I spent the weekend slowly packing — working through my office and then moving down to the kitchen. We’ve still got about two weeks until we actually move but I hate leaving things to the last minute and feeling like a crazy person (regardless of how much one plans, doesn’t moving pretty much always make you feel like a crazy person?) So instead of working on freelance projects or doing carefree spring weekend things, I spent some quality time carefully selecting kitchen items I know we can live without for a little while: colander, salad spinner, yogurt maker, madeline pan. Making donation piles of books, old games and pants I haven’t worn in two years doesn’t seem to be a problem, but when it comes to the kitchen it’s hard for me to let go. Case in point: the madeline pan. Do I remember the last time I made a madeline? Not really.
But beyond the things I chose to pack, I’m interested in the ones I’ve deliberately left out, knowing I clearly can’t live without them: ice cream maker, muffin pan, favorite salad bowls, pie plate. Apparently, there’s ice cream and pie in our future balanced with a few good salads and a muffin or two. At about 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, we’d run out of newspaper and good packing boxes and it was time to take a break. I scanned a few recent cookbooks to see if a recipe called to me right away, and sure enough I found just the thing in Anna Jones’ new A Modern Way to Eat. Cookies. And not just any cookies. These are soft, slightly chewy Coconut Oatmeal Cookies made with oats, toasted coconut, coconut oil and a little brown sugar. They’re so simple you can pull them together even if you’ve packed much of your kitchen into boxes and aren’t entirely sure where your measuring cups now live.
I received a copy of A Modern Way to Eat in the mail a few weeks ago and was immediately smitten. The style of food is simple, healthy vegetarian and most of the ingredient lists are short and familiar — because of this it comes off as approachable right away. While recipes such as Deep Dish Leek and Greens Pie, Smoked Paprika Oven-Baked Fries and Strawberry Poppy Seed Crisp entice, I’m charmed by the ways Anna gives you a blueprint or snapshot into making your own salads, soups or roasts. For example, there’s a great page on Ten Ways with Avocado on Toast, or Three Go-to Pasta Recipes. I love the page on How to Make a Great Salad, which contains steps 1-5 that start you off Choosing Good Salad Leaves (and listing options) followed by Adding Some Interest (again, with lots of inspiring ideas), Adding Texture, Make it Hearty, and so forth. Anna encourages you to get creative with food on your own terms, off script, without strict formula or recipe.
Her Coconut Oatmeal Cookies won out on Sunday simply because I had all of the ingredients on hand and didn’t have to make an extra trip to the store. Oven preheated, ingredients weighed out, and we were in business. Climbing over boxes to melt the coconut oil, burning the coconut once and having to start over, realizing I was out of raisins and relying on dried cherries instead — nothing could hold these cookies back. Sam worked the farmers market for me that day and when he got home I handed him a cookie on my way out the door for a run and he texted a few minutes later that they were ACTUALLY AMAZING. Sam is critical when it comes to cookies and he doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as I do, so for him to really get behind something sweet in a way that would necessitate capital letters is a rare occasion. That’s a big endorsement around here.
Megan’sNotes: I made a few tweaks to the recipe as I went: I added 1/2 teaspoon of salt (original recipe didn’t call for any), I swapped in whole wheat pastry flour (the recipe calls for either spelt or coconut flour), and I actually ended up adding 1/2 cup more flour than the recipe calls for because my cookie dough was pretty wet once I’d completed the instructions. This could certainly be user error (although I did carefully weigh all ingredients), but I just had a hunch they weren’t going to turn out well if I put them in the oven as is. What I ended up doing is giving you my tweaks below for what worked for me, but perhaps be mindful that Anna calls for 3/4 cup flour in the recipe so if you want to be a purist and follow her formula precisely you could certainly start there. Then if your dough is quite wet like mine was, you’re going to want to add a bit more. I found 1 1/4 cups flour to be perfect, and that’s what you’ll find in the recipe below. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.
Anna’s recipe calls for raisins, but we happened to be out so I used dried cherries instead. Certainly use any dried fruit you’re excited about — I thought chopped dates would be really nice next time. Or perhaps fold in some toasted nuts like pecans or walnuts instead of the fruit. The options feel endless.
Adapted from: A Modern Way to Eat
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread the coconut out on one baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool. Increase oven temperature to 375 F.
Weigh out the following ingredients into a bowl: both flours, oats, toasted coconut, cherries, brown sugar, salt, and baking soda.
Next, melt the coconut oil in a small pan (or use the microwave) until liquid. Allow to cool slightly before adding the maple syrup. Stir the warm mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well — the dough should look a little crumbly but should come together when you squeeze it and form into a ball.
Using a spoon and your hands, form the dough into balls. For larger cookies, make them just over a tablespoon in size; for smaller ones, make them a generous teaspoon size. Place on prepared baking sheets, leaving 1-inch inbetween each cookie. Gently press down on the tops of each to flatten slightly.
Bake the larger cookies for 11-12 minutes and the smaller ones for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden on top and even in color. When you pull them out of the oven they will still feel soft and you’ll wonder if they’re done — they firm up as they cool. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the trays before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.
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.