Come July you can (too) often find me at the nursery stocking up on plants, cursing myself for not getting out into the yard sooner. Last year I texted my mom a photo of all the annuals I bought in late July and she gently reminded me they’d probably die in six weeks. This year, I was determined to get started before our July 4th barbecue and, true to form, managed to wait until the last minute. But here we are — with new annuals and a whole evergreen shade-loving situation under our rhododendron tree. Even chives and parsley. Oliver’s obsessed with watering the plants, but does so with such gusto (and crushing force) that Sam and I usually take turns after he goes to bed in the evening — preferably, if things are really going our way, with a cold beer and black bean burger in hand. I drove by our hardware store on the way to work this morning and the sign out front said something about enjoying the halcyon days of summer. And I thought to myself, we are in them, aren’t we? A funny thing can happen when you live in Seattle: many believe the unofficial start of summer is July 5 as June can be pretty cloudy and even quite cool. So you hold your breath and wait until the days are clear and even hot and for some reason even then it takes a sign outside the local hardware store to remind you that yes, here we are. Those halcyon days are now.
In years past, we’d flown to my mom’s Adirondack cabin for the 4th of July, but with my youngest sister getting married in September, we decided to hold off and take a longer trip in early fall instead. On our own for the 4th it was, so out came the index cards and late night cookbook-hunting: these two ex-vegetarians were going to host their first July 4th barbecue, complete with toddlers yielding watering cans, aging annuals, and friends near and far. I made Samin’s tomato panzanella salad and a grilled corn salad, Greek potato salad and watermelon acqu fresca from The Modern Potluck. Sam made homemade barbecue sauce and marinade and we had grilled spicy sausages, chicken and herbed skirt steak. There were fresh cherries and watermelon, cocktails and cold rosé, and large slices of coconut cream pie around the fire pit later that night. Also, I didn’t take a single food photo or document the table, the music, the beautiful lights overhead or the over-too-soon fire at our feet. Or anything, for that matter.
The inspiration tank is low when it comes to social media lately and the result seems to be much less documentation of our meals or routines at home. I’m not sure how much of that is just the natural course of things with an active toddler hanging off of me at all hours of the day or perhaps more of a change of the tide, so to speak, but I really hope to find some light and excitement in that again and get back to a place where it feels natural and purposeful to share a bit more about the unfolding of our days. That being said, the unexpected result of this quieter season is a true settling into these halcyon days of summer, as our poetically inclined Ace Hardware reminds us. With fewer thoughts of staging a meal so it looks pretty for Instagram or getting out the camera at a restaurant with friends, the days feel less fragmented and planned — they’re unfolding as they should, without niggling thoughts about getting the right shot or what the appropriate hashtag should be. Like all of us I’m sure, I feel like summer is whizzing by, but at the same time I feel very firmly and deeply seated in it. There’s nowhere else to be, no other story to try to tell and the days are oh so long.
As for cooking, I always feel like I get a little of my mojo back in the summer: it’s just so easy with all of the beautiful, vibrant tomatoes and sweet summer corn. And while I loved our barbecue over the fourth, we were ready to have a few lighter meals this past week so I mixed up these smoky black bean burgers with a super creamy, herby Green Goddess sauce. They’re easy to pull together and feed a crowd, and while they don’t hold up terribly well on the grill we always eat them outside either on the front stoop, people watching, or in the backyard marveling how very very light it is at 9:30 pm.
Thanks to sweet potato, quinoa and black beans, these smoky vegetarian burgers are packed with nutrition and come together quickly. Like many homemade veggie burgers, they don’t behave famously on the grill, so I pan fry them and handle them gently; they’re supposed to be soft in texture. In terms of logistics, the burgers must chill for at least two hours, so plan for that when mapping out your day. You’ll have leftovers of this creamy, super herby Green Goddess sauce and we use it as a veggie dip, sandwich spread, or dressing for pasta salads.
Green Goddess Sauce (Makes about 1 cup):
Black Bean Quinoa Burgers:
Make the Green Goddess Dressing: Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy, about 45 seconds. Taste and add additional pinch (or two) of salt, if you’d like.
Make the Black Bean Burgers: In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering and add the onion. Sauté until fragrant and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes to avoid sticking.
Reduce the heat and add the garlic. Stir well and cook for another 1 minute.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the onion mixture along with the beans, sweet potatoes, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, salt, paprika, chile powder, cumin and cayenne pepper. Pulse to form a thick, chunky puree. Spoon mixture out into a large bowl, fold in the quinoa and flour, and stir to combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate mixture for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days
When you’re ready to cook the burgers, lightly oil your hands and divide the mixture into equal portions. Shape each into patties about 1-inch thick.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and set patties into skillet (you’ll likely only be able to cook 3-4 at a time, depending on size of your skillet). Cook on each side for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add a little more oil to the pan if the burgers begin to stick. Serve with lettuce, avocado and Green Goddess Sauce.
Planning Ahead: Cooked or un-cooked, the burgers will keep well for up to 3 days covered in the refrigerator, or you can freeze the un-cooked burgers in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Cooked burgers can be done in advance and reheated in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes.
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.