After we cleaned the kitchen and put away all the platters, I made myself a cup of tea and thought about what could be done differently. This Thanksgiving was our first year actually cooking and hosting and honestly, for two longtime ex-vegetarians, preparing a turkey feels like a pretty major task. The week before, we had family in town for Oliver’s first birthday party and between baking cupcakes, ordering helium balloons and thinking through a simple brunch menu for close to 50 people, I felt pretty spent as far as entertaining was concerned. So Sam took on all things turkey, and I made my cranberry sauce and pie Wednesday night. A good compromise. And yet, it still felt like a lot for some reason and I found myself pacing around the house throughout the day, deliberately staying out of the kitchen and wondering at what point in adulthood things feel more natural (if not actually seamless) when it comes to entertaining during the holidays.
I think for a lot of us, the holiday season can be more of a source of stress than we’d like to admit. Or I’ll just speak for myself. There’s this short window of time that I so look forward to all year: we string lights outside the house, and spend more time indoors cooking and listening to records. We have a mulled wine party that always guarantees steamy windows and tipsy friends, and I bake things I’d usually consider too decadent or time-consuming. But along with that comes the flip side: the pressure to find gifts for friends and family, get our holiday card done, manage a handful of social obligations, hit important holiday sales goals at Marge, purchase plane tickets, and on and on. All of those things take up a good chunk of the next month, but they’re rarely the things I remember nor are they the things I necessarily look forward to when I think about the holidays. So instead of pacing around for the next month feeling much like I did on Thanksgiving day, I want to take a step back.
There are a few ways that I’ve decided to force myself to pause this season, and I thought I’d share them here in case you need a self-enforced break, too. First off, I’ve been carrying Rescue Remedy Drops around in my bag and keeping a bottle next to our loose teas for those moments when things start feeling like a little too much. If you haven’t heard of Rescue, they’ve been around for a looooong time and make a variety of products, but I like the homeopathic drops the best for minor, everyday stress relief (and they don’t cost a fortune, which is a bonus this time of year). I just put a few drops in my tea or water (or coconut milk eggnog, as is the case here) and forge on.
I know some of you may already use meditation apps and I’m a little late to the party here, but I’ve fallen pretty hard for Headspace, and have been trying to remember to sit still once a day, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. A lot of the meditation advice I’ve heard encourages you to find a quiet, peaceful corner in the house and aim to start your day with uninterrupted time before things kick into gear — and I think that’s why I was pushing back against practicing for awhile: like most parents, I don’t have control over when my day starts and I certainly don’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed and heading to my quiet, solitary meditation pillow. But I’ve tweaked things a bit and generally find time in the late afternoon to sit quietly, resetting my day and recalibrating things for the evening ahead.
Another little thing I’m finding helpful in managing everyday stress is trying really hard to work in exercise or walks with friends whenever I can. Living in Seattle you get used to dark days. It’s not as rainy as many people think but the winter is dark. So waiting until the weather is pleasant to head outdoors is something you have to let go. I remember when I first moved here, I thought it was so odd that people walked in the rain without umbrellas, completely unphased. Similarly, friends would meet up after work — in the dark — to get in a lap around the lake.
In addition to battling the diminishing light with walks and fresh air, I’ve also been trying to create more light: usually we string twinkly lights on the outside of the house for the holiday season, and this year we decided to bring them inside as well — I have a few strung in the dining room and I’m working on the mantle today. Deep breaths, walks, the light: All little things, really, but together I’m hoping they help make me feel more equipped to prioritize what’s most important this holiday season. As for this recipe: it seemed fitting to share something I’ve been making lately that is meant to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately. Eggnog isn’t really something you take a few quick swigs of on your way out the door: it’s meant to be savored and shared — so let’s. While I like real eggnog, I’ve long wanted to develop a coconut milk version because I love coconut milk and like to control the sweetness of my eggnog (some of the store bought stuff is so, so sweet). As a trifecta of stress relief, I’ve been sipping this lately with a few drops of Rescue Remedy (you can add it to hot or cold beverages) while sitting on the couch under our twinkling mantle lights. I’m not getting anywhere with that holiday card yet, but I am feeling a little slower, more intentional, and more deliberate with the days so far. I hope you are, too.
I wanted this dairy-free eggnog to be naturally sweetened (but not too sweet) and to taste much like traditional eggnog, so there’s a nice balance between coconut sugar and maple syrup and a generous hand with the nutmeg. I love coconut sugar because it’s unrefined and has a slightly dark, caramelly flavor profile, which feels just right here. It’s best served cold right out of the fridge and is pretty decadent, so a little goes a long ways.
Bring coconut milk to a simmer in a medium pot over medium-high heat. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, coconut sugar, salt, maple syrup and vanilla until smooth.
Gradually whisk the hot coconut milk into the egg mixture, streaming it in slowly as you go so as not to cook the eggs. Pour the mixture back in the pot and cook over medium heat until thick, stirring to avoid burning, about 2-3 minutes.
Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a large bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours and up to overnight. To serve, pour into your favorite cups and grate nutmeg on top.
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.