I’ll keep this short and sweet because, let’s be honest, we’ve all got things to attend to. Somehow I woke up this morning staring December 21st in the face and none too pleased about it. We always talk about how we can’t believe it’s already such and such holiday/season/milestone, but this year it’s really true. I blinked and it was almost over. So hopefully you have things a little more under control than I do at the moment. I got an exciting temporary writing job so I’ve been hunkering down in my pj’s writing online copy while trying to check things off my holiday list: wrapping, card-writing, packing up boxes (YES, we found a place and I can’t wait to tell you all about it).
At my yoga class a few days ago, the instructor was talking about what a magical time of year it is and she started going on and on about our dynamic energy fields. I’ll admit it, I tuned out in the midst of my downward dog. But something she said resonated with me: across so many cultures and religions, at this particular moment in the year, millions of people are celebrating their holidays and beliefs. When that many people start devoting their energy towards something good– looking inward and celebrating with family and friends–it does something to the energy around all of us. It may be a little out there for you. In some ways, it’s a little out there for me. But there’s always that moment when I feel Christmas come on, that little tugging inside that reminds you what magic and belief feel like–and that’s what I think she was alluding to. So here’s to hoping you get everything done on your list in the coming days. But even more importantly, here’s to hoping you find some light and that you can step into the playfulness, anticipation, and awe of the season…if only for a few moments.
Now let’s get right to business with three simple words: Eggnog Popcorn Balls. I came across this recipe on Chow.com recently and couldn’t wait to try it.
These are a quick, easy holiday treat and with the addition of vanilla and nutmeg, have a flavor amazingly reminiscent of eggnog (which is great combined with the crunch of popcorn). I decided to make them minis instead of full-size as the recipe instructed mainly because we’ve got so many darn sweets lying around the house. I also made a couple alterations to the recipe after trying it a few times: more nuts and a little less popcorn so they syrup coats each piece. I couldn’t, for the life of me, find plain popcorn anywhere. I did find “natural” popcorn but it was salted, so I ended up using that and just omitted the salt and it turned out wonderfully. I think popping your own is the key to finding unadulterated popcorn these days. Enjoy, and thank you so much for stopping by. More and more each day, I’m thankful for my readers. You all bring me joy. Happy holidays.
Slightly adapted from: Chow.com
Coat a large heatproof bowl with butter or oil and place popcorn in bowl. Toast pecans in oven at 350 F until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
Place sugar, corn syrup, water, vinegar, and salt in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Place over high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook until mixture registers 260 F on a candy thermometer, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter, nutmeg, and vanilla until melted and smooth.
Immediately drizzle sugar mixture over popcorn. Add pecans and stir continuously with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the bowl, until popcorn is thoroughly coated and cool enough to handle, about 3 minutes.
Using buttered or oiled hands, tightly press mixture (it may still be warm) into mini rounds. Place on waxed paper to cool completely, about 15 minutes.
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.