Melty popsicles on the first weekend of September. Banana popsicles, to be exact, with a little bourbon and brown sugar. Thoughts of an Indian summer, a little jaunt here in one week, and choosing to linger — over morning coffee, evening drinks, a good book. Choosing not to linger over the television, online to-do lists, or starting to think about the holidays.
Last week I read a little Anne Lamott piece (via Molly) that spoke to this idea of choosing what you want to linger over or focus on. She talks about how the feeling of being busy all of the time is actually addictive–how much we all like to feel connected at all hours of the day, thriving on multi-tasking and creating little efficient systems around things that don’t necessarily need systems. She says, “Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for.” I read this right after I finished a hot-and-heavy texting conversation with my sister Zoe about hurricane Irene. Zoe lives in Manhattan and was writing to ask why I hadn’t checked in on her yet. Didn’t I know she was leaving her apartment to go stay with my aunt and uncle? Didn’t I know that the grocery stores were all sold out of food? That this could actually be big. The truth was I didn’t know. I had no idea.
My excuse? I don’t have cable. Sarcastically Zoe asked if my internet was broken, too. Had I been drinking all day, she wondered. I explained I’d been baking for the farmers market and it just wasn’t on my radar. She only sort of bought it. I think she still would’ve liked a “checking in” text or call. Fair enough. But I have to say, there’s something really, really nice about not having TV and getting to choose what information you look up and seek out. To fight for a little bit of time. While I wasn’t on the verge of breaking hurricane news, I seem to generally do just fine. I looked up where Irene was slated to land and checked in with The New York Times occasionally. But I did miss a lot of the good shots with news anchors and their flailing umbrellas. True. Speaking in general terms, Anne Lamott says, “No one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor. Otherwise, you are mostly going to learn more than you need to know about where the local fires are, and how rainy it has been: so rainy!” So much of it is largely noise.
When I lived in the city by myself for a few brief months searching for employment and nursing a broken heart, I liked to have the TV on for background noise. It made me feel less lonely. It made the apartment feel much less quiet. And I thought I’d feel the same way here in my Oakland apartment, but months ago I realized I didn’t. I cancelled cable but the TV still sat there completely untouched. Now it’s shoved into a closet with my snowshoes, ugly duffel bags, and a snorkel. Am I using the time I’d generally be sitting and watching TV to blaze through all of Russian literature? I’m afraid not. But I am listening to much more music, doing more writing, and every now and again looking around and marveling at my sunny little Oakland apartment. Marveling at the choices we get to make and how we can go about fashioning our days to be kind of how we want them to be. Melty popsicles, shelves of books, good booze, a plane ticket to West Virginia, and the sun setting across my school house desk. That’s the view from here as I linger (or dawdle, depending on how you look at it), stealing a little bit of time before digging into what’s next. In your case, that would be popsicles.
While it may be tempting to add a little more bourbon, remember that will affect how well your popsicles freeze. And this recipe yields popsicles that aren’t at all too sweet. Taste the mixture before pouring it into the molds, and adjust the sweetness as necessary. By the way, I think these would be lovely with cardamom or even a dash of cinnamon.
Quick note: the popsicles take a good 4 hours to freeze up completely (time not factored in the breakdown above), so plan accordingly.
Pour the milk, cream and brown sugar into a small saucepan and heat until just before it begins to boil. This helps integrate the brown sugar smoothly. Add the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a blender. Add bananas. Blend quickly — the mixture can remain a little chunky. Let cool and refrigerate until cooled completely.
Divide the mixture amongst the molds and freeze for 4-5 hours.
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.