I stood in line at the post office for well over an hour last week and Sam got his turn yesterday. We’re not even procrastinating this year, but the season sure has a way of sneaking up — full force — on us all at some point, doesn’t it? Many evenings over the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching holiday cooking classes at The Pantry, and because of this I knew my own baking may end up taking the backseat, so I did a little advance planning and made and froze dough ahead of time so things would feel less harried right. about. now. Because soft, fragrant cocoa-kissed gingerbread cookies should be the fun part — waiting at the post office? That’s another story.
After my last post, I got a handful of emails about how some of you feel downright sad during the holiday season and you don’t know why, or you’re not sure how to find that joyous feeling that a lot of your coworkers seem to have. My sister Zoe shared a story with me last night that made me smile and think about the different ways the holiday spirit finds us. A girlfriend of Zoe’s from college recently had her car broken into and her bag stolen. In the bag were all of her holiday cards, ready to be mailed. Of course, calling and replacing credit cards and dealing with the immense hassle of a car break-in is one thing, but having worked on a personal card, knowing now that family and friends won’t get it this year is another.
Well just yesterday, friends in Zoe’s sorority started receiving the cards. Word started spreading from pockets around the country: the thief had sent the cards! The news is grim out there, it’s true. I give myself very controlled parts of the day in which to keep up with it so as not to bring down my time with family or interfere with my workday. But then every now and then, there are stories like this that show a tiny pocket of odd, unconventional holiday spirit – but holiday spirit none the less. Sure, this person is still very much a thief and nothing about what they did should be lauded… but they’re a thief that decided to help spread a little spirit this season, too. I’ve been doing my share with cookies this year. I worked on this recipe and got to say a few words about baking with kids in the kitchen for Garnet Hill (thus the reason I’m wearing lipstick and look so calm while decorating with Oliver). Much like sugar cookies, this is actually a great recipe to have kids help with the decorating: I piped the frosting and Oliver placed the little cinnamon hots or sprinkled on the colored sugar. He points at each of them and says “mine” as if he owns the whole cookie lot, when really we’ve been gifting and giving them away. But he’s very proud to have helped, and I’m happy to have begun the tradition with him.
I’ll see you back here in 2018, friends. It was a hard year in many ways collectively, and a wonderful year in other ways, too. Sometimes it feels like food is a funny, trite thing to focus on when there are so many other things to write about and photograph today — things that may do more good perhaps? But then I remind myself that feeding each other well is the start of it all, it’s where we begin and fuel our days and where we check in with one another. So let’s meet back up at the table in 2018. It’s a good place to start.
If you’re celebrating the holiday, I hope you have a wonderful, restful time with your people and are able to find (and spread) a little holiday spirit of your own this week. Happiest of holidays to you.
Gingerbread cookies during the holiday season are a tradition in our house, and this recipe isn’t shy with the warm spices or molasses. Orange zest and cocoa powder add another layer of flavor, and a simple vanilla icing makes them quick to decorate (even for small hands). One note on cookie preference: some people like soft chewy gingerbread cookies and others like them snappy and crisp. You can get exactly what you want here — for thinner, more crisp cookies, you’ll just want to roll your thinner men (1/8-inch). Remember, they’ll continue to firm up as they cool, so the fact that they feel soft to the touch right out of the oven doesn’t mean that’s how they’ll stay. A good rule of thumb, I find, is to pull them from the oven just before you think they’re really done.
For the Cookies:
For the Icing:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and allspice on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed with a rubber spatula. Add the molasses, egg and orange zest and beat until fully incorporated.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together both flours, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter and beat until just combined (be careful not to overmix here).
Divide the dough into two even pieces and place on separate sheets of plastic wrap. Form into a chubby disk, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least one hour and up to overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Working with one disk at a time, roll out the dough on a well- floured surface until about 1/4 – 1/8 inch thick (thinner if you like your cookies on the crispy/snappy side). Cut out as many cookies as you can get from each disk, and transfer the cut-out cookies onto the prepared baking sheets. Reroll the dough scraps and cut out additional cookies (you can re-roll one time; after that, I find the dough is too warm and it can become tough – in this case, simply refrigerate for at least 15 minutes and re-roll). Continue until you’ve used up your dough and cookie sheets are full.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cookies are firm around the edges (they’ll be slightly puffed and a little soft in the middle). Allow them to cool for five minutes before transferring to cooling racks to cool completely.
Meanwhile, make the icing: in a small bowl, whisk together confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla. The icing should be thick but smooth enough to pour – if it’s too thick and would be too hard to pipe, add a little more milk. If it’s too thin and runny, add a little more confectioners sugar. Transfer to a plastic bag and snip off a small corner to allow for piping (or, if you have a piping bag or squeeze bottle, those are great, too).
Pipe onto cookies, and set aside for at least two hours to allow the icing to firm up. If adding any sprinkles or candy decorations, do so while the frosting is still wet. Cookies are best enjoyed within five days of baking, but if kept airtight, should keep for 7-10 days.
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.