On January 1, my sisters and mom texted our family chain asking what my word of the year would be. I’d loosely seen people talking about this idea online — the practice of choosing just one word to help guide your intentions and actions — but I hadn’t given it much thought. Didn’t really plan to, in fact; wasn’t even sure I found it that compelling, except… I knew immediately what my word was: pause. I recall in years past scheming up long, ambitious lists of things I wanted to tackle. But this year? No such list. Not that I don’t intend to do some tackling; I just want to carefully consider what those things might be.
A few of you may have seen my Instagram post last week in which I mentioned a book I’m reading, Designing Your Life. I’m generally a bit skeptical of books like this, but this one resonated as it talked about approaching your life as if it’s a problem to solve, much like designers approach a project — breaking it down first and then building it back up. If you’re feeling a bit stuck with work or fulfilling personal goals, I highly recommend it. I got to the exercise section of the book where authors Dave Evans and Bill Burnett encourage you to think about your life as a dashboard comprised of Health, Work, Play and Love. They have a visual that looks like the gas gauge in your car and ask you to shade the extent to which you feel each is full and satisfied. Work and Love are pretty self explanatory; Health is the physical but also the spiritual and emotional, and Play is something “just for the joy of it.”
I stopped cold when I came to that explanation. Something just for the joy of it! Imagine that! While I dutifully sat shading in my work gauge all the way full and my love gauge pretty darn full, I paused and realized my Play gauge was virtually empty. Well, that’s unsettling. My mom reminded me that sitting on the floor and reading to Oliver or chasing him around the house making lion noises fit squarely into my Play meter, which is certainly true. But most other things I could think of to possibly plunk into Play (yoga, hikes) had another end goal in mind (fitness, head-clearing); if I was honest with myself, they weren’t just for the joy of it.
So on this Monday afternoon, a bright wintry day when the snow is gleaming off the Olympics and there’s promise of leftover birthday cake at home, I’m reminding myself about my word this year. The word I didn’t really set out to choose, but that, as woo woo as it sounds, I think chose me.
Something I did explicitly choose? These beet burgers. They’re all about working a little less and playing more, perhaps in ways you wouldn’t guess. First, the recipe makes 8-10 burgers and the leftovers are great for easy, simple lunches, so you won’t have to spend too much mental energy on meal planning. In our house lately, we have to think about feeding ourselves but also our toddler, so now I really only gravitate to recipes that Oliver can eat as well — that way, I’m not spending all of my time in the kitchen or staying up at night to try to prep things for him to eat the next day. Because that’s making the Work gauge overflow at this point. Less of that. More sitting on the floor eating leftover beet burgers with our hands. Just for the joy of it.
Cook’s Notes: These beet burgers don’t have bread crumbs or any flour to help bind them, relying solely on egg, so they are quite delicate and a bit crumbly. I’ve made them a few times and find that an extra egg helps hold them together so while Luisa calls for just one, I’ve added an extra one to the recipe below. Make them on the smaller side to avoid any chance they’ll fall apart on you, and when flipping them, do so with care. I didn’t mind the slightly crumbly texture — we just slid them right into a bun and everyone was quite happy.
Another note: I happened to be out of green lentils, so I used red lentils and they turned out great. Personally, I find it a little onerous to cook up such a small amount of lentils and rice, so I made a proper pot of each and saved what I didn’t use to make grain bowls or fold into soups or salads throughout the week. Last, do know that grating the beets is a bit messy – I use a box grater and grate them directly onto a cutting board we don’t care about. Enjoy!
I love serving these vibrant burgers nestled into a seedy bun with sliced avocado, a few greens, and an easy herbed yogurt sauce (rough “recipe” below). You could really take these burgers to the next level with sauteed mushrooms and melted cheese, but as Luisa mentions, you can also eat them more like latkes or falafel. The burger mix itself can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator, and the cooked burgers stay good for up to four days, covered and refrigerated.
Recipe barely adapted from Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen
For the Burgers:
For the Herbed Yogurt Sauce:
Slice the onion to a thickness of 1/4 inch. In a medium skillet, saute the onions in the oil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, until they start to darken and caramelize. Reduce the heat slightly and add the beets along with the garlic, walnuts, raisins, and paprika, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a food processor and pulse several times until chunky (you still want it a little chunky here). Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and fold in the lentils, salt and pepper.
Replace the food processor (no need to rinse it!), add the rice and eggs, and pulse to form a coarse puree. Scrape the rice mixture into the bowl with the onion-lentil mixture and mix well.
Lightly oil your hands and divide the dough into 8 -10 portions just under 1-inch thick.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat the bottom. Place the burgers in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Very gently flip the burgers and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the burgers have a firm, brown crust.
Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, herbs and salt. Serve burgers with your favorite accompaniments – I love sliced avocado, a few greens and a generous spread of yogurt sauce.
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.