What I’m about to tell you doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s one of those rare things that happens to you and that’s so much bigger than you — it’s difficult to put it into words. And the reason I have waited to tell you is because I haven’t really known the right way to go about it. But this space has always been as much about my life as it is about food, and if we never talked about any of this I probably wouldn’t blog again for a very, very long time. Because this is, now, my focus. My attention, my daydreams, my real dreams, my heart, and a glimpse into the future. This is it. Meet Sam.
Sam lives in Seattle. I live in Oakland. We met in August or September over coffee to talk about designing the website for my baking business, Marge. We sat outside, talked websites, ideas, and business. I’m sure Seattle weather came up (as it does) and I remember Sam commenting on the weight of the letters in the typeface of the bakery sign. I kind of loved that. There was something about him, even then, that captivated me in a certain way. Right when I thought about beginning a baking business, I knew I should take notes along the way so I could look back and remember the whole thing. These notes are filled with everything ranging from lists to sketches to fully fleshed out paragraphs. A few weeks ago, I reread them and found an entry from the day after I met Sam that very first time.
A bakery, looking for a man I’d only spoken with over email and wasn’t too sure what to expect. A smart man, I knew. A man that was excited about Marge and that excitement and passion for his work assured me we’d get along just fine. A notebook of ideas. A fine hat. A long talk sitting outside with glints of afternoon sun. And breezes. Smiles and laughter and a strange and sudden trust. And a lot of “Get this’s” — I’d never sat down and thought about Marge in this way, and it was nice. There was possibility and assuredness there, and when I looked at Sam talking about it all, I know this somehow. Echoing somewhere is the Rilke quote: “Dig into your self for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even down to its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.” The impulse about Marge, yes. To create something. The impulse, I think, to know Sam better: yes, too.
Now fast forward months and months and you’ll find a Megan that routinely spends hours upon hours on the phone with Seattle Sam. A Megan who forgets where she parks, walks to yoga without her yoga mat, buys sorbet and leaves it in her car overnight, finds music and food to sound and taste infinitely more amazing. A Megan who finds herself smiling throughout the day. For no discernable reason. A Megan that hasn’t seen this much light in a very long time. Actually, ever. And if you fast-forward just a bit further you’ll find a Megan that just dropped Sam off at the airport last week after an amazing two-week visit.
A visit that, in many ways, is hard to explain to people who want to know everything we did and saw. Truthfully, there were dozens upon dozens of moments but so many of them were deliciously quotidian: holding hands and strolling through Point Reyes Station, beers at Magnolia on Haight, riding around on Sam’s back (across streets, over bridges, from room to room), shopping for records, early morning farmer’s markets together with double thermoses, hiking Tennessee Valley and running from waves, Chez Panisse and Zuni Cafe, afternoon coffees at Cafe Zoetrope, Sam making bacon and eggs in the morning, a few new books, listening to old Bruce Sprinsteen, Friday Night Lights together on the couch, port, finger-crossing for parking spaces, whirlwind trip up to Lake Tahoe to nap by the fire and work in each others’ company, sunny Dolores Park.
So you see, Sam and I have fallen in love. This, by the way, doesn’t work wonderfully well for people who like to plan, manage, and control their lives (yours truly). If I’d been able to choose, I certainly would’ve chosen a man who lived closer. Sure, saying goodbye on the curb at the airport is no fun. But I’m telling myself not to try to make perfect sense of it all or figure out all of the logistics this second. Because it’s not that kind of thing. Rather, this falls more in the ‘blindly and patiently’ camp. The ‘take deep breaths’ camp and the ‘don’t scare Sam away by making a spreadsheet of your future life together’ camp. Yes, one of those.
And so, in the spirit of ‘blindly and patiently’, I’m leaving you with two things today. First, an encouragement to grab onto the hand of the one you love (or the nape of their neck or their kneecap or shove your hand down the back pocket of their jeans. You get it). Quite a few people I know who saw Sam and I happily with one another encouraged us to enjoy it while it lasts with the underlying assumption that it won’t. That it never does. With it being that spark, that light, that inability to look away. So I want you to grab onto the hand of your love this afternoon. Just because. Just because I know it can last. And second, I’m leaving you with a wonderful recipe for a rustic olive loaf–a bread that takes a little time, nurturing, and patience. And with all three, it comes out perfectly every time. As I know it will with my Sam.
Although it seems like a long first rise, the recipe is pretty accurate here. Plan out the following day to allow for enough time. Before baking, I brushed the loaf with infused rosemary olive oil and a little sea salt. Use your favorite olive oil — or nothing at all.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, olives, and yeast. Add the water and, with your hands, mix until the dough is wet and sticky, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
When the first rise is complete, dust a work surface with flour. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece–can use a dough scraper or spatula here. Lift the edges of the dough in toward the center and nudge and tuck them in to make it round.
Place a tea towel on your counter and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2 – to 5 1/2 -quart heavy pot in the center of the rack. Remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. *** (see note)
Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.
***If using Le Creuset or similar pot, remember to screw off the knob on top of the lid — it’s not meant to withstand quite that much heat.
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.