Last weekend my dad and I flew up to Seattle to visit my sister Rachael. I love Seattle for many reasons-one of which is the food. There were a few spots I’d been wanting to try, so we made the most of our time and hit up Serious Pie, the Chai House, Lark, Macrina Bakery, The Harbour Public House on Bainbridge Island and a few other spots for treats and coffee. I wish I could show you some pictures, but I stupidly forgot my camera. Suffice it to say, it was brisk and rainy (Seattle never disappoints when I visit) but utterly beautiful in a stark, fall kind of way.
Rachael lives in Ballard in a sweet little green house on a wide, leafy street. Oh, and she has a fig tree. Her house is right across the street from this little blue craftsman bungalow that I fell in love with last time I saw it. A few days before my visit last week, Rachael called to tell me if was for sale and that we should check it out the second I landed.
It was my Dad’s first time visiting , so as we cruised him around Ballard and noticed the “For Sale” sign had been taken down. My little blue house sold so quickly! Now it’s not that I was really looking to move this second, but every time I come to Seattle I marvel at how great it is. Yes, we have quaint, distinct neighborhoods in San Francisco and we also have fantastic food. But I love the way the weather and the outdoors is interwoven into the fabric and culture of the city, how casual it is, and how much more you get for your money in Seattle. There’s a quality of life that you can obtain with much, much less. But for now-the flights are cheap, so I’ll settle on visiting.
Our most memorable meal was at Lark. I’ll be honest. I eat out a lot. Often, with time, the memories of a meal or a dish begin to fade. I’m pretty confident this won’t be the case with Lark. They serve small plates, so you order many things to try and share amongst the table. We sampled the roasted sunchokes with rosemary and lavender, Oxbow baby lettuces with beets, Pork rilletes with ficelle toast, crispy pork belly, Meyer Ranch Coulotte steak, and the sauteed wild mushrooms with garlic and sea salt. Everything was absolute perfection: seasonal, thoughtful, and prepared and plated beautifully. But, oh heavens: those mushrooms. They were delicate and flavorful. The table grew quiet.
On the flight home, I bought December’s Bon Appetit magazine and saw a recipe for Wild Mushroom Farro Risotto. It called for many of the beautiful wild mushrooms that we’d had the previous night–and farro is one of my favorite grains, with its hearty, nutty texture. It’s an Italian grain and you’ll start to see it more and more in the stores as it’s slowly gaining popularity here. When I saw the recipe, I knew it was a priority the second I unpacked and settled back in to California warmth (or warmer, at least) and the reality of sending out more resumes (never-ending). So here it is.
Although my blue house sold, I have a little part of Seattle right here at home with this recipe. It’s the perfect warm, creamy, hearty fall side dish. Or, with a big salad or some sauteed chard, it would be a nice, light meal in and of itself. So wherever you decide to call home, this recipe will help you settle right in.
I used a dried mushroom blend, which is a great option instead of buying each variety separately. Otherwise, you can find the dried mushrooms at specialty grocery stores in the produce section. And for fresh mushrooms, I used cremini and shiitakes.
From: Bon Appetit (12/09)
Bring 3 cups broth and all dried mushroom to oil in a large heavy saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mushrooms are soft, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to work surface. Cut large mushrooms in half. Reserve broth and mushrooms separately.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fresh mushrooms and saute until beginning to brown, 7-8 minutes. Add reserved soaked mushrooms and saute 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic; saute until shallots are soft, about 3 minutes. Add farro; stir 1 minute. Pour in reserved mushroom soaking broth, leaving any sediment behind. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add 3 1/2 cups chicken broth. Boil uncovered until farro is tender, adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls if dry and stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes longer. Stir in cheese, cream, and herbs. Stir in half of mushroom mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl; scatter remaining mushrooms over top.
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.