I didn’t know this until last week, but Seattle has a way of gripping you in the fall. Sure, our leaves change in the Bay Area, and the light basks down glowingly in the afternoons and evenings in a much different way than it does in the summer. We get golds and touches of amber. Because I went to graduate school on the East Coast, I’m used to boldly-hued falls, but in Seattle the colors are more muted and in this way maybe even more beautiful. The air is brisk and crisp and you need to break out your coat. A scarf would be good, too. You may want to even leave the heat on overnight or turn it on the second you patter out of bed to take the chill off.
I spent Halloween in Seattle this year — a Monday that, for some reason, felt like one big ol’ Sunday. So we treated it as such. This was a Megan & Sam Sunday Do-Over — something that, should we both never need to work again for some odd reason (very unlikely)–I’d like to repeat again and again. When you find yourself in the position to reenact a Sunday, siting at a cafe with coffee, broiled eggs, bread and mustard, and yesterdays paper is a good option. You don’t get to do it everyday and a Monday that feels like a Sunday is the best of times for this sort of thing.
When you’re embarking on a Sunday Do-Over, time shouldn’t be a huge consideration. You’ve got to really do it right. Feed the meter heartily and just sit with the afternoon. Order Pastis after lunch and people watch.
The quiet afternoon turned to evening quickly (as it’s known to do), and we were a little late with our pumpkins, racing around and looking under car seats to find a lighter or matches as the first family rounded the corner. I headed out to the store to pick up a baguette and a few things to make a quick soup, Sam was playing Ethiopian jazz out on the porch, we took turns fetching all of the little slippery seeds from the pumpkins to roast later, and shared a few bottles of beer.
This was actually the first Halloween that I’ve ever had trick-or-treaters. I’ve always lived in city apartment buildings, but Sam has a little house in a very sweet neighborhood by the lake and there were quite a few kids coming up the walk. If you think of Halloween as an actual holiday, it was our first together. And it was cozy and warm and wonderful.
So in the spirit of do-overs, the soup quickly became one of my new favorites. So much so that I recreated it again here in Oakland last night and am excited to share it with you today. It’s a simple soup but, because of the coconut milk and warm spices, it’s almost decadent. It’s perfect for anytime the opportunity strikes to have a Sunday Do-Over. Or, really, just a moment to sit in the spirit of a Sunday. Let’s take what we can get.
As with most soups, this is better the next day and freezes beautifully. That being said, we very much loved it right off the stove-top. If you prefer butternut squash or pumpkin, either would work well here, too. Spend some time pureeing it well; this will result in a rich fall soup.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Put the sweet potatoes on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil (makes for easier clean-up) and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft all the way through. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, skin the potatoes — the skin should essentially just peel right off and cut into 1-inch chunks.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sautée the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and broth and gently bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes, garlic powder and paprika to the soup and simmer for 5 minutes. Using an immersion blender or a stand-alone blender, puree the soup in small batches until smooth and creamy. Stir in the salt and pepper.
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.