This odd thing happens when I travel to new places: I convince myself and my loved ones that I’m meant to live there. The grass is always greener, right? But after a few weeks, my new obsession wanes and I settle back into life in the Bay Area. Seattle’s a bit of an exception. That feeling doesn’t wear off after a few days when I come home from Seattle. I really, really love this city. In addition to the amazing food, distinct neighborhoods, fleece-loving clog-wearing population, the water, and (way) cheaper real estate…my sister lives there. And she just moved into a cute new house and put pink flamingos in her yard. Yeah, she has a yard. Jealous.
So my mom and I decided to capitalize on a few days off mid-week and flew up to wander, eat, explore, shop, and gawk. Here’s what we were up to in case you’re ever up in Seattle and at a loss for what to do.
We weren’t in a hurry this morning–woke up leisurely and walked over to the coffee shop where my sister Rachael works. Then we went over to West Seattle to see her new place, and cruised over to Ballard to have lunch at the Lunchbox Laboratory. I could write a whole post on this place, but I’ll aim for brevity. First, their shakes are incredible (with choices ranging from a simple chocolate to Nutella and Almond Joy) and they serve tater tots in little All-Clad pots. They have wacky hours, no-nonsense service, lots of interesting choices (down to even the salt you’d like on your fries), and it really was one of the better burgers I’ve had in a very long time (with caramelized onions and a gorgonzola cream sauce, could you really go wrong?)
After lunch we cruised over to Freemont to poke around the neighborhood. We stumbled upon an unassuming vintage shop that proved to be absolutely delightful. If I lived in Seattle, I would’ve purchased the little mid-modern table, orange bakelite casserole set, and the old pharmacy lamp. Oh, and the turquoise typewriter was cool, too. And if my mom lived in Seattle, she was all over that green cruiser bike. We liked this place.
Then we found another great shop around the block, Bitters Co. Tough to pinpoint in just a few words, the store stocks tasteful pieces for the home with a general store vibe–everything from Heath Ceramics to sweet little scissors, chalkboards, cheese knives, and local honey. Beautiful shop. Worth the trip if you’re in the ‘hood.
And last, Dream, a new favorite clothing shop with pretty not-too-pricey tees, dresses, and scarves. Check out their dressing room–I wanted to move right in (and yes, I bought the dress):
Next on our agenda was the tour of Theo Chocolate Factory. I’d planned this a few weeks in advance because it does book up, and I’d been looking forward to it all day. If you haven’t tried Theo Chocolate, you can get it at gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods. Their Bread and Chocolate and the Cherry Almond Dark Chocolate Bar are my favorite–really good quality chocolate and I love that it’s made right there in Seattle. In fact, they mentioned that even in their milk chocolate bars, they never go below 40% cocoa which is pretty high for market standards these days. And I tasted a 91% bar that wasn’t at all bitter. (tough to pull off). They’re magicians, I tell you. During the tour, you get a behind-the-scenes look at the U.S.’s only organic, fair-trade bean-to-bar chocolate factory and learn all about the processes they use. And let’s be real: the best part? A lot of chocolate samples and a beautiful showroom where you can pick up a few bars to take back home.
Later that evening, we had a memorable dinner at Boat Street Cafe. Since Rachael moved to Seattle, I’ve been up to visit four times and Boat Street Cafe is my favorite restaurant so far. It just feels really good in there.
The lighting is low; the cocktails are creative and strong (I recommend the Lillet martini); the food is simple, seasonal, and executed beautifully. I ordered the best crab cakes I’ve ever had–virtually all crab with just a dash of cornmeal. We all shared the house pickle plate (pickled radishes, cherries, asparagus) and I had the creme fraiche ice cream with candied citrus for dessert. A really lovely meal. Smiles abounded.
I started the day off by walking down to Pike’s Place Market to meet up with Tea from Tea and Cookies for a little coffee and a quick market stroll. We have a lot in common, and she’s a big cheerleader for a move to Seattle. This is a reason I like her even more.
Next, my mom and I went to The Seattle Aquarium where we gawked at a big maroon octopus (worth the price of admission alone), playful river otters, and beautifully splayed starfish. Afterwards, we met up with my sister to do a little sight-seeing up at Kerry Park in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Views, dogs, impromptu parks. Fleece-wearing folks. I felt right at home.
Our next move: in search of some supposedly infamous cupcakes at Trophy Cupcake in Wallingford. We concurred with the buzz. They really were something. I fell in love with the Hummingbird Cupcake, an old Southern recipe that is largely banana cake with a little pineapple and coconut. What I loved about Trophy was that their chocolate cupcakes weren’t too sweet and actually tasted of cocoa, and can we just hear it for cream cheese frosting done really well? I’ll be back.
We went back to the hotel to rest after a little butter-induced lethargy and went out later that night for a wonderful seafood dinner at Blueacre Seafood. The restaurant opened just last month and they’re certainly still working out some kinks. But it’s by the same folks behind the well-regarded Steelhead Diner in Pike’s Place Market, and I think Blueacre will be really great in a few months time. The salads were a tad bit over-dressed and the desserts were contrived–but they lived up to the buzz in the seafood department: the salmon and lobster were absolutely perfect. A nice downtown spot for a celebration. And although we weren’t really celebrating anything, champagne sounded like a good idea. Why not?
So goodbye for now, Seattle. I know I’ll see you soon. At the very least, for another quick jaunt. Perhaps for a longer stay someday.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.