Our days are a shuffle between yes and no, between obligations that must be tended to and doing something for ourselves to maintain our curiosity and excitement. To being a good partner, friend, daughter, sister. A negotiation, a tug and release, a push and pull. Oftentimes the pendulum swings drastically to one end, where work overtakes the day-to-day shuffle and dinner dates and lake walks and calls with old friends take the backseat. Then there are the moments when there are house guests, obligation emails, car headlights to replace, mouse traps to set and dentist appointments to keep. Work gets pushed aside, you start feeling guilty and become acutely aware of this funny thing called balance. When referring to the fullness of her summer days recently, Kelsey from the lovely blog Happy Yolks wrote: “We are living the length and width of our days.” I love this sentiment for its deliberateness (hey, Wednesday, I’m going to live the heck out of you!). For me lately, it’s not as much about camping and hiking and taking advantage of the lingering summer sunshine, but about taking each day and trying to squeeze an increasingly stressful work life, a little play, time with Sam, an actual home cooked meal or a trip to the grocery store into each little nook and cranny of a day. Without going crazy. Or making Sam crazy. Or both.
Sam actually said something last week that gave me pause. We were talking about our approach to challenges and the Big things that life can bring. He said that I’m an interesting mix of tentative and bold, that I approach challenges cautiously, even fearfully, and so I often have a hard time looking forward towards future accomplishments. It’s only when I look back that I can appreciate the marathons and published articles and graduate degree and really good pie crust. So I don’t always walk up to things in life with a big, fat YES because I am (and always have been) cautious and guarded of how they will affect me and my daily life. I’m protective of that. That’s really all we’ve got, yes? Cups of coffee together, being fulfilled by work, getting excited about new books and upcoming travels, and supporting one another through it all. I’m sure you’ve seen all of those very quotable cards that encourage us to just say Yes to new challenges and opportunities, to take life by the horns and dive into things with abandon. That’s nice and good and important. But saying no or taking the day to think about the ramifications can be pretty great (and necessary), too.
On the always engaging blog Five Cool Things, writer Richard Pelletier recently wrote a whole post on the idea of yes and no, highlighting this quote from poet Ted Hughes: “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.” So living the length and width of my days with heart and the knowledge that while I may be having trouble looking ahead and seeing that this book will.get.finished and we will.all.survive, I know that in a years time, I’ll look back and smile at it all. And feel proud. That’s how it eventually works when you approach things and give them your full heart, tentatively and fearfully at first, or with abandon. The end result, I think, is the same.
So these days I’m guarding my Yes’s by saying No every once in a while. You don’t have to take every phone call throughout the day. Especially the ones that may interrupt a cherished lunch break with your partner. You don’t have to pay the bills the day they arrive or weed the garden every few days. Weeds will always be there. But having a day full of heart in your work, your afternoon chai, your evening run or dinner with family? Yes. So I’m trying to think this way in these coming few months where I feel a bit chained to my desk and kitchen, where I feel I don’t have as much freedom to travel as I may like or take weekends off. Remember that push and pull and tug and release? Those weekends off and freedom to travel will return. Right now, the pendulum has just swung the other way for a bit. And as I get acquainted with how it looks on this side of things, I’m all about Yes. And No.
Saying Yes: long runs + yoga, homemade tomato sauce, reading Luisa’s new book, finally seeing this film, listening to a lot of the Rebirth Brass Band (we just saw them in concert and they’re really incredible), taking the bus more just to people watch, riding my bike more to get a different sense of the city, working on a holiday granola flavor for Marge, buying a new striped bag, backing up my computer files much more often, making a towering cake from this charming book, eating lots of ripe figs (with cheese!).
Saying No: Not responding to every email or phone call that comes my way within the hour, turning down occasional social invitations that get in the way of the cookbook, worrying about not having dental insurance, realizing keeping in touch is a two-way street and not feeling guilty about being slightly out of touch with old friends, writing opportunities that may not best serve the big picture of my career, midnight ice cream (o.k., that one was a lie; I always say yes to ice cream).
This particular ice cream is one I’ve wanted to make for months. Sam bought me the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream cookbook a while back and occasionally I flip through it and become overwhelmed with all of the flavors. If you’re not familiar with Jeni’s ice cream, she’s an Ohio gal who has created this technique using cornstarch and cream cheese (no eggs!) to make ultra-smooth, wonderful ice creams with flavors like Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Banana Ice Cream with Caramelized White Chocolate Freckles, and Sweet Basil and Honeyed Pine Nut Ice Cream. There’s a lot of goodness here. A lot to say yes to.
I adapted this recipe slightly by adding toasted almonds and drizzling in a little melted chocolate and coconut oil to create a chocolate crackle I’m quite fond of. Instead of white sugar, I also used light brown muscovado sugar, a natural cane sugar that has a wonderful molasses flavor that compliments the dark flavors of this ice cream beautifully. You can find muscovado at a well-stocked grocery store or your local natural grocery. I use it frequently in baked goods, too (makes your chocolate chips cookies wonderfully chewy) or sprinkled on top of oatmeal and porridge.
Please note, I didn’t add prep/cook times here as it will depend so much on the model of ice cream maker you have; regardless, you will need to freeze until firm, at least four hours.
Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.
Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan, bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the coffee, and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain the milk mixture through a sieve lined with a layer of cheesecloth (or very fine-weave, clean dishtowel) to extract as much liquid as possible and discard the grounds.
Return the cream mixture to the pan and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a rubber spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast the almonds for 5-7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool completely then chop roughly.
Place chocolate feves in a small saucepan with the coconut oil. Heat over very low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. You’ll want it to be slightly cool but still pourable when you add it to the ice cream machine. If it has cooled too much to pour, simple slowly reheat once again.
Pour the ice cream base into the frozen ice cream machine canister and process/spin until thick and creamy. At the very end, slowly drizzle the chocolate drizzle into the machine and add the toasted almonds, a small handful at a time.
Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment against the surface and seal with an airtight lid. Freeze until firm, at least 4 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.