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.
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.