One year ago today we were sitting at Elliot Bay Book Company, my chest feeling immensely tight, awaiting word from our broker about an offer we put on a house. In a very competitive market, it turned out that we were the tenth offer; I knew ours wasn’t the highest and that chances were slim. We’d spent a lot of time on a letter to the buyer and were just crossing our fingers that they might be the kind of people who would read such a letter and even like to envision a new family making a home there. But I also knew that money talks, and they’d likely choose the highest offer. During the reception for the book event, as I stood nervously sipping sparkling water, a text came through from our broker that they’d accepted our offer. The house was ours. I burst into tears and grabbed onto Sam and tried really, really hard not to take any of the attention away from our friend’s lovely book. But THE HOUSE. We got THE HOUSE!
In many ways, a year can go by so quickly. Every time the first of the month rolls around I always find myself thinking, where does the time go? (Or more like: It’s time to pay our mortgage again?!) But in other ways, so much happens in a year. I’m sitting here now inside that very same house we’d talked and dreamed about, with the baby that we still referred to as Sprout and had yet to meet, now napping upstairs. And there are two nice men out back helping us with a small brick patio. Last summer I told myself that pregnant ladies can’t do everything and the yard just lost the fight: neither of us had time to do much back there and we let it go. But this summer I’m determined to spend lots of time outside, eating cold noodle salads, reading a page or two of a book if Oliver lets me, and maybe even learning to sort-of use a grill.
In the past year, we’ve done some minor work on the house to make it feel lighter and softer and more like us; it’s a 1930’s brick Tudor so the rooms are quite small and tight and they were originally painted really dark, rather gothic colors. So we painted many of the rooms using grays and light blues and whites, put in some new fixtures, and are currently working with a company I love to bring about a few new touches in the dining room which I’m excited to tell you about in a few months.
And maybe by the time the sun decides to really show up in earnest, we’ll have some new grass sprouting in the backyard and a table big enough to sit some of our favorite people. But for now, I’ll settle for cold noodle salads inside and this past weekend, I doubled this recipe so I’ll have it for lunch every. single. day. It’s that good: light and refreshing, with asparagus at the height of its season, little ribbons of carrot, toasted sesame seeds and citrus-drenched tofu. It’s one of those salads that’s actually better the second day (if you can wait) and is best served room temperature or cold (I prefer cold).
I had the opportunity to partner with Albertsons and Safeway to create this noodle recipe, and was eager to try a handful of their Signature line of ingredients in the testing process. I was looking for an interesting way to brighten up baked tofu that didn’t rely on the typical peanut, tahini or Sriacha shuffle I usually do, so I opted for big citrusy flavor instead thanks to the Signature SELECT Seville marmalade and a healthy splash of orange juice. Those flavors are balanced with Signature Kitchens soy sauce, ginger, garlic and honey. It is perfect picnic food, but has also proved to be great lunch fuel at my desk this week, while staring out the window dreaming about the sunny days to come. I hope you’re all having a great week.
I use soba noodles for this salad although you can certainly use a rice or chow mein noodle if you’d prefer. And as with many simple noodle salads, this is quite adaptable so if you’d prefer using broccoli or another seasonal vegetable instead of the asparagus, go right ahead. And last, the marinade for the tofu and the dressing for the noodles both rely on a handful of the same ingredients, so keep them close at hand.
For the Tofu Marinade:
For the Noodles:
Prepare the Tofu: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the marmalade, orange juice, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, ginger and garlic.
Unwrap the tofu, blot with a few paper towels to remove excess moisture, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Arrange the tofu in an even layer in a 9×13 baking pan and pour the marinade on top. Stir to coat the tofu. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove, stir well, then bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until tofu is golden brown. Spoon the saucy tofu out of the pan and into a small bowl; set aside.
Prepare the Salad: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain the noodles and place them in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil, and blanch the asparagus for 90 seconds, or until bright green and tender. Immediately strain and rinse with cold water.
In a small bowl, make the dressing: whisk together the orange juice, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, marmalade, shallot and salt. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, toss the noodles with the asparagus, carrots, cilantro, green onion, ½ the amount of sesame seeds and red pepper flakes (if using). Gently fold in the tofu (along with the leftover marinade) and dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve room temperature (or cold), topped with the remaining toasted sesame seeds.
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.