast during that short blip of summer when rhubarb and raspberries are in season at the same time (run, now!). Oliver and I have been having a little spoonful of this quick and easy compote on our yogurt or oatmeal lately. It’d be great on waffles or pancakes, too. And Sam and I can vouch that it’s mighty fine on ice cream, eaten outside on your summery deck right after hanging sparkly string lights as your not-so-little Tank sleeps soundly in the room above.
This simple summer compote is a great way to dress up plain yogurt, or spoon it atop oatmeal, waffles, or ice cream. I used a little less sugar than the recipe called for, so feel free to add an additional few spoonfuls if you like yours on the sweeter side.
Slightly adapted from: Vegetable Literacy
Trim the rhubarb stalks, then cut them crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar, orange juice, and berries and place over medium heat.
Stir frequently while the rhubarb is warming up and the sugar is starting to dissolve, until juices appear, then cover the pan and cook until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Give the contents of the pan a good stir. Slide the fruit into a dish and chill well before serving.
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.