People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn’t heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I’d start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we’d never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we’d likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it’s true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear — and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don’t get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He’s obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he’d keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word “trash” and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet — his teacher mentioned he’d had it on most of the day and really, really didn’t want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn’t want it any other way. But, man it’s also exhausting.
Pair this general tiredness with a legitimate change in the weather this week in Seattle and we’ve been spending most evenings at home, and more weekend time hunkering down, too. I’ve spent more money than I care to admit on Cinderella pumpkins for our stoop and Sam has been doing some actual, real-life meal planning on the weekends (we’ve been cooking a lot from Melissa Clark’s book, Dinner: Changing the Game, which is great, approachable, and surprisingly…doable). I remember before we had Oliver I found meal planning really depressing: what if I don’t feel like fish tacos on Wednesday?! But right here, in this season, it doesn’t as much matter what you feel like for dinner, it matters that it happens at all in the first place. And it’s happening, and for that we feel victorious.
A few days ago when we didn’t have much planned for dinner, I was craving a really creamy and slightly spicy soup so I jotted down what I hoped would be a thai-spiced carrot soup but amped up a bit. I added cauliflower and ginger, a little lemongrass and a generous hit of red curry paste. I kept stirring it and tasting it and yelling up to Sam to get down here and Try. This. Soup. No exaggeration, this is the best soup I’ve ever made. It will be in heavy, heavy rotation this fall and is a great one to swap in if / when you tire of squash or pumpkin.
Whereas some pureed soups can still be a bit on the chunky or thick side, this soup is luxuriously smooth, even velvetty. The ingredient list and method is relatively straightforward and simple (leave out the jalapeño if you’d like — I’ve made it with and without, and it’s delicious both ways), and it freezes beautifully. Just the sort of thing I’ve needed around all week to fuel our post-dinner dance parties, laps around the downstairs part of the house with all manner of kitchen tools, and Oliver’s new favorite game, “Touch” (running from one end of the living room to the other, smacking the wall on each side and screaming “Touch”). Oh, and basement bike riding (him) while avoiding dangerous power tools (me, frantically). Wild, carrot soup-fueled times over here, I tell you. I’m doing my best to find humor and magic amidst the tiredness; there’s a lot of both. And in general trying not to look ahead in anticipation of the next season or blip to come, but sitting right down inside of this one. It feels like a good spot to be in and, in truth, one I’d looked forward to for so long.
A velvetty, smooth and creamy carrot and cauliflower soup with Thai flavors and vibrant toppings. I like my soup a little spicier, and often add up to 3 tablespoons of curry paste, so taste and adjust your seasoning and level of spice as desired. Similarly, if you really crave heat, feel free to throw another jalapeno in there (and also feel free to go totally without – it’s just as good).
In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook down for 5-6 minutes, or until it’s soft and translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, jalapeno, and lemongrass and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
Stir in the curry paste. Add the carrots, cauliflower, broth, coconut milk and salt and stir well. Bring the soup to a slow boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 35-40 minutes, or until the carrots and cauliflower are tender.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly (so you’ll have an easier time blending it). Using an immersion blender (or high speed blender), puree the soup in batches until smooth. Taste and season with additional salt and curry paste, if desired. Serve warm with suggested toppings. Soup will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freezes well, too.
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.