I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam’s not feeling great and my energy’s a little low so it hasn’t been quite what we’d envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I’ve done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment — it just hasn’t come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it’s now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it’s been one of those weekends — the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there’s nothing I’d rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we’ve been having lately.
This past week, there was a day when you could’ve found me sitting in the middle of our bed with many a cookbook and magazine strewn about trying to plan out recipes to make and freeze before the baby arrives (do you have any favorites? I’d honestly love to know; I’m feeling overwhelmed)! As it stands now, in our house when dinnertime rolls around, we do a lot of the ‘what do you feel like?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you feel like?” and by the time we’ve successfully answered that question one of us is off to the grocery store and we’re lucky if we’re eating by 8:30 p.m. I’m well aware that this isn’t ideal or sustainable with a brand new baby, so I want to be sure we’re pretty well stocked to avoid the scenario.
In addition to meal planning, the closet in our guest room has little piles of items with family member’s names on them, leading Sam to draw the conclusion that I’ve surely lost my mind. But it turns out that when you’re expecting a November baby, it’s possible you may start worrying about Christmas gifts in October. I just know that it will be the absolute last thing we’re going to want to be bothered with, and I want to make sure we have this safe little bubble to linger in without to-do lists or grocery lists or Christmas concerns. So while we’ve both been working hard to get things taken care of at work so we can step away next month, it’s these little things I didn’t anticipate that would be keeping me up at night.
And that actually brings me to this cranberry cornbread, a recipe I was testing out to possibly make for Thanksgiving this year. It’s from Maria Speck’s newest book, Simply Ancient Grains, a cookbook I’ve been looking at longingly since it arrived months ago but haven’t yet had a chance to cook from. While we’ve never met in person, I think of Maria as my whole grain sister in crime: her first book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, is truly an invaluable resource if you’re looking for new and interesting ways to work whole grains into each meal of the day. Not surprisingly then, her newest book is just as much of a keeper — this time around, Maria focuses on making whole grains accessible to home cooks with lots of time saving and do-ahead tips.
I made a few very small tweaks to Maria’s recipe that I’ll note here: she calls for 1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt and I used 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt instead. In addition, her recipe uses fresh or frozen cranberries as well as dried cranberries, but I decided to forego the dried cranberries and use all frozen instead. If you’d like to try both, Maria recommends 3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries and 1/3 cup dried cranberries.
So while I realize the closet of your guest room may not be peppered with Christmas gifts and hopefully no one has found you sitting in the middle of your bed virtually in tears over chili recipes, I think you’re going to be happy to have this cornbread around the house. At the very least, it has a way of turning a not-so-productive day into something notable. Also, we froze half of it for when the baby arrives. And for that, Maria, my future self thanks you.
Maria calls for fine-ground cornmeal in her recipe, but I used medium-ground and it turned out just fine. I find the sweetness of this cornbread super subtle (and perfect), but if you know yourself and think you’d like a little more sweetness, Maria recommends increasing the amount of honey to 2/3 cup instead.
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Simply Ancient Grains
Position a rack in the center of the oven and place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet on it. Preheat the oven to 450F for at least 15 minutes. Remove 2 tablespoons of the measured cornmeal and add it to a small bowl.
Whisk together the remaining cornmeal, the spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs to blend. Gently whisk in the buttermilk, followed by the oil, honey and zest until smooth. Add the egg mixture to the center of the flour mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Don’t overmix; the batter should look a little lumpy.
Add the cranberries to the small bowl of reserved cornmeal and toss to coat — this prevents the fruit from sinking to the bottom. Gently fold into the batter.
Using thick oven mitts, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add the butter (it will sizzle and brown for great flavor) and tilt it carefully to coat the bottom and the sides of the pan. Scrape the batter into the hot skillet. Decrease the oven temperature to 400 F. Bake until the edges of the cornbread turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve warm or room temperature.
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.