I’m sitting here in my bright, sunny 9th floor Los Angeles hotel room staring out at the Hollywood Hills, drinking odd boxed water (Ohhhh, L.A.) with room service iced coffee on the way. I should be checking out one of the many cafes I’ve been wanting to try or exploring Koreatown but instead, I felt like checking in with you (and having a real, uninterrupted moment with this iced coffee). I’m traveling this week for pure pleasure — something I haven’t done since Oliver was born — and while I have a few things on my to-do list before I meet up with friends in Venice for the weekend, the biggie is spending some quiet downtime reading, writing, brainstorming, sunning, drinking overpriced smoothies, and getting a little clarity on work and where to put my best efforts right now. To gain more spaciousness of mind, as one of my former yoga teachers would say.
On the flight here, I kept thinking about writers, bloggers and publications that are inspiring me right now, and what they’re doing that ultimately makes them special. The answer isn’t shocking: authentic voice and niche — carving out a space for yourself and communicating within that space in a genuine-to-you way. So I’d love to talk about keying into that in the places we work, commune, and play. And how to find more spaciousness in all those places. I’m sharing a fitting recipe here from Laura Wright, one of the queens of plant-based cooking and blogging, and a brilliant photographer. She has a new cookbook out that I’ve become obsessed with as each recipe is interesting and distinct without feeling off-putting, pretentious, or complicated. If you know her blog The First Mess, you know Laura has a casual and approachable voice that makes you feel as if you’re cozied up right next to her in the kitchen. You trust her, you get to know her food and style, and you come back to her site for what she does so well.
Niche and voice aren’t just important in my small world of cookbook writers and food bloggers – they’re also a big consideration in business. With my granola company, Marge, we constantly have to work to continue building our brand and making sure our customers know how we’re distinct from our competitors. You could call it positioning or staying on-brand; you could call it remaining true to yourself and your mission. They’re both getting at the same thing in the long run.
I bring this up now because I find myself in a unique and fortunate position with Marge Granola where it runs pretty well without me actively overseeing operations. So I’m starting to flirt with the idea of another cookbook and ways in which I can grow and nourish this space here with you. And with that being said, I have a favor to ask: I’d love to hear about what you most like about this space and why you come back. Is it for the whole grain baking recipes? Are you interested in weeknight dinner ideas? Do you enjoy the writing? Do you actually read the writing or tend to skip on through to the recipe? I’d so appreciate it if you took a moment to let me know in the comments here.
The few instances over the years when I’ve tried to tailor my blog content to what I thought I should be doing or what might get the most traffic were the precise moments when the blog felt farthest from me. And of course, like most things in life, what’s the point if it doesn’t feel exciting and juicy and … like you?
While a few years ago there were certainly more complex baking recipes, lately I’m much more drawn to healthy, doable weeknight dinners, it seems. Largely because we’ve got a kiddo to feed and get to bed and it’s nice when Sam and I can sit down to eat before 9 pm. Imagine that! I’d also love to show you around our home more, introduce you to some of Sam’s famous-to-us cocktails, maybe do a few entertaining or travel posts. So as I sit here and brainstorm future creative endeavors, I’d genuinely love to hear what you’re most excited about and interested in — why you keep coming back here. And please know that I’m so honored and humbled that you do.
Quick recipe note: I remained pretty true to Laura’s recipe here with the exception of using a few more olives (I have a Lebanese husband; what can I say?). Laura calls for 1/2 cup olives and I added 2 additional tablespoons.
I took a small liberty with Laura’s recipe in serving our pasta with grated Parmesan cheese, but obviously leave it out if you’d like the recipe to remain vegan. Any spaghetti or linguine pasta will be great here — I used a brown rice pasta that we’ve been into these days. Leftovers are great for lunch the next day.
Very slightly adapted from The First Mess Cookbook
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the diced eggplant with a generous sprinkle of sea salt. Let the eggplant sit for 10 minutes to release some of its water. Pour the salted eggplant into a colandar and rinse with fresh water. Dry the eggplant pieces as thoroughly as you can with a kitchen towel, and then lay them on the prepared baking sheet.
Toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the salt and pepper. Spread the eggplant out into a single layer. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and roast until the eggplant is tender and has browned slightly, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
In a large deep skillet or pot, heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir and saute for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the chili flakes and oregano, and stir. Add the tomatoes and vegetable stock to the skillet, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for 30 minutes .
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Drop the basil leaves into the tomato sauce and submerge the leaves. Cover the sauce and let it continue to cook for 10 more minutes.
Remove the basil leaves from the sauce, and season it with salt and pepper. Add the roasted eggplant and chopped olives to the sauce, and stir to distribute. Carefully toss the cooked pasta into the sauce. After the noodles are coated in sauce, sprinkle the chopped basil on top. Serve hot.
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.