When I graduated from college, I didn’t want to go to all the ceremonies. I felt above it all. Don’t get me wrong–I was glad that I’d finished, but I went to a school the size of my entire hometown, and felt I’d just be lost in the crowd during graduation. But my mom talked to me about the importance of ceremony in your life—milestones deserve their moment. And she’s right. Ceremony and a little pomp and circumstance sort of force you to reflect on your accomplishments. Otherwise, something as big as a college graduation or a wedding would be just another day that, eventually, you wouldn’t remember apart from the rest. You need finality, you need reflection, and you need to share and celebrate accomplishments with others.
I just got home from upstate New York last night where I saw my youngest sister graduate. I saw her messy apartment (you seriously didn’t notice that dust covering the TV?!), her favorite bars, met her wonderful girlfriends, and experienced what she meant when she said she lived in the middle of nowhere. And, of course, I saw her graduate. But there was more than that. There were the cocktail parties, the baccalaureate ceremony and the torchlight tradition where graduates carry a torch down to the campus lake at dusk singing, drinking, crying, reminiscing.
These are all things that my own college didn’t do—things, knowing myself, I probably would’ve scoffed at. But things that I’ve since realized are so, so important and I’m grateful Zoe got to experience them.
Zoe. No one can quite believe you’ve finished college. Most of my friends remember you as a skinny, freckly little girl with wild and crazy curls—shocked that you’re now a young woman moving to the city and starting a life of your own. For me, I remember you bouncing away on the trampoline in the back yard, how obsessed you were with those coconut boobs mom and dad bought for you in Hawaii, your affinity for gardenia perfume, your rather advanced (and pricey) taste in clothes, and the summer I lived with you and you earned the nickname “Crumbs.” Oh, and obviously your love for Nutella (clearly we’re related).
So I know you’re probably experiencing that odd mixture of fear and excitement right now. And I also know a lot of people tend to dole out advice during these milestones and you’ll hear them, but you can’t really absorb it. You may not be ready yet. They’re telling you what they’ve learned after decades of trial and error. Now is your time to set out with your own trails and your own errors. But there are a few things that I know to be true: there are people in this world where, generally, things just work out for them. I think you might just be one of those people. Remember to put things in perspective. A job’s just a job, a boy’s just a boy, an apartment’s just an apartment. Follow your instincts. Follow your heart. If you do those two things, you’ll be just fine. And when you’re not, you know who to call. There’s a brood of us cheering you on.
So thank you for making this skeptical older sister soften to ceremony, sororities, and milestones this weekend. I’m so happy to have had a glimpse inside the last four years of your life and the people and places that loved you (and that you loved back). From your oldest sister and the one applauding you from all the way across the country—here’s the simplest of Nutella pastry to celebrate a milestone. So simple that you will be able to pump it out even in the smallest of New York kitchens.
This recipe was inspired by a recipe for Chocolate-Almond Pastries in the December ’09 issue of Martha Stewart Magazine. I gave it new life by using hazelnuts and Nutella. It’s a versatile recipe–you could easily use any combination of nuts, dried fruits, and chocolates. Next time I make it, I’m going to add a few dollops of Mascarpone cheese to finish it off.
Preheat oven to 45o F. Arrange puff pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form a 10-inch square and fold each edge in to make a 1-inch crust. Poke middle of dough numerous times with a fork. Brush edges of dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Freeze for fifteen minutes.
Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake until pastry is puffed and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and spread Nutella evenly across the pastry. The Nutella will begin to melt, making it much easier to spread. Sprinkle with sea salt and hazelnuts and cut into 4 squares or 6 triangles. Serve warm.
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.