We all want for things. Whether you care to admit it or not, it could be an actual possession like a new pair of jeans or an espresso machine or it could be for someone to swoop in and pay off your credit card bills or your student loan payment. Perhaps it’s a much-deserved vacation with your sweetheart or having Labor Day off from work. More time to work-out and write letters or organize the garage. Maybe we wish for warmer summer evenings … or cooler summer evenings. But this week I met a pretty wonderful woman who assured me she has it all. She wants for nothing.
I still work at Heath Ceramics one day a week and have been balancing it nicely with Marge and a few writing projects. The people are amazing, an occasional drive down to foggy Sausalito is always welcome, and I actually enjoy chatting with customers and meeting new people. Last week, I approached an older woman in a wheelchair and started talking to her about the weather and her day — basic small talk. She told me her name was Beatrice but wanted me to call her Bee. She asked if I had children and told me she liked my earrings. Eventually we got to talking about dinnerware and she mentioned that she’d had her Heath collection since the 1960’s (we hear this a lot). I asked her what other pieces she might need to fill in or round out what she already had at home. Now Bee was probably in her late 80’s or early 90’s. She looked at me for the longest time and then slowly smiled, telling me she had it all.
While I initially thought she was referring to the entire store (we get our fair share of customers who come in and literally do own the majority of the store), what she meant was that she had everything she needed. At this point, she was giving things away to her kids and grand-kids. She told me that you get to a certain point in life where things don’t matter anymore and you don’t necessarily care to surround yourself with more of them, but with people instead. She’d loved to cook years ago; her husband Alfred approached and assured me she was an amazing cook. He missed her cooking. But now, the two explained, it’s all about time. Time that they realize they don’t have a lot of. They’d rather have someone cook for them and leave more room in the day to be out in the garden, read, talk with each other, and be around people they love.
Much like Bee and Alfred, my grandparents began the process of making more room in their days a few years ago. They started clearing out their barn in Upstate New York and even some rooms in the main house, too. I remember about a year ago, we were told to think of things that we wanted from the house, and I just couldn’t do it or make that kind of request. It seemed odd and slightly morbid. I did ask for one of the Russian dolls my grandma always kept at the end of the hallway leading to the blue bedroom. As kids, we’d spend what must’ve been hours taking them apart and admiring the little village of wooden women you could create — all from one original doll. It was magical. But now after seeing my mom and aunts spend time organizing files and papers, box things up to donate, and tackle the yard and the garden, I get it more and more. It’s not so much morbid, it’s just clearing the way for new kinds of days. More spacious days.
Over the July 4th holiday, my grandpa brought up a big box of old cookbooks that he’s been encouraging my grandma to get rid of. He let us choose some that we’d like to take back with the understanding that he wasn’t taking any back home. While they probably haven’t looked through the cookbooks in over a decade, I’ve been unable to put them down. They’re a portrait of a certain time period, a certain type of cook, and a way in which women used to organize the kitchen and the pantry. And there are actually some pretty great recipes that I’m going to make for you / with you here. So that’s something we can look forward to in the coming weeks. That and ice cream.
So this ice cream recipe? We’ve talked ice cream a few times before: we’ve chatted Strawberry Ice Cream and whipped up a classic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. This week I wanted to make a really rich, special ice cream that used just a few ingredients. While I love summer fruit, I’ve had my fair share of peaches and sweet berries lately. And I’ll admit to testing some new cookie recipes in the kitchen for Marge and helping the lovely new Danish bakers test their new lemon tarts. So when you’ve had just a little too much or when you have just enough, rest assured that you can mix together a few egg yolks, a little milk and some crème fraiche and it’ll always result in a dense, slightly tart ice cream that satisfies in just the right way. To share. Or not to share. You decide.
As we admit to ourselves the things we want for (justified or not), we can also acknowledge that there’s a thread that weaves through the fabric of each day, I think. For my grandparents, Alred and Bee, and me and you– I’m willing to bet it’s time well spent with people you love. Sure, new jeans are nice. Time off is nice. Having a fairy godmother come in and pay off your American Express bill each month would be really nice. But when it comes down to it, I just want to have days on end with people I get a kick out of.
This recipe is slightly adapted from ice cream genius, David Lebovitz. I add a little vanilla to his recipe, and I think a bit of orange zest would be really nice, too. If you don’t want to buy crème fraiche, combine 2 cups heavy cream with 1/4 cup buttermilk and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours, until thick. I had some leftover figs from the farmers market and decided to roast them with a little honey. The sweetness of the honeyed figs balances beautifully with the subtle tartness of the crème friache ice cream.
For the Ice Cream:
Set a mesh strainer over the top of a medium-sized bowl and set it in an ice bath. Set aside.
Warm the milk, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. In a separate small bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture back into the original saucepan.
Over medium heat, stir the mixture constantly with a heatproof plastic spatula or wooden spoon, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and into the bowl sitting in the ice bath. Stir until the mixture begins to cool. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, at least two hours.
Once cool, whisk in the crème fraîche, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Wash and stem figs, and heat the oven to 375 F. Slice them in half and arrange cut side up on a baking tray. Drizzle the honey over top, and roast for about 15 minutes, or until the honey is just being to get dark and caramelized. The figs should not be too soft that they’ll fall apart. They should still hold their shape. Let cool until you’re able to handle, 5-8 minutes, then spoon over bowl of ice cream.
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.