We went over to my friend Julie’s house for dinner a few weeks back – one of those early Friday night gatherings because we all have kids and they start to unravel at a certain point come the end of a busy week. Julie made saucy meatballs and garlic bread, we brought a big Italian salad, and while the boys played after dinner we all cozied up on the couch while Julie sliced generous pieces of gingerbread … from my book! Sam kept asking with amazement, “this is your recipe, Megan?!” Even I hardly recognized it: Julie had the genius inspiration to add a layer of maple frosting and a sprinkle of flaky salt to the top, elevating it from a whole grain breakfast we’ve eaten many times (mmhm, Sam) to a really special dessert.
I worked hard in my cookbook to make everything as healthy as possible: how little sugar can we get away with while still having this recipe taste delicious? What other whole grains can we play with here? And of course, on one hand that makes perfect sense because it’s a breakfast cookbook. But on the other hand, I loved seeing the recipe reimagined in someone else’s eyes as a decadent dessert, and loosening up the reins a bit today in baking for our family.
Everyone says there’s nothing quite like pregnancy to teach you to relinquish control and realize you’re not the driver. I found this to be infinitely true once tiny Oliver arrived, but when I was pregnant the first time around, I seemed to be quite set on proving things to myself. Running 6 miles at 30 weeks? No problem. Powering through barre classes until the end? Sure. Unmedicated childbirth and a nine pound baby? People did it, so I surely could, too.
Even after we brought Oliver home, it seemed like Sam and I went through months of trying to prove to ourselves we could do certain things that other parents seemed to struggle with — whether that was eating out or taking the ferry to the islands, long plane rides or camping. Looking back, I think I was running on pure adrenaline for many months. Looking back, it didn’t feel great.
This pregnancy is different (as I wrote about recently). While I wish I could say I’m running, I’m not. I walk the neighborhood now, sometimes listening to podcasts and other times calling my mom or sister — ultimately pretty happy to just be out moving. I stand in the back at barre or yoga and modify the heck out of that hour — in my own corner, happy to have made the time and gotten out of the house. Expectations are lower: I don’t feel like I have much to prove to myself anymore.
Now, I have this extremely oversized pregnancy pillow that I fought against using the first time around. We’re putting frosting on our healthy baked goods. We’re letting things unfold as they are a bit more, and crossing our fingers this pace will continue on after the baby is born.
A quick note about this gingerbread: I did a ton of gingerbread research while writing this recipe and made many, many iterations as I was having trouble finding the perfect one. I wanted a tender (not dry!) gingerbread with a bold spice profile that wasn’t too sweet, had hints of citrus, and real molasses flavor. After all that trial and error, this is without exaggeration, my very favorite gingerbread recipe. Be careful not to bake it too long – you want to pull it out of the oven when the sides just start to pull away from the pan; it’ll continue to cool / firm up a bit as it sits in the pan. I find 30 minutes is the magic cook time (although in the book I say 35). Share it with friends or, as Oliver says, “eat it all up.”
This cake requires dirtying only one bowl, and makes the house smell like a dream. Omit the frosting and enjoy it for breakfast, or go the decadent route and add it. Don’t forget the flaky salt on top! While a lot of people relegate gingerbread to the holiday table, I love it during all the cold weather months: fall and winter combined.
Gingerbread recipe from: Whole Grain Mornings
For the cake:
For the Maple Frosting:
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9-inch square pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, three kinds of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and orange zest. Use your hands to break up any clumps of sugar and whisk well.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the molasses and honey and cook, stirring, until the mixture is warm but not boiling. Pour into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add the milk, yogurt, and egg and fold together until combined. With a little arm power, the mixture will soon look like brownie batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the edges pull away from the pan slightly and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Let the gingerbread cool completely in the pan before frosting.
Make the frosting: In a medium mixing bowl using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on medium-high until they’re well blended and smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add the sugar and maple syrup and beat well until silky and smooth. If you like your frosting a little thicker, simply add additional confectioners sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Frost the cake: Spoon the frosting out of the bowl and onto the cake. Use an offset spatula (or knife) to spread frosting evenly onto the top of the cake. Sprinkle with flaky salt.
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.