For those of you who follow me on twitter, you’ve probably gathered that I’m a huge Kim Boyce fan–I really haven’t been this excited and inspired by a cookbook in a long time. Perhaps ever. I had the opportunity to meet Kim last week at Omnivore Books and hear her take on the different whole grain flours she uses in Good to the Grain and how each affects the flavor and texture of her recipes. If you want a more detailed review of her book, I wrote a short piece for Bay Area Bites last week, so feel free to read more there.
But for now, let’s talk cookies. And let’s talk whole wheat flour. And let’s talk about how I’m flying to China with my dad and my sisters this afternoon and I’m wholly unprepared and kind of o.k. with that. The odd thing about that is I’m a big planner. Generally when I go on trips, I stock up on guidebooks, start making lists, talk to friends, email acquaintences, mock up a few itineraries. That’s just how I roll. But something seems to have changed. I just don’t care to even think about planning. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I just packed up my entire life and moved it into my mom’s garage for the summer. I can’t find my running shorts or my favorite salad bowl, so that’s thrown me a little. So I guess now’s as good a time as any to throw it out to my lovely readers: If any of you have been to Shanghai and/or Hong Kong and have suggestions, bring it on! I’d love to hear them. Truly. And in the meantime, I’m settling in to my new fly-by-the-seat, carefree mentality with a plateful of whole wheat chocolate chip cookies.
Now Good to the Grain is organized in chapters according to the type of whole grain flour Kim’s using. So while there are certainly more exciting recipes I suppose (Muscovado Sugar Cake, Rhubarb Tarts, Figgy Buckwheat Scones), you can’t go wrong with a solid chocolate chip cookie and I was intrigued with Kim’s use of cold butter, 100% whole wheat flour, and atypical amount of kosher salt. Now while I may be known for hyperbole, I have to say I’m not sure I’ll ever make another chocolate chip cookies recipe again. I’ve fallen in love. Kim’s recipe yields a chewy, almost nutty cookie with uneven shards of bittersweet chocolate and glints of kosher salt. It’s a sturdy cookie begging for a glass of milk. But it’s also a delightfully decadent cookie, perfect all on its own.
Besides the insanely creative recipes, Kim’s expert tips, and Quentin Bacon’s luscious photos, one thing I love about Kim’s approach is her playfulness. I’m a typical baker in that I like to measure, I’m precise, and I don’t love straying from a recipe the first time around (although I’m getting much better with this one). But Kim encourages adaptation and taking yourself less seriously in the kitchen. A little less stringent planning, perhaps. Use what you’ve got on hand. I took her advice with these cookies and threw in chopped pecans, and I’m taking her advice all the way to China and winging it just a little. Seeking out a bit of unplanned adventure, using what we’ve got on hand, following our instincts, and seeing what kind of trouble we can muster up. Count on the fact that I’ll fill you in. Until then…
I added chopped pecans to this recipe although you could certainly add in your favorite nuts, dried fruit, or a bit of coconut if you’d like. They’re best warm from the oven or eaten the same day.
Slightly adapted from: Good to the Grain
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.
Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds.
Add the chocolate and pecans all at once and quickly mix on low speed until evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down sides and bottom of bowl and turn out onto a clean work surface and use your hands to fully incorporate all ingredients.
Scoop balls of dough about 3 tablespoons in size on the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them. Bake for 16-20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cook and repeat with remaining dough.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.