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.
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.