This year in particular, it seems to be a race to transition from fall to winter and start thinking about gingerbread and gifts and holiday travel — when really we just got home from Thanksgiving a few days ago. Regardless, we’re feeling it here too: this afternoon we’ll head out to buy our tree at the Boy Scout lot down the road and stop off for clam chowder at Ivar’s — a new but fierce tradition in our house. Sam will hang some lights outside, and at some point this week we’ll string popcorn and cranberries on the tree, hang a wreath on the front door, and nuzzle garland on the shelf above the fireplace. There’s a rumor it might even snow tomorrow — I won’t hold my breath. But I would like to hold my breath and hope to prolong the in between time we find ourselves in now as we look back on one holiday and ahead to another. I’d like to draw it out as much as possible this year.
Before bed for the past month or so, I’ve been reading Nigel Slater’s Notes From the Larder. I know some of you are familiar with it already, but if you’re not, Notes From the Larder is essentially a kitchen diary with recipes spanning each day (or most days) of the year — so it’s uber-seasonal and full of Slater’s succinct and beautiful meditations on simple, daily food. The entry for November 18 is titled “An Autumn Taking Stock and a New Pear Cake.” While I didn’t make the pear cake depicted in the photo, I can relate to the feeling of taking stock this time of year — especially as we gear up for another busy holiday full of travel, seeing friends old and new, gift buying and giving, and family.
While Slater’s entry really focuses on taking stock around the garden, it’s also a universal sentiment. He notes, “The garden seems to have been in this state of assorted ochers and reds for several weeks now. It is rare I stop and look for as long as I have today, but I just cannot take my eyes off it … For many, this garden would not be a scene of romantic melancholy and rich-hued foliage but an unholy mess in desperate need of weeding, raking, sweeping and pruning.” There is an inclination to do a lot right now: decorate the house, select the perfect cookies, plan a holiday gathering, purchase just the right gift, get a little exercise, make travel plans — all in the span of three weeks. It’s a lot. And Slater’s inclination to look around at the garden — which exudes the need for much tending — and notice the beauty in the wildness is something I want to put in my pocket this season. There’s a very strong chance we won’t get to everything we’d like to do or see or read or accomplish this season. It just can’t all happen. I hope to be able to stand amongst the flowers and the weeds and not lament the latter too, too much.
Remember how I spoke in the last post about being prohibited from preparing kale at the Thanksgiving table? Well I’m making up for that today with this creamy squash and kale bake I developed for Attune Foods. The kale bake is similar to the Winter Greens and Grains Gratin I made last year — only this version boasts pieces of butternut squash, less cream, and a crispy topping made from Uncle Sam Cereal, butter and Parmesan cheese. It’s perfect for the weekends you return home and crave kale after heavy holiday meals, yet it also satisfies the desire for comfort food on cold December nights when you don’t have much stocked in the refrigerator. Perhaps you’ll find occasion to make a pan of it during this busy in between time. And hopefully, eat it slowly — saving some for leftovers the next day.
For the Bake:
For the Parmesan Topping:
Preheat the oven to 425 F and butter a 2-quart baking dish.
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is just tender. Stir once or twice to avoid sticking. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F.
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the shallot, kale and a pinch of salt. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking, for about 5 minutes. Fold the cooked squash pieces in with the kale and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Prepare the topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, Uncle Sam cereal and Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, Parmesan cheese, heavy cream, milk, nutmeg, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper. Turn the squash mixture into the prepared baking dish and pour the liquid over the top. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil and top with Parmesan topping. Bake uncovered for an additional 20 minutes, or until top is crispy and center is set.
Allow to cool and set for 15 minutes before serving. Cover leftovers and refrigerate 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.