In the Bay Area, we often have an Indian summer. It descends each year around this time. And each year, I always wonder why it’s heating up as we ease into September. Just when all the fall clothes pop up in store windows, when the morning light begins to change, and when you feel like you should be making soup–it’s damn hot. And with the heat comes my kitchen lethargy. Rather than cooking, I find myself putting things together instead: salads with tomatoes and squash from the garden, sandwiches with cold cuts and lots of mayo and crisp lettuce, simple pastas with olives and shaved Parmesan, my infamous rustic Mexican pizzas (if you’re lucky, more on that later). So in the summer, I like to make this pesto and keep it in the fridge to have readily available when cooking sounds as enticing as changing a flat tire.
Now before we get to the recipe, you may be asking yourself, ‘wait a second. I thought Megan lived in San Francisco where it’s rarely above 75.’ Well, I’ve lied to you. Probably not a good tactic so early on in our relationship. I actually live right outside the city, about 8 eight miles North, in Marin County. I live on a wide street with big leafy oaks in a very large house with a pool, two back yards, a circular driveway, lemon trees, and a box garden.
It’s not mine. Now don’t worry: I’m not about to tell you more lies or describe the deviant ways in which I squat in rich people’s homes. The truth is that I’ve actually been living in my mom’s house, taking care of the dogs and the garden while she’s been away doing her graduate studies in Burlington,Vermont. She may be the only woman in her late 50’s that I’ve ever met who up and moves across the country, gets her own apartment in the college district overlooking Lake Champlain, decks it out in beautiful shades of reds and yellows…and gets to work. Like it’s nothing. I’m so proud of her. And so happy that I got to stay in the house for the last few years of my twenties. But change is on the horizon: my mom’s done with her coursework and coming back for good in two weeks. I guess it’s time to have that huge house party I’ve been meaning to have for the last few years (just kidding, mom).
I say I live in San Francisco for a few reasons, the obvious one being it’s just easier for people who aren’t familiar with our massive state. The main one being that I really do live there in a sense. I’ve never felt a connection to Marin, where mothers cruise down the suburban streets (or the outdoor malls) in double-wide strollers, where luxury stores abound, where it’s actually impossible to get something to eat after 9 p.m. Trust me when I tell you the place shuts down. So I drive into the city numerous times a week and, emotionally, feel much more at home and at ease. There’s something about the fog, the dramatic hills, the particular neighborhoods, the food. I love having brunch in Hayes Valley, running along the Marina with my new running friends, getting dumplings out in the Richmond, strong coffee and used books in the Mission, or having a picnic in Shakespeare’s Garden. It’s just more me.
Now that I’ve confessed my white lie, let’s move on to the pesto, aptly named for the physical place I lay my head. For now.
This pesto is a nice alternative to more traditional pestos made with pine nuts. It’s full of really good fat from the Omega 3 oils. It tastes complex and summery with a serious hit of garlic, fragrant basil, and a nice blend of grated cheeses. The trick is to use high quality olive oil instead of a common table oil. You will taste the difference. Once you gather the ingredients, this is a simple, quick pesto: 10 minutes max. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Place basil, olive oil, garlic, and walnuts in food processor. Blend until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the Parmesan and salt and blend a few seconds more, until neatly folded in. If using with pasta, after boiling and draining the noodles, add 1 tablespoon of pasta water to the pesto and stir thoroughly. This loosens it up a bit. If using as a spread instead, you may need to add a little oil according to your preference (some like thicker pesto). Regardless, it tastes like an August afternoon.
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.