Summer. Barbecues, road trips, flip-flops, rope swings, a new swimsuit, homemade popsicles or rides with the windows down and feet out the window. Reading outside. Doing just about everything outside. Gardening. Sprinklers. The list could go on.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the time when summer actually felt like an eternity. Remember that? The days right before you or your friends had a car and you came up with impossibly creative ways to pass the time–perhaps feeling bored and tortured, not realizing how you’d look back on those listless, empty afternoons with nostalgia and longing.
During those summer days, the above list would look quite different: making chocolate chip cookie dough and eating it straight out of the bowl. On the roof. In our underwear. Or walking downtown barefoot with my best friend Kristin to buy fried rice from the one and only decent Chinese restaurant in our small town. We’d wear cut-offs and put on lots of fruity lip gloss and hope to be noticed. We’d spend hours making mix tapes and sneak bottles of Zima and clove cigarettes into the garage for a smashing afternoon of pure daydreaming. The Cure. The Flaming Lips. Sublime. Tori Amos. Kristin and I would sneak out at night and traipse around the park with boys much too old for us. Those were the days. How little we knew and how much we thought we knew. But such is adolescence. I don’t really miss that. The one thing I do miss is the cadence of the days, the way they literally folded into one another into a beautiful, long swath of months we called summer.
These were the days before stress, before worrying about health insurance or Amex bills or how to raise money for a bakery if you decided you wanted to open one. Yep, those days. I know you remember them, too. I can’t seem to stop thinking about that simpler time, especially as my own summer days seem to be collapsing into one another like stuccato moments of work, rest, and more work. So I thought I’d bring back a little of the summer of ’95. Why not? Now I just baked chocolate chip cookies so that was out. A few other things we loved were pretty classy: gummy peaches, Toaster Strudels, Snackwell’s cookies, and peanut butter. Right out of the jar. Coincidentally, I haven’t grown out of peanut butter. So, it is. Something with peanut butter. Lucky for me, my friend Hallie just emailed me a recipe for Buckeyes. I didn’t know what they were, but Hallie instructed that they were all about peanut butter and as easy as “dip and dive.” Sold.
Hallie’s spending the summer in Brooklyn and I trust that she’s eating her fair share of peanut butter out of the jar this summer. We used to work together until she made the awesome, spontaneous decision to move across the country and follow her passion for design and see what happens. So far, she’s running across the Brooklyn Bridge each morning, has two awesome internships and is settling in just fine. And if this recipe is any indication of her good taste, I’m sure she’ll keep on truckin’. This one’s a keeper.
So here’s to remembering teenage summers chock full of imagination, seeming eternity, a swish of naivety, and a little dash of magic—and hoping that just a teeny, tiny bit of that gets infused into a bit of this summer.
If you do a quick online search for Buckeyes, you’ll learn two things: first, that they’re an Ohio favorite made to look like the fruit of the state tree, the Buckeye. Second, the traditional way to make them is to add a bit of paraffin wax to the melted chocolate, but that seemed a little odd to me. Apparently Hallie thinks so, too. To pull these off, you’ll need wax paper and toothpicks.
Mix the peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and salt together with a wooden spoon. Add the powdered sugar in two batches, stirring until completely combined (I used my hands here to quickly incorporate the powdered sugar at the bottom).
Shape into 1″ balls and stick a toothpick in the center of each. Chill in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
Microwave chocolate chips on high for 1 1/2 – 2 minutes, or until completely melted. Gripping the toothpick, dip each ball into the melted chocolate until partially coated, and place on wax paper to harden. Store in an airtight container.
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.