Last Saturday we felt the whisper of fall for the first time — it was an ominous grey morning with pretty intense wind and light rain, all interspersed with bouts of that saturated, golden September light that I look forward to each year. We had friends staying with us from out of town, and their toddler son Leon sampled an apple from our tree in the front yard (many an apple fell in the storm); suffice it to say, the apples didn’t get rave reviews. I had a feeling this would be the case. Sam made coffee and eggs, and later that morning our dear friends Brandon and Molly hosted a baby shower for us at their restaurant Delancey so we all headed out, looking forward to a day celebrating Baby Sprout with our people.
When we walked up to the door, Natalie was stringing these amazing colored flags she’d cut by hand across the restaurant, and Molly and Brandon were busy setting out bagels and spreads from Eltana, a tasty green bean and tomato salad, fresh fruit (thank you, Keena!) and Ashley’s addictive brownies. We busied ourselves hanging photos on the wall from when we were babies, and Sam raced around in typical Sam fashion chasing Natalie’s son Eero. I’ve been to many baby showers in the past where it was generally all women and there were games and gifts and the like — but we wanted to have a co-ed shower that wouldn’t feel too shower-ish, a comfortable gathering on a blustery Saturday afternoon with really good bagels and many of our friends.
I’m often asked questions about the baby and sometimes I have an answer right off the bat and other times I realize it’s something I haven’t thought about at all (oh, right, I probably should find a pediatrician for the baby, I suppose). Occasionally these things will end up as a conversation starter between me and Sam at home; other times, they’ll simply cause a minor personal panic attack while I’m driving to work (ohhhhh, the to-do lists!). But this question, “what are you most excited to teach your child?” had me thinking for awhile.
I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer right away. I’m used to this with many questions — whenever the old ‘what’s your favorite movie?’ talk comes up, I always remind myself I really need to think through favorite movies, books, meals because in the moment I never have an answer. And I’ve grown ok with that. I usually just blabber on and on about how it depends on the mood, the day, the season. But this question! As a former teacher who comes from a family of teachers, how could I not have an immediate thought about what I was most excited to teach our child?
I just finished the book Bringing up Bebe which, if you haven’t heard of it, is a great read that essentially compares American and French parenting styles. In it, author Pamela Druckerman talks about how American parents often enroll their kids in so many activities — from sports to music to dance — and drive all around town, often exhausting themselves, to make sure their kids experience as many activities as possible. French families, on the other hand, tend to let their children lead a bit more; parents aren’t as eager to exhaust the calendar with multiple activities, play dates, and commitments and instead wait to see how their child’s interests unfold.
Part of me thinks that my uncertainty about how to answer the teaching question is explained a little bit in Druckerman’s research: While of course I’m so looking forward to reading to our child and going on walks around the neighborhood, I haven’t thought much beyond that as I truly can’t wait to see what really excites Sprout — what he or she is interested in and attracted to. That must be one of the cooler things about earlier parenting: discovering your kid’s interests and proclivities, some that possibly you never shared yourself.
So call it more of a French approach or call it ‘too overwhelmed to ponder that question right now’, but we’re both looking ahead to November when we’ll have the chance to get to know our kid as a person slowly — part following, part guiding as we go. That’s all I know for sure right now.
Photo note: Our friend Gabe Rodriquez took these photos for us at the shower. He does amazing work, so if you’re in the Seattle area (or beyond!) and are looking for a photographer, he’s your man.
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.