I’m late to the game on meditating. Like really, really late but I’m doing it now and because we live in a weird, modern world I have an app that sends me a little reminder each day in case I forget. It also keeps track of my consecutive days of meditation which I find strangely motivating (it’s not lost on me this. is. not. the. point but for some reason seeing all my days in a row feels like a new achievement, which I suppose is how I’m wired). I don’t have enough days amassed to make any grand statement on the benefits of meditation, but I will say that it helps me just sit and be where I am, which is something I don’t often find easy. I have a busy mind that likes to be many places at any given time, so meditating has helped me reign it in, for at least a few minutes.
Sam’s been out of town for a few days, so it’s just been me and Oliver holding down the fort. I had grand visions of the two of us going out on an ice cream date (Salt and Straw just opened in our neighborhood!), but O has a brutal cough and I’ve had work deadlines, so that just hasn’t been our reality. The first night I found myself really rushing through the bedtime routine. Hurry up, read these books. Hurry up, get these teeth brushed. Hurry, hurry, hurry. After I put O down, I slumped down on the couch feeling a little empty and guilty for it all: what was the big hurry? I was racing downstairs to what? Flip through the new issue of Bon Appetit or watch something on Netflix?!
Motherhood is a funny thing. One moment we lament that our babies are growing too quickly and the next, we’re racing through Busytown so we can hurry, hurry get downstairs to watch the newest season of Queer Eye and eat leftover Valentine’s candy. As I sat there eating more candy than I care to admit, I kept hearing that calming voice from my meditation app, encouraging me to just ‘sit here now’ and I wished I could race back upstairs and do Busytown all over again. Really do it. Just sit and be with Oliver as we read it instead of being entirely somewhere else.
Of course this is easier said than done, which is why, I suppose, meditation is a lifelong practice. I think I’m a little late to the game because so much of the practice has been pitched (to me, anyway) as working to quiet the mind and this always felt daunting: I felt set up for failure from the get-go (my mind is a very un-quiet place). But learning to just sit and be somewhere? That was something I could work on. All the tiny, vibrant drawings in Busytown, Oliver’s worsening cough, his insistence on choosing his own “jammas” and the way he tries to trick me out of going to bed by insisting he needs more water or maybe some popcorn. Right away. Last night we didn’t hurry through any of that; I sat with him and with it all, not thinking about anywhere else I could be. He fell asleep quicker than usual — and so did I.
If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you know we were at a friend’s cabin outside of Leavenworth for the long holiday weekend when Mother Nature decided to dump a last wintery hurrah. We coziest in with a few friends, ate pork ragu, chased toddlers, lingered over morning coffee and snacked on these insanely addicting Salted Hazelnut Brown Butter Blondies (Sam has deemed them the best thing I’ve ever baked; I think you’ve heard me say this before. He’s an easy audience but that said, these are quite remarkable and well worth a bookmark). They have a distinct butterscotch vibe thanks to the dash of bourbon and dark coconut sugar (you can omit the bourbon if you’d like and use brown sugar instead of coconut sugar), are generously studded with toasted hazelnuts and absolutely gooey with hand-chopped dark chocolate (they are verrrrrry chocolaty inside — in a good way!– but I suspect you could get away with using 4-5 ounces instead of 6 ounces if that’s what you’ve got on hand). I think you’re really, really going to like them.
These butterscotchy blondies get their big flavor from a little bourbon, vanilla, dark coconut sugar, toasty hazelnuts, browned butter and salted tops. I love the whole wheat flour here and like to hand chop the chocolate so there are larger pockets and shards throughout versus neat and tidy chips. That said, chocolate chips work just fine — and you could substitute in any nut you’d like if hazelnuts aren’t your jam. These are quite rich and decadent, so I suggest slicing them in smaller squares; they keep great at room temperature for a good 5 days or freeze them for future late night snacking.
Preheat the oven to 350 F°. Nestle a sheet of parchment paper into an 8×8″ pan (this will help you lift the blondies out very easily) or, alternatively, grease the pan, dust with flour and set aside.
Lay hazelnuts on a small rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 4 minutes (if you’re using whole hazelnuts and plan to just chop them, these take longer to toast, about 8 minutes).
In a small light-colored saucepan (this helps so you can see the color change that will occur), melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until the butter begins to foam, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking until the foam subsides and little brown bits appear at the bottom of the pan, smelling fragrant and nutty. During this time, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour butter into a heatproof bowl, and stir for 2-3 minutes to allow it to cool to room temperature.
Once butter is cool (but still liquid), whisk in the sugar, eggs,vanilla and bourbon.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate and toasted hazelnuts.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Sprinkle with flaky salt.
Bake blondies for 30-35 minutes or until tops are light golden brown and firm (can’t really do the toothpick test as there’s lots of chocolate going on). Let cool completely before lifting out of pan to slice.
Top with additional sprinkle of flaky salt, and cut into 16 small squares (or 9 large squares) and serve.
Note on brown sugar / coconut sugar: I love the dark flavor of coconut sugar in these, but if brown sugar is more readily available to you, just swap it in but do it by weight (as brown sugar is heavier than coconut sugar). So while 1 3/4 cups of coconut sugar weighs 300g, you can use just 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar as it has an equal weight.
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.