Last weekend my dad and I flew up to Seattle to visit my sister Rachael. I love Seattle for many reasons-one of which is the food. There were a few spots I’d been wanting to try, so we made the most of our time and hit up Serious Pie, the Chai House, Lark, Macrina Bakery, The Harbour Public House on Bainbridge Island and a few other spots for treats and coffee. I wish I could show you some pictures, but I stupidly forgot my camera. Suffice it to say, it was brisk and rainy (Seattle never disappoints when I visit) but utterly beautiful in a stark, fall kind of way.
Rachael lives in Ballard in a sweet little green house on a wide, leafy street. Oh, and she has a fig tree. Her house is right across the street from this little blue craftsman bungalow that I fell in love with last time I saw it. A few days before my visit last week, Rachael called to tell me if was for sale and that we should check it out the second I landed.
It was my Dad’s first time visiting , so as we cruised him around Ballard and noticed the “For Sale” sign had been taken down. My little blue house sold so quickly! Now it’s not that I was really looking to move this second, but every time I come to Seattle I marvel at how great it is. Yes, we have quaint, distinct neighborhoods in San Francisco and we also have fantastic food. But I love the way the weather and the outdoors is interwoven into the fabric and culture of the city, how casual it is, and how much more you get for your money in Seattle. There’s a quality of life that you can obtain with much, much less. But for now-the flights are cheap, so I’ll settle on visiting.
Our most memorable meal was at Lark. I’ll be honest. I eat out a lot. Often, with time, the memories of a meal or a dish begin to fade. I’m pretty confident this won’t be the case with Lark. They serve small plates, so you order many things to try and share amongst the table. We sampled the roasted sunchokes with rosemary and lavender, Oxbow baby lettuces with beets, Pork rilletes with ficelle toast, crispy pork belly, Meyer Ranch Coulotte steak, and the sauteed wild mushrooms with garlic and sea salt. Everything was absolute perfection: seasonal, thoughtful, and prepared and plated beautifully. But, oh heavens: those mushrooms. They were delicate and flavorful. The table grew quiet.
On the flight home, I bought December’s Bon Appetit magazine and saw a recipe for Wild Mushroom Farro Risotto. It called for many of the beautiful wild mushrooms that we’d had the previous night–and farro is one of my favorite grains, with its hearty, nutty texture. It’s an Italian grain and you’ll start to see it more and more in the stores as it’s slowly gaining popularity here. When I saw the recipe, I knew it was a priority the second I unpacked and settled back in to California warmth (or warmer, at least) and the reality of sending out more resumes (never-ending). So here it is.
Although my blue house sold, I have a little part of Seattle right here at home with this recipe. It’s the perfect warm, creamy, hearty fall side dish. Or, with a big salad or some sauteed chard, it would be a nice, light meal in and of itself. So wherever you decide to call home, this recipe will help you settle right in.
I used a dried mushroom blend, which is a great option instead of buying each variety separately. Otherwise, you can find the dried mushrooms at specialty grocery stores in the produce section. And for fresh mushrooms, I used cremini and shiitakes.
From: Bon Appetit (12/09)
Bring 3 cups broth and all dried mushroom to oil in a large heavy saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mushrooms are soft, about 15 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to work surface. Cut large mushrooms in half. Reserve broth and mushrooms separately.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fresh mushrooms and saute until beginning to brown, 7-8 minutes. Add reserved soaked mushrooms and saute 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter with 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic; saute until shallots are soft, about 3 minutes. Add farro; stir 1 minute. Pour in reserved mushroom soaking broth, leaving any sediment behind. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Add 3 1/2 cups chicken broth. Boil uncovered until farro is tender, adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls if dry and stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes longer. Stir in cheese, cream, and herbs. Stir in half of mushroom mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl; scatter remaining mushrooms over top.
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.