We’ve been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I’ve always been a morning person, so this isn’t particularly challenging for me — although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down (“gosh, aren’t we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?”), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn’t wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible — and now I get it. I should’ve napped more. I should’ve listened.
In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I’ve had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I’ve made up some wacky baby tunes that I’m happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.
We’ve let many holiday traditions go this year and for a very good, bright-eyed and just-starting-to-smile reason. At first I was disappointed that we wouldn’t have time to put Christmas lights up outside the house or dress up and go to the bar at the Sorrento Hotel like we’ve done in the past to address Christmas cards (or do Christmas cards at all, frankly). But this year is just different, Sam is good at reminding me. It won’t always be as it is now with so much time at home on our couch — we’ll go out again in good time and dress up and have cocktails and write Christmas cards. And I think I can see that he’s right. But even in letting a lot of holiday traditions go this year, I decided there still must be gingerbread.
Now I’m a bit biased when it comes to gingerbread. My favorite recipe is the Whole Grain Gingerbread from my cookbook. I worked on that recipe for a long time to get it just right, just to my liking. It’s deeply spiced and fragrant with citrus and molasses, relies on whole grain flours yet is light enough for morning snacking. With fresh ginger, candied ginger and dried ginger, to me it’s the real deal. But lately I’ve been very much in the spirit of trying other people’s recipes — it feels a bit like letting them cook for me, and there’s nothing more comforting these days than letting others cook for you. I have a lot to say about this after having so many friends bring food by for us after Oliver was born, but I suspect you are all busy preparing for the holiday weekend, so I’ll save it for a very-soon-to-come post.
If you aren’t familiar with Alana’s work, I’ve so loved her first book The Homemade Pantry (remember these crackers?). In it, she has straightforward, delicious recipes for many things we often buy at the store but can easily make at home. She talks about cooking for her family and her life as a home cook and you very much entrust yourself in her hands — she knows what she’s doing and will guide you so that you will, too. The same is true with her new book, The Homemade Kitchen. It has even more narrative than her first book, with sections devoted to discussions on feeding others, feeding yourself, being a beginner cook, slowing down … and so much more. It’s a really rich cookbook, and when I stumbled upon her pear gingerbread at the very end of it, I felt like it was a direct invitation. It was time to try a new-to-me recipe and let Alana cook for me, so to speak.
Megan’s Notes: In Alana’s recipe, she calls for 1/2 cup honey but I wanted to eek in a little molasses so I opted for 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 molasses (instead of the full amount of honey) and it tastes wonderful and plenty sweet. I also used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour (certainly use all-purpose if you’d prefer and if you do, Alana calls for 2 cups) and added a few tablespoons of milk to account for the extra moisture that the whole grain flour needs. In general, you’ll want to be very careful not to over bake the gingerbread — the pears add a bit of moisture and the very top may look a touch wet when you pull it out of the oven for this reason. That’s good! It’ll be super moist and flavorful when it cools and firms up a bit.
Alana suggests to serve this with whipped cream, crème fraîche or caramel sauce and boy would those all be delicious. I suppose it’s a testament to her great recipe that I found it was just right all on its own. As with most gingerbread, it’s even better the second day.
Lightly adapted from: The Homemade Kitchen
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch square or equivalent pan.
In a small saucepan, melt together the butter, honey, molasses and brown sugar over low heat. Gently stir to combine as the mixture melts. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and combine with a few strokes of a wooden spoon, taking care not to over mix.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt and milk. Add the egg mixture to the batter and whisk to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.
Lay the pears on top of the batter in a pinwheel shape. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the cake, about 30 minutes. Store, covered, at 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.