Thanksgiving came and went in a flash. It’s always so odd how we think and plan and make lists and have dreams about rolling out pie dough…and then it’s all old news. I hope your day was relaxing and wonderful. Wasn’t the long weekend incredible? I took a photography class on Saturday, and we meandered around the Mission shooting murals, rusty cars, and cafes. I don’t often get the chance (or take the chance) to really slow down and notice the stray dandelions growing in the sidewalk cracks or the way a bike is leaned precariously against a red garage door. I noticed these things on Saturday. I came home knowing all about histograms, setting a custom white balance, and organizing photos in Lightroom. But more than that, I had an opportunity to spend the whole day slowing down and exploring alleys, graffiti, and community gardens. I went home feeling nourished.
We all focus so much on nourishing or feeding our bodies during Thanksgiving–but it’s important to think about what nourishes and keeps the rest of you going, too. What excites you, inspires you, makes you want to wake up in the early hours of the morning and hit “go?” Lately for me, it’s my photography, stunning books like A Year of Mornings, the way the afternoon light shines into my bedroom and how my dog Maddie knows exactly where to find it, knit hats, blogs like this and this and this, drops of eggnog in my coffee, routine, linen napkins.
So although Thanksgiving’s over and we’re replacing it with a new holiday…
maintaining that sense of slowness, curiosity, nourishment, and wonder is something I’m going to keep with me this season. And with that, I leave you a lovely recipe for gingery Hermit Bars. While I can’t guarantee they’ll light your inspirational fire and keep it stoked throughout the Christmas season, they will make you smile for at least one afternoon. That’s big around here lately.
The dough for these bars is extremely easy, and because of the molasses and the spices, it smells and tastes a bit like gingerbread–except more moist and buttery. They originated in New England and are best after being hidden away for a day or two (thus the name) so that the flavors have a chance to really develop. I’ll admit, I always have at least one pretty much right out of the oven and I think they’re just lovely that way, too. Pour yourself a cup of spiced orange tea or cider, cut a Hermit Bar, and draw up a list of what nourishes you lately. Then, keep it in your pocket through the hustle and bustle that awaits us all.
Adapted from: Martha Stewart Living
Brown Sugar Icing
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 10-by-15 inch baking pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the parchment, and set pan aside. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar; beat until light and fluffy. Bean in egg, yolk, and molasses.
Add flour mixture; beat on low until just combined. Add 1/2 of the candied ginger and all of the raisins and beat to combine. Spread dough evenly into the prepared pan, and bake until firm to touch, 18-22 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Remove from oven and cool in pan before icing.
Make the icing: Combine brown sugar, milk, and butter in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until the butter has dissolved. Remove from heat, and whisk in vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. If the icing’s too thick to drizzle, add a bit more milk. If too then, more confectioners sugar. Let cool slightly before using (but remember, you’re drizzling it, so don’t allow to harden).
Drizzle with icing, and then sprinkle remaining ginger on top of bars. Let stand until icing has set, then cut into squares and serve.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
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 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.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: