When I graduated from college, I didn’t want to go to all the ceremonies. I felt above it all. Don’t get me wrong–I was glad that I’d finished, but I went to a school the size of my entire hometown, and felt I’d just be lost in the crowd during graduation. But my mom talked to me about the importance of ceremony in your life—milestones deserve their moment. And she’s right. Ceremony and a little pomp and circumstance sort of force you to reflect on your accomplishments. Otherwise, something as big as a college graduation or a wedding would be just another day that, eventually, you wouldn’t remember apart from the rest. You need finality, you need reflection, and you need to share and celebrate accomplishments with others.
I just got home from upstate New York last night where I saw my youngest sister graduate. I saw her messy apartment (you seriously didn’t notice that dust covering the TV?!), her favorite bars, met her wonderful girlfriends, and experienced what she meant when she said she lived in the middle of nowhere. And, of course, I saw her graduate. But there was more than that. There were the cocktail parties, the baccalaureate ceremony and the torchlight tradition where graduates carry a torch down to the campus lake at dusk singing, drinking, crying, reminiscing.
These are all things that my own college didn’t do—things, knowing myself, I probably would’ve scoffed at. But things that I’ve since realized are so, so important and I’m grateful Zoe got to experience them.
Zoe. No one can quite believe you’ve finished college. Most of my friends remember you as a skinny, freckly little girl with wild and crazy curls—shocked that you’re now a young woman moving to the city and starting a life of your own. For me, I remember you bouncing away on the trampoline in the back yard, how obsessed you were with those coconut boobs mom and dad bought for you in Hawaii, your affinity for gardenia perfume, your rather advanced (and pricey) taste in clothes, and the summer I lived with you and you earned the nickname “Crumbs.” Oh, and obviously your love for Nutella (clearly we’re related).
So I know you’re probably experiencing that odd mixture of fear and excitement right now. And I also know a lot of people tend to dole out advice during these milestones and you’ll hear them, but you can’t really absorb it. You may not be ready yet. They’re telling you what they’ve learned after decades of trial and error. Now is your time to set out with your own trails and your own errors. But there are a few things that I know to be true: there are people in this world where, generally, things just work out for them. I think you might just be one of those people. Remember to put things in perspective. A job’s just a job, a boy’s just a boy, an apartment’s just an apartment. Follow your instincts. Follow your heart. If you do those two things, you’ll be just fine. And when you’re not, you know who to call. There’s a brood of us cheering you on.
So thank you for making this skeptical older sister soften to ceremony, sororities, and milestones this weekend. I’m so happy to have had a glimpse inside the last four years of your life and the people and places that loved you (and that you loved back). From your oldest sister and the one applauding you from all the way across the country—here’s the simplest of Nutella pastry to celebrate a milestone. So simple that you will be able to pump it out even in the smallest of New York kitchens.
This recipe was inspired by a recipe for Chocolate-Almond Pastries in the December ’09 issue of Martha Stewart Magazine. I gave it new life by using hazelnuts and Nutella. It’s a versatile recipe–you could easily use any combination of nuts, dried fruits, and chocolates. Next time I make it, I’m going to add a few dollops of Mascarpone cheese to finish it off.
Preheat oven to 45o F. Arrange puff pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form a 10-inch square and fold each edge in to make a 1-inch crust. Poke middle of dough numerous times with a fork. Brush edges of dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Freeze for fifteen minutes.
Transfer baking sheet to oven and bake until pastry is puffed and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and spread Nutella evenly across the pastry. The Nutella will begin to melt, making it much easier to spread. Sprinkle with sea salt and hazelnuts and cut into 4 squares or 6 triangles. Serve warm.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
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).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.