This is my favorite soup recipe. Ever. I discovered it in Vegetarian Times when I was a vegetarian and living in Boulder, CO (fitting, I know). But more than anything, this soup reminds me of snowy afternoons in Boston. A whole pot would feed me for a good five days. As a graduate student, I'd stock up on bread, butter, greens, coffee and milk, plenty of tea, and a chocolate bar and I could hibernate for quite some time. The smell of the fennel seeds cooking in olive oil brings me right back to my pink-tiled Brookline kitchen. I'd sit at the bay windows, looking out at elderly Russian women in vibrant silk scarves pushing their shopping carts back from the corner grocery store, and college kids with backpacks and arms of books racing to catch the bus. I'll always equate the smell of this soup with that light-filled pink kitchen, fallen leaves whipping by the windows, and the fading Eastern afternoon light.
My blogging friend Kelsey, over at The Naptime Chef, was in town recently for the BlogHer Food 09 Conference. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it, but we compared notes on where she ate in the city (and I'll tell you, she got around). Now if you haven't been to The Naptime Chef, what are you waiting for? Kelsey designs her posts and recipes to fit into a busy mom's schedule--and into the hour that is generally reserved for afternoon napping. While I don't have little ones myself, who doesn't appreciate a quick recipe? What I did not know was that before her daughter was born, Kelsey worked with Rizzoli and Florence Fabricant and members of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to produce the beautiful Park Avenue Potluck Cookbook. After returning home from San Francisco, Kelsey invited me to take part in a virtual dinner party she is "hosting" with other food bloggers and writers to celebrate the release of Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations, the follow-up to the Park Avenue Potluck. The release is especially timely as the cookbook details recipes, entertaining ideas, party planning tips and personal anecdotes from New York's most celebrated hostesses. Perfect for the holiday season. The best part? A portion of the sales of the book will benefit the Society's work with patient care, research, and educational programs. So I hopped on board, determined to support such an important cookbook. Kelsey asked me to "bring" the Cornmeal Batter Cakes featured in the book, a versatile dish that would be great as a mini appetizer (cut with little cookie cutters), as a side dish with salmon or a vegetarian entree like ratatouille, or even as breakfast! As I told Kelsey when I wrote to her about the recipe, I ended up making the cakes one evening when I was home alone. I topped them with a little sour cream and chopped chives and had them with a big bowl of tomato soup. Perfect light fall dinner.
Many of you know that I'm training for the Nike Women's Marathon this Sunday. And most of you know that currently, what I do for "work" is write about food. Now thankfully, those two things have been a really nice pair. It's been working out just fine. Eat, run, eat some more, write a little. But I've been advised that after Sunday, I may have to cut back on my generally ravenous appetite. I'll worry about that later...for now, here's a visual chronicle of a food writer's week. And not just any food writer, but one with a penchant for sweets, and cookies in particular. There's a great new lunch pop-up in the Tenderloin called American Box. Remember the lunch boxes you had as a kid? Well they're doing them for adults. This is a warm oatmeal raisin cookie fresh out of the bag. I will add that right before I got to take a bite of this cookie, I was pulled over for having an expired registration. My grown-up lunch box cost me about $117. How is it that I've never, ever been to Mitchell's? I had a fantastic meal at The Front Porch with Craig and Linnea last week for a piece I'm doing on Soul Food in the city. We were cruising around the neighborhood, walking off our fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, when we stumbled upon Mitchell's. I'm much more of a chocolate ice cream kind of girl, but their fruit flavors are pretty incredible. The young coconut and cantaloupe were flying out the door.
It's raining, it's before 8:00 a.m., and I'm eating cookies for breakfast. But these aren't just any cookies: they're made without egg, so they're almost more like pumpkin drop biscuits. They're amazing with hot coffee and the latest episode of Dexter. I got back from Jean's memorial last night and have given myself this day to hunker down a little, do some laundry, nap, hang out with the dogs, read, watch movies...whatever. Since my folks moved to the Bay Area when I left for college, I don't go back to my hometown for holidays--or for much, really. So going back to Eureka is always odd. Sometimes I feel nostalgic walking around the quaint downtown, getting a bagel at Los Bagels, or going to the park. But this trip was, obviously, a different one filled with days that seemed to go on forever, family friends I haven't seen in fifteen years, and new friends from Boston that Jean loved dearly (and I can see why). So it was mentally exhausting for many reasons. And today I'm just laying low. I do have a few people coming over to potentially purchase my Vespa (cross your fingers!), but other than that, this could be a stay-in-your-pj's kind of day. And these are the perfect laying low cookies.
While recently strolling down Fillmore St., I noticed a new yogurt shop. Now, like most places on earth, San Francisco's had a major influx (read: glut) of new-wave frozen yogurt over the past two years. I'll be the first to admit, I've spent many a dollar on the clean, subtle flavor of the tart yogurt--so proudly boasting healthy probiotics without added flavors, colors, and heavy sweeteners. But I'll also be the first to admit that I'm over it. It's still delicious, but it's not nearly as much of a treat when there's one on every corner. However, enter Fraiche. First, from a design perspective, the shop is lovely. The walls are rather bare, and the colors are muted. If you're at all familiar with the popular chain frozen yogurt shops, you'll remember neon colors and Japanese new-wave pop seem to be the norm. Not here. You actually want to hang out--for long periods of time. Although it's crowded, the space itself is light, airy, and serene. Now onto the yogurt. I opted for the organic original with a pureed apricot sauce. Linnea had the plain yogurt (unfrozen, housemade) with cinnamony peaches and raspberry sauce. You'll notice I didn't mention Fruity Pebbles or Oreo toppings: from bright pureed fruits and local honeys to shaved Callebaut chocolate to-order, the toppings are as conscious and thoughtfully constructed as the yogurt (owner Patama Gur spent a long time perfecting her special blend of probiotic cultures).
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.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.
A recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Custard and a giveaway of Megan Gordon's cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings