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.
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.