Over the past few days, I’ve seen seven apartments. And we’re still looking. Some were unbelievably small, one only had heat “available” in one room (hmmm), and one of the landlords seemed legitimately insane. I actually dragged my mom around the city with me yesterday looking at places; she was a trooper. We did have many stops for fuel which helped ease the bustle/weirdness/stress/anxiety: Miette on Hayes St. for a gingerbread cupcake, La Boulange for a mini latte, and Paulette for an almond macaron to take home for later. I was thinking a cocktail was in order, but it was really only late afternoon. So I waited until we got home.
Then it was time to put on a pot for mulled wine. I often have a glass of wine with dinner, but with the evenings becoming cold and even icy, why not have warm mulled wine instead? If you’ve never tried it, it has notes of citrus and warm spice and is perfect to ease the pain of dingy, disappointing apartments…or whatever it is that’s ailing you at the moment.
I got this recipe from Romney Steele’s My Nepethe Cookbook. I have so many recipes bookmarked to try from the book that it almost seems silly that this simple drink recipe was the first up. If you missed it, Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks recently made Romney’s Orange and Oat Scones and they looked awesome. Other stand out recipes I’m looking forward to trying are the Persimmon Pudding Cake, the Nepethe Cheese Pie, and Javier’s Chile Rellenos. If you haven’t seen Romney’s book, it is a collection of recipes culled from her family’s Big Sur Restaurant, Nepethe. While narrative cookbooks based around family lore are certainly nothing new, Romney’s book is a bit different in that it speaks so much to how a singular place can color an upbringing, a family, a restaurant, and a community. Sara Remington’s photography is absolutely stunning in that earthy, muted, moody style that displays and celebrates the landscapes and colors of Big Sur.
So without further ado, the recipe for Mulled Wine. The nice thing about Mulled Wine is you can really fiddle with it and adjust it to your own tastes. I did adapt the recipe slightly, adding a bit more cinnamon, cloves, and less sugar. Think about the wine you’re using in relation to the sugar you’ll be adding. I used a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau we had leftover from Thanksgiving and it’s a big, jammy, little-bit-sweet wine. Also, you can really let this simmer away for an hour or more to let the flavors develop-just know you’ll need to add more wine as it will reduce naturally.
Slightly adapted from: My Nepenthe
Stick the cloves into the orange, making a decorative pattern if you’d like.
Combine the orange, water, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean, and lemon peel in a large, nonreactive pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour in the wine. Simmer over low heat until the flavors meld, about 30 minutes. Just before serving, pour in a jigger or two of brandy. Serve hot.
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.