I never wanted to go in the first place. The dogs needed to be fed, it was getting late, and we'd had a long day canoeing on the river. I wanted to go home and grill burgers, make a big salad with the tomatoes and wax beans from the garden, and pour a glass of Pinot. Instead I was sneaking into the county fair through the back gates (not my idea), talking vodka and morning ice cream with an alcoholic contractor, sitting with horse owners by their stalls hearing all about steroids (for the horses) and Oxycontin and Valium (for them). I also learned about the best way to steal a bike, and how to avoid real estate taxes. I was anxious, a little judgemental, and couldn't wait to get out of there. And then we started walking down the aisles of fair food. It was a bit aimless at first, probably how some women walk through jewelry stores, staring at the diamonds they can't have. Ogling. That's how we were: paralyzed in admiration, as if we'd never known such a thing as fried clams, turkey legs, or waffle cone sundaes existed. No longer was I wondering if the corn was GMO (obviously) or cursing myself for leaving my purse in the car. Instead, I was making important decisions: kennel corn or blueberry pie a la mode? Corn dog or tri-tip sandwich?
You know where to find Grains of Paradise (or even what they are) and smoked paprika. You love beets, fatty fish, and biscotti. You use the word "tangle" to describe salads, judge people for their restaurant choices, and hate doing dishes in the morning. You are Amanda Hesser--or, at least, share some of her endearing, neurotic traits. A food writer for The New York Times, Hesser's writing is luminous, visual, and snappy. Good food writing literally picks you up and draws you into a tactile world in which you're literally sitting at a country table alone at dusk, at a busy wedding banquet, or on the floor of a bare apartment listening to an ambulance drive by. In short, you're not at home holding a book thinking about laundry or work deadlines. With Hesser, I was transported to a summer afternoon in Maine or her back balcony in Brooklyn Heights. I read "Cooking For Mr. Latte" in a day and a half; I lay in bed drinking it all in, mentally cataloging all of the recipes I'd try and becoming immersed in the back story of dating Mr. Latte (later we learn, Tad), eventually getting married, moving to Brooklyn, and coming to terms with family/friends/changing relationships. Essentially: the pedestrian elements of daily life that we all experience. Yet most of us don't draw it out in such a sensuous, affable way.
I would be a horrible game show contestant. In fact, I'd last all of five minutes. It's not one of my strengths to come up with answers to anything quickly. I often know the answer but it takes me a second to conjure them up...Recently as I was sitting in a Food Writing class, the instructor asked us to write about our first food memory. Now I wasn't shocked that I couldn't think of anything right off the top of my head. But five minutes went by. Ten minutes. Still nothing. Not only could I not think of my earliest memory, I couldn't think of a single memory. So I kind of made one up for class, but couldn't stop thinking about food memories after class: my parents fed me. I was sure of that. So why couldn't I remember any landmark meals or dishes? Well ever since the Food Writing class, I've been thinking about these food memories a lot...and thank god, a few have surfaced. I thought I'd record them here so I can fetch them when memory should fail me further down the line, as it surely will: -Mom's custard. I believe it came from The Silver Palette cookbook. It was super simple: eggs, milk, and sugar. Mom used to make it late at night (for the next day, I guess) and often after she'd gotten out of the bath so there were wafts of Nivea lotion and sweet milk trickling out of the kitchen. I loved how the custard formed a skin on the top. It was my favorite part. The most basic, simple, satisfying dessert.
For people who love brownies, these are legendary. There are a few different recipes floating around claiming to be the definitive one and there are different stories about how the brownies came to be. The one most commonly held to be true is that Liz Smith of Better Homes and Gardens went to interview Ms. Hepburn for their August 1975 issue--these are the brownies she was served. Whichever story or version you subscribe to, the reason I love Katherine Hepburn's recipe (and brownie philosophy in general) is because she believes in using very little flour. A belief I share. If you are a "cakey," thick brownie person, these may not be for you. But if you like thinner, chewier, denser brownies--keep reading. These are super easy-you make them in the saucepan itself, so very few dishes. I made a small change: the original recipe calls for 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate and they yield a really nice, mild brownie. I make mine with 3 oz. chocolate which notches up the dense, rich flavor.
When I was eating my blueberries and kefir this morning, I noticed a label on the blueberry container: "Who Grew These Blueberries? Please visit www.oregonberry.com, click the lot code printed on the front of this label and find out information about the grower." Wow. Really? Well, I did just as the directions instructed and was led to the smiling face of Paul H. Coussen's Farm in Oregon. Now Paul grew up in Belgium, but came to Hillsboro Oregon when he was young and his grandparents started farming. You get the idea. I sat there and stared at Paul and the picture of his verdant country road the entire time I ate my breakfast. Pretty incredible. On a related note, yesterday I was interviewing the new proprietress of Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper, Cameo Woods, for a project I'm working on. If you haven't yet heard of her shop: she just opened in the Mission and sells local, artisan honey, beekeeping supplies, and anything derived from the honey process (beeswax, candles etc.) Cameo was telling me that honey actually tastes drastically different depending on the neighborhood in which the bees live--and eat--(for example, Castro honey would taste far different than Glen Park honey). Really? Now living in the Bay Area, I have to remind myself that the rest of the country isn't necessarily as interested in the local, sustainable food movement. It's big here. I get daily tweets and emails about it. My weekend running partners talk about the best local tomatoes and who sells them. When I went to see Food Inc., I was sitting in the theater amongst aging hippies who were nodding and "here here-ing" and somehow wishing it could reach a different audience. We're already sold. I loved Food Inc., but I knew much of the information already. However, there's something about it that has stayed with me.
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