For the past few days and for the remainder of the weekend, I’m house-sitting at my mom’s house. Hallelujah. I’m amazed at what a little change of scenery can do for a girl. And before I get into that and the magic I’ve created with a few blood oranges, I want to thank you all for your comments on the last post. I feel so lucky to have such amazing readers, friends, and family. Thank you one hundred times over.
Onward: Remember how I used to live at my mom’s place before moving into the city? She lives about thirty minutes north of San Francisco in San Rafael, a beautiful but sleepy sort-of suburb. It’s great to be back hanging out in the blooming backyard, snuggling with her dogs, catching up with bad gossip magazines, watching cable (such a luxury now!), feasting on homemade lasagna and brownies, and getting a good night’s sleep. I’m actually really nervous to go back to my place on Monday, but I know I need to face my life there, too. There are changes to be made and conversations to be had. Oy. You know what makes facing life just a little bit easier? The bottle.
Now of course, I jest. Sort of. Now that I think about it, I’m actually not sure if we’ve discussed my penchant for very strong cocktails. There’s nothing I hate more than eating out and ordering a weak drink. I like to really taste my liquor. My friends and family are used to me ordering an extra shot of tequila to throw into my margarita or ordering doubles just in case. And fairly recently, I’ve discovered the wonderful world of Manhattans. Those always seem to hit the spot. So that should give you a little insight into this cocktail. These babies are strong.
I’m sure you’ve been seeing blood oranges in your local market lately. When I lived in Boston, February was always the hardest month to get through in the winter–and ironically, it’s the shortest. The holidays are over, it’s damn cold and gray and slushy…and cold. So I remember always giddily scooping up these beauties when they’d start arriving in the stores with tangerines, glistening lemons, and big meaty grapefruits. Even though I live in California now, I still find myself grabbing for color wherever I can find it.
The recipe for this cocktail can certainly be adapted. Feel free to use Triple Sec instead of Cointreau if you like–and play with the proportions as you go. If you want it a little juicer with less kick, squeeze another half a blood orange in and see how you like it. People take cocktails so seriously these days, but I tend to kind of throw a little of this and a little more of that in until I’m happy. So have fun with this. Heck, if we can’t have fun with our cocktails, there’s a lot more than February that’s looking bleak, right?
What are you up to this weekend? Hibernating? I’m working a catering job tomorrow, visiting and photographing a new burger place with a friend for a review I’m writing, and lounging with Netflix (Paper Heart-seen it?), the new Vanity Fair, and Tara Austen Weaver’s new book on welcoming meat into her life. As a once-vegetarian for almost fifteen years, I relate to her struggles with learning how to eat, prepare, and think about meat again. Check it out. See you back here early next week with a great breakfast recipe. Hint: break out the good butter and the marmalade. Until then: Cheers.
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and pour into a glass that makes you happy to look at. Enjoy.
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.