It was almost 90 in Seattle earlier this week. Now it’s 10:15 p.m. and I’m nursing a little thimble of bourbon and a very dark chocolatey walnut brownie, thankful for these long, light nights. Already thankful for July and hopeful that it’ll feel like a spacious and slow season of tomatoes, late nights, early mornings, picnic table dinners and learning to grill (finally). Over the past few years I’ve done a sort of summer bucket list on the blog, listing a few things I’d like to tackle or accomplish that season. But this year that feels all off for so many reasons. Namely, between wedding and honeymoon planning and houseguests and attempts at weekend getaways — I can’t stomach many more lists. Let’s deem this the season to get rid of lists, shall we? A season in which there are still so many things to get excited about, from brownies to books to podcasts and music. So let’s dive in.
A few books I’m excited about this summer: I’ve downloaded Eleanor and Park onto my iPad and am looking forward to starting it this weekend, despite the articles Sam sends me on why YA fiction is lame. I’m also almost done with This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (and looking forward to the movie in September!). It’s a great, quick read touching on the modern family and relationships in general; the writing is breezy but smart. As for cookbooks, I just bought Nina Planck’s spot-on The Real Food Cookbook and can’t wait to start cooking from it. If you aren’t familiar with Planck’s other work, she’s big into a very commonsense, ‘listen to your body’ approach to eating and cooking — and I love her encouragement to eat full-fat dairy and butter. This cookbook feels very approachable to me — each recipe has just a handful (some, a large handful) of ingredients with no wacky flavor combinations or extraordinarily innovative techniques or ideas. For some reason this summer, this feels like just what I need. Real, simple food without the bells and whistles. I haven’t been this excited about a cookbook for a really long time (I’ll make something from it soon – promise!)
And of the few podcasts I’ve been listening to lately: I think I’m a bit late to the party, but I so adore Grace Bonney’s podcast After the Jump. You may know Grace from Design Sponge, but her podcast appeals to me because it speaks to a lot of the small business issues and questions I struggle with. She interviews really interesting people — from authors to chefs to business owners — and gets their take on building a brand, forming a business, eeking out free time within a busy schedule, marketing and design, and how to navigate this weird social media world many of us find ourselves swimming in. I also listen to Splendid Table when I’m packing up boxes at Marge and then there’s a funny Harvard Business Review Podcast HBR Ideacast that I find myself drawn to as well. What podcasts are you loving? Tell me! I’m thirsty for them.
As for summery food, how about Heidi’s line up of Picnic Bowls? I’m also going to hop on the trend of Coconut Snow (have you tried it?) and I can’t wait to try Melissa Clark’s Master Ice Cream Recipe. And for breakfast, you all know how much I love millet — how about Laura’s Vanilla Bean Millet Porridge with Lavender Strawberries and Super Seeds? YES. Or these Raw Bounty Bars or this Tomato Tart with Basil Oil and Almond Pepper Crust? Summer: let’s do this.
But back to the business at hand: brownies and Erin Alderson’s brilliant cookbook, The Homemade Flour Cookbook. The entire gist of Erin’s book is centered around using different whole grain flours (and milling your own) in sweet and savory recipes for each meal of the day. I spent an entire hour with the book when I first opened it up, carefully placing post-it notes and jotting down future notes (bring on the socca!). If you haven’t yet heard of Erin’s book, maybe you’ve stumbled across her blog Naturally Ella, where she covers all manner of healthy vegetarian fare — from crepes to seasonal whole grain salads, messy tacos to chocolate cupcakes. Erin’s blog has a certain ease to it; much of the food is similar to the way we cook at home, so I suppose I feel like I just pulled up a chair at a good friend’s counter: a refreshing sentiment seeing that Erin and I have yet to meet in person.
I chose this recipe in particular because it’s simple and I’m going to make a grand sweeping assumption here that if you’re anything like me, complex recipes don’t belong in the summertime kitchen. For the past few weeks, dessert in our house has consisted of little bowls of farmers market berries. Or an occasional coconut popsicle. But these warm, looooonnng nights leave me craving a little something sweet later in the evening and these walnut brownies have proven to be just the thing. I’d also like to report they make a great late morning / second cup of coffee snack — especially if you’ve been waking up early with the sun as I have lately. The only tweak I made was in using a little less sugar and a little more walnut meal (I’m on a bit of a reducing sugar kick). Erin calls these Walnut Cocoa Brownies, but for me they came out on the thinner side (and I tested them twice) — no less delightful, but appropriately nicknamed Walnut Brownie Thins, I think (I ran it by Erin and she approves). And whereas some cakier brownies can be crumbly and messy, these hold together almost like a chocolate shortbread cookie, so you can take them on the go easily, too.
Slightly adapted from: The Homemade Flour Cookbook
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together the walnut meal, arrowroot, cane sugar, cocoa powder and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, vanilla and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Spread the brownie batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 38-45 minutes, or until brownies are set in the middle and pulling away from the pan a bit. Let cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight container 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.