First things first: thank you so, so much for all of your amazing solo-eating suggestions, and cooking-for-one book suggestions! I’m overwhelmed by your comments and emails…and dinner ideas. Where to begin? Grilled cheese, pasta with bacon, scrambled eggs for dinner…Yes, please. The majority of the advice I’ve gotten from family, friends, and you all here is that time continues on whether you like it or not. It just does. And through that, things get easier. I’m trusting you on this one.
I just finished re-reading The Hours a few nights ago. Have you read it? I think Michael Cunningham captures the intricacies of character, relationships and moments really beautifully. Towards the end of the novel, I found myself rereading this passage over and over:
“We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep–it’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease, or if we’re fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more.”
To me, this paragraph–in so few words–speaks to the human condition more than anything I’ve ever read. It’s hard. We lose friends and relationships and have difficulty finding our calling or our life’s passion. But then there are evenings when you look around the table at friends you haven’t seen for ten years and smile, or you bite into the perfectly crisp apple–or those mornings when a hot shower feels like a gift from the Gods. Those are the simple, ordinary moments that give us a gleam that hope is justified. So along with all of your fabulous meal suggestions, I’m going to seek out these moments like nothing else right now–the hours that give a glint (or a full on beam) of hope and light. And spring, sunshine in San Francisco, and asparagus in the markets helps, too. So onward, shall we?
It was a rather indulgent Easter week, so at the market yesterday I made a point to stock up on lots of kale, spinach, an unusually expensive artichoke (what the heck, Whole Foods?!) and some beautiful asparagus. At home, I consulted a new cookbook sent to me by the good folks at Southern Living for something interesting to do with the asparagus. The book is called Farmer’s Market Cookbook: a Fresh Look at Local Flavor, and it details seasonal, ingredient, market-driven recipes. I turned to the spring chapter and was struck by the simplicity of this soup: asparagus, broth, onion, lemon, thyme, milk, a little butter and sour cream. Spring in a bowl. I think you’ll like it.
Only make this soup when you can find really fresh, tender asparagus–nothing good about stringy asparagus soup. I adapted this recipe to make it lighter and wholly vegetarian, and added a bit more flavor with garlic, more lemon, and a dash of black pepper.
Adapted from: Southern Living Farmer’s Market Cookbook
Snap off and discard tough ends of asparagus. Cut asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Combine asparagus with broth, onion, garlic, and 1/2 tsp. thyme in a large saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Process asparagus mixture in batches using an immersion blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan.
Whisk flour and milk together in a small bowl until smooth. Add slowly to asparagus mixture, whisking until blended. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, continuing to stir for another five minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter, salt, 1/4 tsp. lemon zest, and remaining 1/4 tsp. thyme.
Combine sour cream, lemon juice, and remaining 1/4 tsp. lemon zest. Top each serving with about 2 tsp. of sour cream mixture. Garnish with thyme sprig.
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.