Last week Sam and I were supposed to head to Olympic National Park to stay in an old lakeside cabin for a few nights. Lake Crescent, to be exact: a crystal clear spot complete with a rickety traditional lodge, canoes, hiking trails and hot springs. We’d planned the trip months before and were both so looking forward to some much needed downtime, but because of the government shutdown all of the National Parks were affected so we received a call the morning we were to head out of town that we should stay home. Sam was still in bed at the time; I’d been up early packing and laying out sweaters and novels and getting big thermoses of coffee ready. As I began putting away the sweaters and novels and setting the thermoses of coffee aside, I became more and more disappointed. I crawled back into bed and broke the news to Sam. Not surprisingly, he exclaimed with a smile, “where should we go instead?!” This is a ‘roll with the punches’ gene that I do not have. A few hours later we were in the car headed to Portland, where we had two memorable meals, a handful of great cocktails, a number of good neighborhood strolls and one very fine piece of pie.
When we’re in Portland, we both love staying at the Ace Hotel. It’s in a great part of town, if you opt for the rooms with shared bathrooms (which I really don’t mind), it’s quite affordable, and they have a great adjoining bar. During this trip, many friends reached out on Facebook or over email with some last minute suggestions, so the first night we had drinks at Kask (smoked cinnamon Manhattan!) and dinner at their next-door restaurant, Gruner, a Pacific Northwest-inspired German restaurant: very special, seasonal, thoughtful food. We shared an Alsatian flatbread pizza, a plate of house sausages, a beautiful freekeh and spicy greens salad and a plum galette for dessert. Then we strolled back to the hotel in the uncharacteristically warm drizzle.
The next day we had brunch at Sweedeedee on a recommendation from a few girlfriends. Sweedeedee is the kind of small, unassuming neighborhood cafe that I’d like to envision I’d open one day. They jot their daily menu specials on a big roll of paper; have pies, sweets, and homemade bread overflowing onto every nook and cranny of the counter; play great records; and serve bountiful salads, sandwiches and breakfast all day long. You feel more like you’re in the living room of a great old friend — albeit one who cooks — rather than in a city cafe. There’s no rush to leave, there’s strong coffee — and, of course, there’s Salted Honey Pie. After lunch, Sam bought a few records at Mississippi Records and we strolled about Alberta Street a bit. Closer to our hotel, we popped into Canoe and Alder & Co., shopped Powell’s Books on Hawthorne and bought a few Christmas gifts at Monograph Bookwerks (very cool little spot specializing in art and architecture monographs and artist books). That night, we went to Ava Gene’s for dinner, what I’d describe as “little bit edgy Italian” — not staunchly traditional, but really solid, occasionally playful Italian food. We shared good wine, fava bean toasts, creamy burrata, and lamb ragu pappardelle. We were one of the last ones to leave — passing on dessert but reminiscing about the pie from earlier on our walk back to the car.
That pie! Let’s just talk about the pie, shall we? I first had a honey pie in Brooklyn at one of my favorite pie shops, Four and Twenty Blackbirds. It was delightfully flaky and pretty darn sweet — but the combination of honey and salt seemed a revelation at the time. The slice at Sweedeedee had more heft — I’m guessing they may have added a bit of cornmeal to the filling. The flavor was spot-on — just lightly kissed with honey. The whole weekend I couldn’t stop thinking about honey pie and baking one at home, but one that would have the best of both worlds: super flaky, honey-kissed, but not too terribly sweet. A pie humble in stature — like a good custard pie, but better. I figured the best way to tone down the potential ‘too sweet’ factor was to add a good bit of buttermilk and no additional sugar. I used my favorite rye pie crust recipe and didn’t skimp on the salt. It is so, so wonderful; I really hope you bake one yourself. I’m going to try and convince my mom that we should have it for Thanksgiving this year. It’s that good. Sometimes a failed lodge trip results in something sweet all the same. I hope your October is off to a great start.
For the pie crust (yields two 9 – inch pie crusts):
For the filling:
Make the pie dough: Whisk both flours, salt and sugar together in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work in the butter until coarse meal forms and some small lumps remain. Starting with 3 tablespoons, drizzle cold water over the dough; quickly stir in the water with a fork or your fingers until the dough begins to clump together into a more uniform mass and becomes slightly sticky. If it’s still dry and crumbly, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide dough in half and form 2 single flat, chubby disks; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Once chilled, work quickly to roll out one of the disks on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 11-12 inches round. Carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate and nestle gently into place. Leave 1-inch of overhang (if there’s a great deal of overhang, trim), then fold edges under and crimp. Freeze the remaining disk for a future pie!
Pre-bake the pie shell: Preheat the oven to 375F. Prick the bottom of the pie shell a few times. Line with parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill to the top with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove pie weights or beans along with parchment or foil and bake for an additional 8 minutes, or until the shell is nice and dry on the bottom.
Decrease the oven temperature to 325 F.
Make the filling: In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the melted butter and honey until combined. Pour the honey mixture slowly into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, until well combined. Fold in the flour and stir well.
Assemble: Place the pre-baked pie shell on a baking sheet for easy transport to and from the oven. Strain the honey filling and pour into the shell. Carefully place pan into the oven and bake until the filling is set, about 55 – 60 minutes. Cool for 1 hour, then sprinkle the top liberally with flaky salt (if you sprinkle the salt on while still too warm, it may just dissolve onto the top of the pie instead of remaining flaky and pretty). Serve room temperature – or cold the next day. Refrigerate and cover leftovers for up to 2 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.