I just finished washing out Oliver’s lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I’d have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now — these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam’s hard ciders. Except now the back door’s closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it’s the first day of fall.
I’m at the point in my pregnancy now where everyone wants to chat about it – strangers, grocery checkers, bank tellers, everyone. And while I know many friends who are annoyed by this, I like to try to give people grace: they’re all coming from a good place, either remembering their own small kids or grandkids or the kids they wish they could have had. People are just trying to connect. The one thing I’ve found interesting this time around is at any given moment, I’m not entirely sure how far along I am. With Oliver, I had that little app that tracked the changes in your body each week with fruit and veggie graphics: “this week your baby’s the size of a blueberry!” I’d eagerly await Tuesday morning when the app would update, and I’d have news to share with Sam and my lovely employees who at least pretended to care. This time around I just haven’t gotten around to re-downloading it, I guess (much to Sam’s disappointment) and weeks seem to go by without a deliberate effort to count or log them.
With Oliver, I kept a pregnancy journal of how I was feeling. I took belly photos each week, and was really diligent about prenatal fitness, eating enough salmon, reading all the books. This time, none of the above have been true and if I think too hard about it, it makes me a little sad. I bought a journal a few weeks back to try to encourage myself to just write down a few things, but once evening rolls around and I have those precious few minutes to rinse out O’s lunchbox and catch up with Sam, other things feel more immediately pressing.
It’s not for lack of excitement or enthusiasm, it’s just that there’s far less time to focus inwardly on myself and my feelings and experience during this pregnancy. There’s post-workday dinner to throw together, birthday parties to plan, new shoes to buy for Oliver’s school, breakfast with friends, oil changes, Halloween costumes – you get it. But there’s also the sweetness in between: Oliver putting his stuffed manta ray under his pajamas and telling me he’s growing his baby, too. Sometimes he even sleeps with her under his pj top and lately he’s started asking her if she’s hungry for some milk or a snack. Over breakfast last weekend, O told me he’s going to teach the new baby guitar. Sam’s gearing up to move out of his home office so we can turn it into a nursery. I’m going to paint the walls and hope to make new curtains.
I went to my first prenatal yoga class this past week; I recall it being a bit too slow for my taste during my first pregnancy but thought this time around it might be different. And while it was still too slow and still not to my taste, it turned out there was an unexpected bonus I hadn’t thought of: a full hour of quiet to connect with the new baby, not something I’ve really gotten a chance to do. So I may return. Not for the sloowwwwwwww stretching or pillow-laden poses, but for a chance to lay my hands on my belly, chant a few “om’s” and say hi to this new little person. I may not know the size in vegetable or fruit icons or the exact week, but as Oliver says, the baby is “growing” and we all couldn’t be more excited for that fact alone.
To make this a weeknight recipe, cook the quinoa and cauliflower the day before (or even a few days before) so then you’ll really just be cooking down the greens, assembling and getting the casserole in the oven. You’ll notice I cook the quinoa in broth here, a great way to add an extra boost of flavor to your savory cooking.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
While the oven’s preheating, cook the quinoa: Add quinoa and vegetable stock to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover, and simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until the water’s absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to sit, covered, and steam for ten minutes. Fluff with a fork.
Lay the cauliflower onto the baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 20 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender (it’s ok if it’s not super roasted looking; it’s going to continue cooking when you bake the casserole).
In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the shallot. Cook for 3 minutes, or until shallot is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the kale and saute until wilted, 2-3 minutes.
Turn cauliflower out into a large mixing bowl. Fold in the kale, quinoa, 1/2 of the cheese, milk, capers, Dijon, salt, red pepper flakes and thyme. Mix well. Scrape mixture into a large oven-safe baking dish. Top with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese.
Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until cooked through and golden brown on top. If you’d like a crispier top, turn the broiler on high at the end of your cooking time and continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until nice and crispy.
Leftovers are great if covered and refrigerated for up to 4 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.