Ten years ago, we began remodeling—floor to ceiling, wall to wall, windows and doors—every room in our upstairs was updated. Thanksgiving Day we began in the kitchen, stripping everything down to the studs (fortunately, good friends let us come to their house for dinner). We invested gobs of time, buckets of sweat, and loads of treasure, working every weekend and vacation day for a year. Four years later we did it again downstairs, which thankfully did not take as long because there was no kitchen to deal with and we hired someone else to do the drywall work (just one of the gazillion things we learned about remodeling).
Although there is no one to complain to when something goes awry, it is deeply satisfying to survey the work from your own hands. Based on personal experience and stories I hear from other weekend warriors, finishing can be illusive—I mean really finishing—every piece of trim hung, grout sealed, doorknobs and cabinet pulls in place. When you’re worn out or life’s hiccups come along and you have 95% of the job done it is easy to surrender to “someday”. You decide to finish all the little things later … someday.
Well, a two week hiatus for a gal like me to stir about the house can be dangerous. Over-stuffed closets and towering Pisa-like piles are not safe, so as it turned out, last week was “someday”. I didn’t even know it was going to be until I began organizing the utility room—the only room in the entire house we didn’t work on during our two big remodel projects. After pulling everything off the shelves and purging the collective clutter, it was as if the room was crying out for the love and attention we had given the rest of the house. ‘How hard could it be?’ I thought. ‘It just needs a little paint … and wouldn’t it be nice to really be DONE?!’
All I had to do is convince Matt it was “someday” for him too.
Now in my head was the notion that this little project would be done in a couple of days and I’d be on my way organizing the next room in the house. Ha! Pure folly, I should know better. Any self respecting do-it-yourselfer knows house projects take twice as long and cost at least a third more than you estimate. Let’s just say I’m a little rusty and my remodel muscles out of shape. Two days turned into seven and a little paint turned into trim, a closet door, light switches and outlets … and enough paint for the unpainted doors downstairs! Like I said, finishing can be illusive.
So I headed to Home Depot, our home away from home all those years ago. There it was, Gold Buttercup, the color square with a happy disposition ready to grace our utility room walls. Would it make me happy to do laundry? Doubtful. But it was cheerful inspiration with the finish line is site. Its fresh buttery glow with glossy white trim signifies it is no longer the forgotten catch-all room and “someday” has finally come to pass.
A completed project is like a cleansing exhale.
It was refreshing to have unscheduled time these past weeks, not just to make room for the “someday” things, but to switch off the auto pilot mode of life long enough to rekindle passion and purpose. Somewhere between school starting and paint rollers, my mind and heart wandered back to the sanctuary of my kitchen. Quick breads scented with autumn spices, new apple crops, and simmering stews inspired random recipe notes—pen in one hand, paint brush in the other.
One inspired notion was to begin September with a theme of side dishes, featuring recipes to enhance all the grilling, braising, and roasting that we do. There may even be one or two that deserve a spot on your Thanksgiving menu. We’ll kick-off September Sides with this Broccoli-Cauliflower Gratin, which is one of my favorites. Broccoli and cauliflower in a comforting blanket of Brie and cheddar cheese sauce, topped with Parmesan and panko bread crumbs for a creamy, yet subtly crunchy vegetable side dish.
The basic recipe is listed below and it is easy to customize to your own taste. I have roasted the broccoli and cauliflower with garlic rather than steaming (though that increases the time) and have used various kinds of cheese (any favorite cheese with good melting properties will work). Also included in the notes is the option of making it gluten-free, which is simple to do while maintaining the integrity and quality of the dish.
My advice is to make more than you think you’ll need. Why? Because it makes a fantastic cream soup for lunch the next day, that’s why. Simply place leftovers in a food processor or use an immersion blender to puree until smooth then gently warm in a sauce pan. Add a little garlic and onion powder, as well as enough chicken broth to thin soup for desired consistency. Garnish with a gorgeous heirloom tomato slice and chopped scallions or chives to serve.
- 1 pound cauliflower -- cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1½ pounds broccoli -- cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup whole milk + more to thin sauce as desired
- 1 cup Brie cheese, including rind -- cut into small cubes
- ½ cup sharp cheddar cheese -- grated
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese -- grated
- ½ cup panko bread crumbs -- See Notes for Gluten-Free options
- sea salt and pepper
- Steam cauliflower pieces for 5-6 minutes and broccoli spears about 4 minutes until crisp-tender.
- Transfer to a 9x11 baking pan in a single layer; season with salt & pepper. Preheat broiler and position rack 8-10 inches from the heating element.
- In a medium sauce pan, melt butter. Add flour and whisk over medium heat for 2 minutes or until bubbly and flour is dissolved well.
- Add 1 cup of milk and whisk until thickened and bubbling, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir-in the brie and cheddar cheese, continuing to stir until cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and broccoli; sprinkle with Parmesan and bread crumbs; broil for 5 minutes until the gratin is bubbly and lightly browned.