Hello, January! I still hear people out on the street and in my exercise class wishing one another a happy New Year and it brings a smile to my face — there’s something about this time of year that feels truly hopeful. It’s not so much about goals or resolutions for me (although it used to be); it’s more about checking in with each other, wishing one another well and doing better by ourselves and for ourselves. I remember one of the things I loved about being pregnant was how often people asked me how I was feeling — from my caregivers to friends, family, acquaintances, the woman making my coffee on my way to work. And they waited for a genuine answer. They seemed to really care. What a revelation! To check in with people in a very real way about how they’re feeling! Let’s keep it up for at least a few more weeks, shall we?
Yesterday we went to the Seattle Art Museum to visit the Andrew Wyeth exhibit on its very last day — I’ve wanted to go for some time, and Sam and I even planned a Day Date last month when we had a sitter, but the museum happened to be closed that day. Soooo, we went yesterday with Oliver, Sam quite positive that we’d all have a nice experience looking at art and me a bit doubtful that I’d get a chance to truly ingest and absorb much of it at all. Can you guess who was right?
It turns out, if you have the inkling to go to a museum exhibit you’re really excited about with a two year old, you should expect to spend the brunt of the time riding the escalators up and down … and back up again. And making promises about snacks you’ll find together that don’t actually exist. But I did have one takeaway in the whirlwind half hour or so I spent chasing a crazed, small person around the viewing rooms — and that is that inspiration is so often right outside our window or front door.
This time of year so many of us are thinking about new ways to approach work, life, parenting, self care: what apps can you buy to make things easier and fresh? What ways can you mix up how you approach meal planning, what goals do you have for the house or the garden this spring? What new friendships do you want to foster? Something I found interesting about Andrew Wyeth was that his large body of work really focused on the view outside the window or door of his residence in Pennsylvania or his summer home in Maine. So many paintings and such rich stories and history spanning years … from largely the same vantage point.
In many ways I think this is an important little nudge for this time of year, a reminder that we can do better for others and ourselves and work towards many of our goals and resolutions without grand gestures, different apps on our phone, or the infinite search for newness. Oftentimes, the inspiration we’re looking for is right outside the window, and perhaps we can even reach it sometimes without moving a muscle.
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This is a slow cooker curry, and I’m hoping some of you are luddites like me and are still using your slow cooker instead of the Instant Pot (I just can’t justify another appliance, you guys!). I think the slow cooker is still the best weeknight hack for busy families, and this is a great winter recipe as it’s filling; has a good hit of protein thanks to the lentils; and marries the flavors of curry, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric, making the house smell like a dream. We’ve been serving this with brown rice, although it’d be great on its own with a big slice of buttery naan. Good fuel for gazing out the window and trying to see things in a new light this week; I hope you get a chance to do just that.
The work here is really in chopping the veggies; beyond that, this curry makes itself. If you’d like to add some chopped greens (kale or spinach would be great), you could do so at the very end and let them wilt in the hot curry. I thought about adding frozen peas, too, which I may do next time around. You’ll have a little leftover coconut milk, which I save and use in smoothies so as not to waste any ingredients. Leftover curry is great for up to 5 days in the refrigerator, or freeze for harried weeknights in the future.
Coat a 5-6 quart electric slow cooker with cooking spray.
Place the cauliflower, sweet potato, onion, water, lentils, broth, curry paste, garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon stick, salt, and tomato paste in the slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours. Turn off the heat, stir in coconut milk and remove cinnamon stick. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serve with rice, chopped cilantro, green onions, toasted cashews and a spoonful of plain yogurt.
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.