I’ve been spending some time organizing photos lately, trying to actually print a few to frame for the house, and purge others from my phone. We took so many while in Hawaii: great ones of epic beaches and outdoor picnics, moments that you’d expect would feel important and memorable. But in thinking back, it’s neither of these things that stand out for me. Instead, the night I’ll remember most is when we pulled up to a beachside restaurant we’d been excited to try for dinner and were told that the wait was 60-80 minutes. With a toddler that’s basically a lifetime, so my immediate reaction was a firm No. But Sam pointed to this big grassy field right next to the beach with lawn games and string lights, and in his never-failing positivity, promised the time would fly by.
We waited for a bit down by the beach where dozens of other families and couples were taking photos of the sunset and kicking off their shoes to walk in the sand; Oliver got in the large shored kayaks and pretended to paddle or beep the imaginary horn, humoring us just once with a family selfie. He was wearing the Hawaiian shirt that Sam had bought him earlier that day, and his curls were particularly wild given the humidity. I stayed on the beach for a bit while Oliver and Sam walked up to the grassy field, playing chase, searching for treasure (a dime Sam had found that they continued hurling and then patiently hunting down) and climbing on top of corn hole.
We were still waiting to head into dinner, but the dinner is something none of us will remember. And not because it was bad (it wasn’t!) but just because it wasn’t that important: in a given year, there may be many dinners out and they fall in the realm of the ordinary in many ways — or at the very least, expected. But that evening itself was anything but expected or ordinary. There was a feeling. Just a genuine, grounded sense of happiness running around the grass with Oliver, falling down a few times, laughing so hard we almost didn’t hear our dinner buzzer in my jacket pocket.
I just started a book called The Power of Moments, and it’s gotten me thinking about the defining moments in our lives, why in particular these moments make the cut, and how we can actively create more of them (versus passively waiting for them to arrive at the stoop, so to speak).
The authors of the book, Chip and Dan Heath, note that, “A defining moment is a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful … there may be a dozen moments in your life that capture who you are — those are big defining moments. But there are smaller experiences … that are defining moments in the context of a vacation or a semester abroad.” And these smaller moments are what I’m most curious about. How snorkeling with manta rays may not win out over playing at dusk with your son and husband under the palm trees — what the Heath’s would call a “moment of elevation” in which you “transcend the normal course of events” into the extraordinary.
So what defines these moments? Do they share any traits or characteristics? The book discusses how there are four elements; some moments have all four while others may only have one or two. The first is Elevation, or the feeling of rising above the everyday. The second is Insight, or a rewiring of our understanding of ourselves or the world (they give the example of a moment when you knew you should leave your job or marry your partner). The third element is Pride — the way in which a defining moment captures us at our best (a graduation, for instance). Last: Connection or the social aspect of defining moments, where we’re strengthened because we’re sharing a moment with others.
Back home, much of the day is spent parceling out time to get our work done, keep on top of emails and just run a sort of functional household. In this sometimes frenetic-feeling scheduling and segmenting of the week, it’s easy to get immersed and simply bogged down in the day to day. The ins and outs of it all. The ‘what do you want to do with this sausage tonight?” of it all. But moments like our night in Hawaii become so memorable, I think, not just because they transcend the everyday (because many things we did there did just that), but because we were all deeply connected with each other and the space we were in. How often does that really happen if you’re honest with yourself? The sunset had left fiery streaks in the sky, the fellow diners milling about created an ambient buzz, the lights came on as dusk neared and we raced and laughed, barefoot, hungry, and collectively not thinking about the fact that it was already past Oliver’s bedtime. In that moment, it truly didn’t matter.
Note #1: I’m only at the beginning of this book and haven’t yet gotten to the second half where they discuss how to be more of an active player in creating more of these moments, but I’m really enjoying it so far and though instead of waiting until I finish it (real talk: could be awhile), I’d share it now in case some of you are looking for a new, interesting read.
Note #2: What do these donuts have to do with Hawaii? You know, not much! Although Sam would make the argument that they have a lot to do with defining moments as he’s deemed them the best donuts he’s ever had. I generally don’t like to blog about recipes where you need special equipment but you do need a donut pan to make these — and in my mind, it’s worth the investment as it doesn’t take up a ton of space and baked donuts are so easy and feel far more special than the time it takes to pull them off. I’d recently made baked donuts for Simply Recipes and wanted to try making a version with one of my favorite flavors, using coconut milk, coconut sugar and shredded coconut. They’re super tender and light thanks to the almond meal, and not too sweet. We are pretty big fans of them, and I think you will be, too.
While I love the triple whammy of coconut here, you can make some substitutions and your donuts will turn out just fine. Feel free to swap in melted butter instead of coconut oil if you’d like and use a turbinado or unrefined sugar instead of coconut sugar if you have a tough time finding the latter. If you’re not a fan of spelt flour, you could use a whole wheat pastry flour or even an all-purpose flour. Do know that when you open your can of coconut milk, spoon off the coconut cream at the top and just use the liquid milk for this recipe; the cream is wonderful in smoothies or folded into soups to add a little thickness. Like most baked donuts, these are best eaten the day they’re made. That said, they’re just fine the next day if stored at room temperature and covered.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a donut pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, almond flour, coconut sugar, baking powder, and salt.
In a small bowl whisk together the egg, coconut oil, coconut milk, and vanilla extract.
Fold the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir to combine. Let dough sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Use a kitchen spoon to scoop the dough into the wells of the donut pan, stopping when each is almost full (these donuts don’t rise a ton, so I fill the indents almost to the top). The dough will be thick and sticky, so use your fingers or the back of a spoon to gently press it into the indentation.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for 9 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan before inverting onto a wire rack to cool down until you can handle them.
Make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, coconut milk and salt. You’re looking for a smooth, pourable glaze. If your glaze is too thick, add additional non-dairy milk one tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Similarly, if your glaze becomes too thin, simply add a little more sugar.
Glaze the donuts: Cut a piece of parchment paper the same size (or slightly larger) as your wire cooling rack and place under your cooling rack to catch drips. Dip one side of each doughnut in the glaze and place glaze-side up on the cooling rack. Allow any excess to drip off. Allow the glaze to set and firm up before enjoying a donut, about 20 minutes (if you can wait!)
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.