There are those Sundays when you get started slowly, and feel a little antsy actually sitting and reading the paper so you decide to go on a really long run. You come home to a Sam in the kitchen meticulously chopping cabbage and green onion, boiling eggs and catching up with his mom on the phone. Suddenly, you’re no longer antsy. The sun is out and it feels like the best, slowest kind of Sunday.
That’s what happened this past weekend. We even had the back door open and the heat turned off. It was a big day here in Seattle. There are many things that Sam has made for me this year that I’d love to recreate on my own or even share with you, but most of them aren’t really written down. Sam’s theory on cooking, baking and recipes in general is that you need to have a feel for them more than anything. This is not my strength. He believes in having good base recipes that you just have a sense for and then adapt from there. You want to be able to make a great scone and pancake whether you’re in your own kitchen or out in a remote cabin during the summer. You want to be able to roast vegetables, make salad dressing, cook a simple fish, and make cornbread and jammy pastry. He does these without a hard-and-fast recipe. They’re basics in our house, and he’s been working hard to get me to be more comfortable shutting the cookbooks and learning to trust my own instincts in remembering and recreating them.
This coleslaw? Sam wanted me to make sure to tell you that this is most definitely a dish where you stock up on the ingredients, but use your intuition to guide you regarding the amounts. This isn’t fine cooking or precise baking. He added a little more mustard this time around and we threw in all of our parsley so it wouldn’t go to waste. It’s not the same coleslaw that he might have made for himself a month ago, but it was delicious all the same. For this reason, the recipe listed below is really a rough guide, so set aside a bit of time and chop and taste and adjust as you like.
Sure, coleslaw is no Salted Caramel Cupcake. It’s no Deluxe Brownie or Shaker Lemon Pie, but it can turn a Sunday around just like that, and actually keeps in the fridge beautifully for a few weekday lunches. Unlike most coleslaw recipes I’ve tried, Sam’s version has bits of hard-boiled egg, a smattering of green onion, celery and poppy seeds, and a healthy swath of Italian parsley. He dresses it with both mustard and mayonnaise and a little salt and pepper, and tastes and adjusts often as he goes. Remember in my last post how I said that I often throw together meals and that many folks don’t necessarily define this as actual cooking? Well if I throw them together, Sam most certainly composes them. He chops vegetables much finer than I do, he takes more time and has more patience. For this reason, this is one most lovely coleslaw. I can’t wait for you to try it.
As we sat in the nook on Sunday afternoon finessing this coleslaw, it was hard not to think about what we’d been up to one year ago–the weekend I picked Sam up from Point Reyes Station and it all began. A year of plane trips and late night phone calls, visits and holidays. On Monday we celebrated our anniversary together with a very special dinner at Spinasse filled with buttery pasta, good wine, rabbit meatballs, and a goat cheese mousse with local rhubarb. Waking up yesterday with big to-do lists, we got right to work: me running errands for Marge, he working on a design project. As I sat flustered in traffic, I couldn’t stop thinking about the dinner we shared and how much I wished I were back at that candlelit table, slowly ambling away an unusually warm evening with Sam. But in between those meals, those long conversations, those glasses of wine, there has to be wonderfully basic food to sustain us. Quiet Sundays, boiled eggs and cabbage, The Book Review and calls to catch up with your mom. Sam: I hope this upcoming year is filled with many more bowls of coleslaw (and banana pancakes too, please). Together. On Sundays. As I know it will be.
Chop the cabbage as fine as you have thepatience for.
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, green onion, parsley, celery and eggs. Toss to combine. Add the mustard and mayonnaise and stir together. Taste to see where it stands; add more mustard or mayonnaise if you wish. Season with salt and pepper. Finish with a generous dusting of poppy seeds and mix the whole thing together.
Store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
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.