We just returned from my mom’s cabin on Lake George in upstate New York where we often spend the 4th of July. As usual, each bedroom was packed with family members (this year the couch was even occupied for a night), and our days with reading, lounging on the dock, swimming a bit, maybe jogging down the road or playing tennis if you were feeling ambitious. We drank a notable amount of seltzer water; I managed to read three books and my mom threw us a family baby shower complete with balloons, chocolate cake and Mike’s rhubarb bars.
In previous years, my mom has planned most of the dinners and even some lunches, but for breakfast we’d all fend for ourselves. I’d often bake a pie or a batch of brownies in the afternoon and everyone would help out where they could, but she would largely do the shopping and brunt of the cooking. This year was different: having just moved from California to Vermont, my mom had a lot on her plate and sent out an email before the holiday weekend asking us all to chip in and help with the meals. Sam and I claimed Friday dinner: we grilled sausages and Sam made his famous deviled eggs. We cut up some unusually seedy watermelon that I found at the co-op in Burlington before we drove out to the lake, and I made a summery quinoa salad that I expected to be kind of epic. The trouble was that it wasn’t. I overcooked the quinoa until it was kind of a congealed mush and everything just went downhill from there. But I knew that the idea was strong — to pack a whole grain salad with all the things of summer (corn! tomatoes! basil!) — so when we got home to Seattle I tried again. And this time it’s a winner.
For our book club this past Monday I made a similar quinoa salad from an old issue of Bon Appetit with herbed goat cheese and some fresh peaches I picked up at the farmers market. I made beet hummus to go with it; Natalie brought summery tomato garlic toasts and Sarah brought pita to go with the hummus and gelato for dessert. It was the perfect colorful mishmash of a meal that I think makes summer eating so wonderful. Natalie said it best: It’s all so easy when everything is so fresh and beautiful.
I was inspired by the recipe from book club and decided to take another stab at my supposed-to-be-epic quinoa salad. I kept Bon Appetit’s quick pickled onions, but added a mishmash of summery ingredients I had on hand. It’s so colorful and smashing it looks like confetti straight from a pinata, so that’s what I decided to call it. Now if the pickled onions feel like a step you’re just not into, you could leave them out altogether (although I think they’re crazy delicious) but make sure to add a little acid to round out the flavors of the salad — I’d start with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, taste and adjust as needed. The nice thing about the onions, I will say, is that the recipe below makes a bit more than you really need for the salad, so you’re set for future salads, sandwiches, or tacos.
You can make this salad about 6 hours ahead if you’d like: to do so, just leave out the basil and greens and fold them in right before serving. While I didn’t use it this time around, I think this salad would be great with some creamy goat cheese and if you’re looking to amp up the protein, you could always fold in a few handfuls of your favorite beans or marinated tofu. And remember you’ll have leftover pickled onions, so be sure to save them for future sandwiches and salads. Once you get used to having them around, they make for a most beloved condiment.
For the Pickled Onions:
For the Salad:
Place onion in a small bowl. Bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to ensure they’re mixed well. Pour over onion slices and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain but reserve the pickling liquid. Roughly chop the onions and set aside.
Bring quinoa, 3 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and reduce the heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and spread into large salad bowl to cool.
Place both ears of corn in a large pot of boiling water. Allow the water in the pot to come back to a boil, cover, and cook on low for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Remove from pot and set on a dry, clean surface to cool. Once cool enough to handle, slice the corn off the cob by balancing a flat end of the cob on a cutting board and using a downward cutting motion with a nice, sharp knife. This should yield about 1 1/2 cups corn kernels for the salad.
In a large salad bowl, toss together corn, tomatoes, arugula, 1 cup chopped onions (use more if you’d like), basil and chives. Add olive oil and 3 tablespoons of the reserved pickling liquid. Fold in quinoa and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and more pickling liquid if you’d like.
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.