So Marge. A few of you have asked how things are going. I love that. Thank you. Things are plugging along. I’m adding another farmer’s market onto the weekend docket in a month or so and testing some new pie recipes. It’s good. It’s all good. But I have to say: when it’s 38 degrees, rainy, and “ski week” for the kids in school (don’t ask–it’s a California thing) the market is pretty darn slow. That was the case last weekend. And I don’t blame people. If I wasn’t working, you couldn’t have paid me to get off the couch in that weather. It was a pretty surreal experience though: baking a lot of pie and having very few customers come through the market. I gave some slices away to local businesses, telling them all about Marge. They were thrilled. Pie makes people very happy. I made some last minute pie deals at the end of the day. And then I got smart.
I started to trade like all the other vendors do. The sausage guy traded a pie for some bratwurst. I got a few slats of micro greens, some pesto, stinging nettle ravioli and a bunch of chard, lemons, and fennel. Could be worse. I made simple meals with the greens, lemons, and bratwurst. But I’ve been sitting here staring at the fennel in the fridge for days now. What to do, what to do? I consulted the incredible, new-ish Essential New York Times Cookbook for ideas and found just the thing: a bright, wintry salad cloaked in a citrus dressing of fresh orange juice and walnut oil and topped with toasted walnuts.
This salad will, I promise, brighten up even the darkest and chilliest of afternoons. It will make you forget about the fact that you gave away a lot of pie on a particularly slow day at the market.
The recipe, as written, is absolutely lovely. I opted to swap out the extra virgin olive oil for a toasty walnut oil that I think works really well with the brightness of the orange juice in the dressing. If you don’t have walnut oil on hand, olive oil will work just fine. And a note on fennel: when the recipe discusses the fronds, those are the delicate, almost frilly leaves connected to the stalks. As the directions indicate, you’ll reserve them to lay atop the salad.
Slightly adapted from: The Essential New York Times Cookbook
Wash the watercress and cut off the stems. Place leaves in your favorite salad bowl.
Cut the fronds off the fennel stalks and reserve. Discard the stalks. Mince the fronds and set aside. Cut a slice off of the bottom of the bulb, then cut it lengthwise in half. Slice the halves crosswise into thin slices and lay in with the watercress.
Remove the orange peel by slicing off the top and bottom of the orange. Cut around the orange with a serrated knife, using a sawing motion to cut off the white pith as well as the peel. Slice the oranges into thin rounds and add to the salad.
Juice one orange for the dressing. Mix the walnut oil and 1/3 cup fresh orange juice together and season with salt and pepper. Mix with the salt, and sprinkle with the minced fennel leaves and toasted walnuts.
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.