When I worked at Two Hands Paperie in Boulder, CO–a lovely little paper store on West Pearl St.–the owner, Diana Phillips, used to have a bowl of matchbooks on her desk. When I’d sit talking to her about the shop or how business was going, I’d…
We all have memories of foods that remind us of Summer. For me, it's Log Cabin ice cream. My family has been coming to the same little funky cabin in Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe for almost thirty years--beginning soon after I was born. When we lived in Eureka, the drive was much longer than it is now (a quick jaunt from the Bay Area); we'd load up the car with blow up rafts, word puzzles, and juice boxes and head on out. Although we'd only go up in the Summer and the Winter, I can't think of a place that has been more of a constant in my life. This from the girl who moved into three different apartments during the three years I lived in Boston. I feel like I always have a box packed. Things have changed, for sure. When my parents got divorced, my dad got the house. So a place that was so much about my mom isn't any longer. We don't hear the late night sound of her sneaking out to the casino ; we don't look out onto the pier to see her perched on the edge with a floppy hat and a fashion magazine. The lake levels fluctuate, neighbors come and go, restaurants change ownership...but Log Cabin's always there. In a world where things change by the microsecond, I love that I can come back to Tahoe, walk through the dilapidated motel with bats, drug deals, and screechy electrical wires, over to The Log Cabin to see the same menu that I did when I was four, fourteen, twenty-four. I realize you don't get a good sense of each sundae with this photo, but as a kid this is pretty much how it looked. A big board with lots of words, colorful swirly's and zig-zags, and endless opportunity.
The Sebastopol Gravenstein Fair was this past weekend. I had a few food adventures planned in the city, but Craig, Linnea, and I decided a little jaunt up North might be fun. It's been strangely cool in the mornings and evenings here; the light is even starting to change. I've been in denial that Fall is looming. The Gravenstein Fair, I figured, would be a nice way to come to terms with this fact. When I was going to graduate school in Boston, I couldn't wait for Fall. The leaves turned overnight (I kid you not), the air was crisp without being frigid, and there seemed to always be a good reason to make soup. One of my favorite things to do was go apple picking out on an old family farm in New Hampshire. They gave you special apple picking bags with super sturdy handles, and you could buy provisions at the little country store to have a picnic out in the orchards: honeys, apple butter, farm-fresh eggs, apple chutneys, and homemade apple breads. I miss that. But I was thinking the Gravenstein Fair might be similar: paper cups full of cider, bales of hay, maybe pick some apples. Instead, I found something very different. I realized quickly that, amidst the Thai BBQ and corndogs, there wasn't going to be any apple picking. I really had to hunt for cider. And people were walking around with carnival toys and huge, furry hats. But the more I excused the fact that I'd had the wrong idea of what the festival would hold, it was actually a nice afternoon. We saw a restored tractor exhibit, ate doughy apple fritters, and tried Grandma's Fried Apple Rings (apple rings, lightly battered and fried, and dusted with powdered sugar by none other than Grandma herself):
[do not print] Everyone is off and running today. Except for me. Things are pretty mellow here. Not many emails or leads on freelance work--the kind of day where you hear the mailman drive up and head out immediately to see if there's anything of serious import (there wasn't). Linnea's at work, Zoe and A.J. went to the Academy of Sciences; I have some work to catch up on but instead, decided to make a nice lunch and sit outside reading Molly Wizenberg's stunningly beautiful food memoir, A Homemade Life. We have a bunch of tomatoes out in the garden just starting to ripen: Brandywines, Romas, little cherry tomatoes...many of them aren't quite ready, but every now and then, there are a few stray rogues. I've been thinking about my favorite tomato recipes to contribute to food52's site (they're featuring tomato recipe's this week), but decided to keep it simple today with a toasted avocado, sharp cheddar, tomato, and grainy mustard open-face sandwich along with a simple, summer beet salad (I had a few roasted beets leftover from the other night). Now after a little coffee, I'm ready to jump back in --quietly-- and make something happen this afternoon. Hope you are, too.
I've had some unexpected new beginnings during the past month. First and foremost, I roasted beets a few nights ago. I have to admit that I always buy them pre-done at Trader Joe's although everyone in my family tells me how easy it is to make a little foil pouch with some oil and roast away. They were right. They turned out beautifully and I'll never buy them pre-done again. To bigger and better things (I just had to mention the beets): I've started applying to jobs that are not at all related to my field. And I'm strangely calm about the whole thing. Since it's a pretty crummy time to be a teacher in CA right now, I've thrown myself into the world of food writing, started a column doing restaurant reviews for a local website, and have sent out a million and one queries to local and national magazines. It's funny working so hard towards something, knowing that nothing may come of it. I may never hear anything from the million and one magazines. Who knows...but I decided that, logistically, if I keep working this hard towards this new goal, something must come of it sometime. So I plug away each morning. Making coffee, feeding the dogs, trying to stay away from Facebook and Twitter, putting my ideas down on paper, and crossing my fingers.
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.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.
A recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Custard and a giveaway of Megan Gordon's cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings