Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can’t remember a time we didn’t have an Oliver, and in other ways it’s all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent’s group, doctor’s visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver’s need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it’s thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we’ve all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it’s from her beautiful new cookbook that I’ve bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
I taught a cooking class last weekend and Sam and Oliver came to visit right at the very end. Oliver wore his favorite red moccasins and quickly made some new friends; Sam helped us eat leftover asparagus tart; and I boxed up some brownie ends and corners to eat later in the evening. I’m here to advise: brownie ends and corners taste their very best at about 11 p.m. As we were leaving, one of my students stopped me and asked how we possibly balance it all. This question always strikes me as tough (and I no longer ask it of people for that reason): Of course we feel like everything is immensely unbalanced and are constantly searching for time to exercise, eat better, cook something for dinner, procure something to make for lunch the next day, read the baby book on sleep habits that’s been sitting on the dresser for 2.5 months, read a non-baby book, water the lawn, figure out what’s killing the lawn, listen to Beyonce’s Lemonade — the list goes on. As it does for you. The stuff of daily life. The reason I bring it up is because the answer to her question is really that we tag team it so well. We have a pretty rigid weekly schedule where we trade off caring for Oliver, and Sam’s sister Christa helps us a few days each week. This way, we can aim to get most of our work done, and then we plan to fit the other things in later in the evening or on the weekends. And Oliver gets to chill in his own house with his own people.
The interesting thing about this tag-teaming is that we all have very different days with Oliver. It’s easy, when you’re talking about your baby, to think anyone’s experience would be similar: he sleeps about this time, he eats this much, he loves this toy, he loves walks in the carrier, white noise when he naps … and so on. But really a new person brings an entirely different layer to the unfurling of his days. When I’m with Oliver, we usually go for a long walk. We often make it to the grocery store, read books, eat avocado, practice crawling, sit in the backyard. When Sam’s with Oliver, they go pop in on Liz and her chickens, swing upside down, visit museums and the library, and walk to Essex in the early evening to have a quick drink before bringing home a takeout burger. Despite the fact she only lives four blocks away, I’d never known of Liz and her chickens until we all walked over that way recently. And I’d never thought to swing Oliver upside down. In his early fussy baby days, I didn’t have the guts to bring him to a museum. Christa’s days are different, too: she was the first to introduce him to the swings at the playground, and they go and visit her dog during the day and her son Kevin’s cat. She sings Row, Row, Row Your Boat and is trying to teach him to wave goodbye. We all have our things. And for that, I know that Oliver is so lucky.
Sam was out of town this past weekend and when I told him we were planning to go to the pool with our parents group, he said: “make sure you dunk him!” He likes getting Oliver used to the water by dunking him all the way under a few times, and I guess deep down I know that’s a good thing. But I can’t bring myself to do it. That’s not our thing. For that, he’ll just have to wait until his Papa gets home. I’m sure Liz and the chickens will be excited to see them stroll on by, too.
The method of folding half of the cherries into the batter and scattering the other half on top ensures that you’ll always get a bite of sweet, jammy fruit in each slice.To mix things up on the fruit end, Yossi mentions substituting any berry or stone fruit that may be in season instead of using cherries. I love the kamut flour here because it’s warm and nutty, but if you have trouble finding it, feel free to use all-purpose flour instead — or experiment with whole wheat or spelt flour.
Adapted from Sweeter off the Vine
For the streusel:
For the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan.
To make the streusel: In a small bowl, stir the flour, oats, sugar, poppy seeds and salt together. Add in the butter and use your fingertips to mix until small crumbs form. Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
To make the cake: Whisk the flours, baking powder, poppy seeds, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside. Add the sugar to a large bowl and grate about 1 tablespoon of lime zest directly into the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until evenly distributed. Add the oil, eggs, yogurt, and lime juice and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture all at once, switch to a rubber spatula, and stir until just combined. Fold in half of the cherries.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the remaining cherries over the top. Sprinkle the streusel in an even layer over the cherries. Bake the cake until puffed and golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing. This cake will keep for about three days in an airtight container 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.