5008 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland (Temescal Neighborhood)
Well…I finally did it. I convinced the ladies to hop in the car and head over to Oakland to try this thin, wood fired pizza I’ve been hearing so much about. Now let me start by saying I’m a thin crust pizza aficionado. I worked next door to Upper Crust pizza in Boston for years and had a few too many slices for my own good. That being said, at Pizzaiolo, I thought the pizza itself was a bit overrated (and over-priced). But there are three noteworthy words I can cull from my experience that would bring me crawling right back: patio, burrata, and housemade sausage. Well, I guess that’s four, but anyway…
First, let me say that Pizzaiolo is damn crowded. Apparently, all of the time. And the waitstaff can be a bit self righteous about reservations. We simply called on our way over, were really nice about the fact that we realized we didn’t have a chance of getting in, but…was there any chance? And voila, we had a table on the coveted, outdoor patio waiting for us as soon as we arrived. Minor magic if I do say so myself. The patio has a very Austin, TX feel for those of you who’ve experienced the edgy food scene there. It is all fenced in with metal siding and colorful green wood panels, there are paper lanterns hanging in a haphazard way, a sand bocce ball court where couples gathered while waiting for their pizzas, wooden benches to sit and have beers before your meal, and great live music. I felt like I was hanging out on a friend’s back patio on a warm July evening–a bit of summer encapsulated.
We ordered the burrata to start. It came topped with sea salt and olive oil, and was served with thinly toasted slices of bread. The burrata was both light and substantial at the same time. I’ve had marginal burrata before that was too firm and bland in flavor. Not the case at Pizzaiolo. Each spoonful was light in texture with a rich, milky, savory flavor. When the burrata arrived, for a few moments, talk of Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin, and the rising cost of gas ceased.
For my entree I ordered the pizza with rapini and house made sausage. The pizzas are fairly large (8 slices) so they’re perfect for splitting with a friend. And, you have the option of adding an egg which I regret not doing as I coveted my neighbor’s summer squash and pounded parsley pizza with an oozing egg on top. The crust on the pizza was nice, although I won’t dream about it: thin (as promised), light, yeasty, and crispy. The cheese was a bit too mild and reminded me of cheap store-bought mozzarella, the chunks of onion were cut too large and detracted from other elements of the pizza, but the sausage…was the winner here. It had a little kick to it, not too spicy, not too greasy, and not too salty. It had a rustic look– crumbly and misshapen– and was full of flavor. I was a vegetarian for over ten years and, after beginning to eat meat again about six months ago, I can’t seem to get enough sausage or bacon. Pizzaolo’s housemade sausage is pretty high up there on my list.
When the bill came, we all sighed a bit at the $90 price for a few pizzas, a glass of wine, and an appetizer. Bummer. If Pizzaolo had blown me away, I wouldn’t have cared. But I was left wishing I’d ordered something different and had another glass of wine so I could linger on that patio for just a bit longer.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.