Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we’re all really good at making excuses to leave the office early — or, simply, to “work from home.” I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I’d been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour — sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat.
The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver’s cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I’d say. Coming home I realized we didn’t have much in the fridge for lunch — but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It’s the kind of salad that’s meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn’t yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there’s always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open — a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
I originally developed this recipe for my whole grain column in Edible Seattle, and at the time was longing to work in as much color as possible to kick the mid-winter blues. Lemons help. Preserved Meyer lemons really help. We always make a few jars of preserved lemons sometime in January or February and love using them in salads, hummus, dips — so many things, really. If you’ve never made them, they’re so, so simple and after awhile you don’t need a recipe; it’s more of a method and a feel than anything. But this is a good place to start.
For this salad, I used Hayden Flour Mills’s farro which is so wonderfully nutty and chewy. If you’re not familiar with the company, they are led by a father / daughter team based in Arizona and they’re doing really amazing things with whole grains. I love their pancake mixes, purple barley and whole grain crackers — and it just so happens that Sam’s graphic design firm, Neversink, revamped their new packaging. It’s always nice when good people get to work together to make something great truly shine, and I think that’s exactly what happened with Hayden Flour Mills’ products.
I hope you had a wonderful week, and I want to thank all of you for your sweet, encouraging comments on motherhood, balancing work, and life in general. I know I’ve said it before, but I realize there are hundreds (thousands?) of online forces vying for your attention and energies, and I so appreciate you all stopping by this pocket of mine. And taking the time to leave a comment every now and again. It really means so much.
Hearty grain salads are a staple in our house, and this one hits all the right notes with slightly bitter arugula, bright lemon, creamy feta and crunchy pistachios. Like most hearty whole grain salads, this one is quite versatile, so you could certainly use a different grain if you’d like. Barley, wheat berries or even freekeh would be great. And a different hearty green or nut will also work just fine. With savory recipes, I love cooking my grains with a bit of broth in addition to water for an extra boost of flavor. And if you’re not a big feta fan, feel free to swap in goat cheese, shaved Parmesan or ricotta salata.
Add the farro, broth and water to a 2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer until farro is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 25-30 minutes. If there is excess liquid after the farro is done cooking, simply strain it away. Let farro cool, then discard bay leaves.
In a small bowl or mason jar, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, shallot and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the cooked farro, arugula, 1/4 cup pistachios, preserved lemon and chives to a large salad bowl. Toss with the dressing. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Fold in the feta and top with remaining 1/4 cup pistachios. Serve room temperature or refrigerate, covered, for up to 4 days (bring to room temperature before serving).
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.