Well here we are: what will presumably be the last post of 2018. Any second we’ll start seeing all the “Top 9” posts on Instagram along with friend’s musings as they look back on 2018 and look forward to what they hope to accomplish next year. As with all social media, I can’t help but think that a tiny bit of this is performance or posturing for others, no? We have a few clear goals or intentions for the year ahead and then maybe we throw in a few that just sound good — even to ourselves — although we may know deep down we’re not going to run a triathlon or take up watercolor painting. It could happen though, right? I did something radical last year and was brutally honest with myself and what I really wanted for the year ahead. Sam and I always sit down and make lists of our goals and intentions on New Years Day (typically over biscuits and collard greens at The Wandering Goose), and this year my list was incredibly small: I mentioned nothing about my career (although I was very fortunate to stumble upon the perfect job), new hobbies, or travels. Instead, I asked myself, if no one else mattered and I wasn’t trying to round out some list that felt balanced and creative and entrepreneurial, what did I honestly want deep down for myself in 2018? And for me the answer was to get pregnant again with a second baby.
We’d already been trying for a number of months at that point, but in looking at the arch of the upcoming year, that was my biggest hope. My friend Julie encouraged me to work at it like you would anything else: I made dietary changes, tried to meditate, took supplements. It wasn’t something that came immediately or magically for us by any means, but it felt good to put some real intention behind it.
So maybe during this time, as you think about the past year and the one ahead, you can take a cue from my friend Julie and be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t feel like you have to apologize for your goal or intention or even explain it if you don’t want to. Don’t feel like you have to make an entire, exhaustive list. Just get it out there. Write it down and tuck it away somewhere safe. Eat some fudge. Talk about it if you want. Envision it. Carry on.
A note on yearly intentions: I was hesitant in a way to publish this post as I know many of you struggle with fertility issues, or, simply the idea of starting or growing a family is loaded for a number of reasons. I didn’t want the post to feel like a neat, tidy ending — as though if you put your mind to something and just wait it’ll come true! That’s, sadly, just not how life works out all of the time. But rather, I hoped to communicate that sometimes it’s really, really nice to clear away all the noise (I’m looking at you, triathlons) and others’ expectations and hopes for yourself, and get really honest about just one thing you want and hope for in the coming year.
A note on this fudge: So I decided to make vegan fudge. None of us are vegan in this house, but I really love coconut milk and was just curious if I could make a less stressful fudge (i.e. no candy thermometer) that would work using a non-dairy milk. It worked! It’s velvetty and thanks to the two kinds of chocolate, has a really nice balanced flavor. The one thing I’d like to say is that it’s soft; this isn’t the fudge you want to put in your gifting cookie tins (unless you tell the recipient to refrigerate it). It really belongs in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve, takes a touch of patience getting it off the parchment paper, and takes an overnight chill to firm up. But man is it worth it.
This dairy-free fudge doesn’t require a candy thermometer or much fuss and rivals its more traditional counterpart in the flavor department. It’s super adaptable, so feel free to mix in your favorite nuts, dried fruits or seeds. The one thing to know before starting out is that the fudge needs to chill for at least 8 hours, so it’s a good recipe to make the day before you actually plan on serving it. Obviously if you’d like this fudge to be completely vegan, be sure you’re using a vegan chocolate and choose an alternate sweetener like agave.
Toast the coconut: In a large, dry, hot saucepan, add the coconut and toast over low heat, stirring occasionally to encourage even toasting, for about 3 minutes or until fragrant and golden brown. Remove coconut from pan immediately and spread onto a clean plate.
Make the fudge: Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper and set aside.
Place coconut milk, honey and coconut oil in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the chocolate until just melted and combined. Stir in the vanilla extract and remove from heat.
Transfer chocolate mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Fold in the walnuts and 1/2 of the toasted coconut.
Pour into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with remaining toasted coconut. Refrigerate until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight. Slice into small squares, and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Store the fudge, tightly wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for 3 months.
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.