I carved a pumpkin at my Dad’s house on Halloween night. Yes, trick-or-treaters were arriving as we were slicing away. Better late than never. And pumpkin. I heard some ladies talking at the gym this week that they were “all pumpkin-ed out” (this was after the debate concerning the appropriate time to start applying to get your daughter into summer equestrian camp. Apparently it’s quite competitive. These women are losing sleep over this). I’ve actually started to turn down my ipod at the gym; the conversations I overhear are serious fodder for future writing projects. You couldn’t make this stuff up. But back to pumpkin. I, for one, am not all “pumpkin-ed out.” In fact, this is the first time I’ve broken out the pumpkin this fall, and I’m sensing a trend here. I missed the boat on the sour cherries in late summer and never got around to canning tomatoes. And man the peaches were good this year in California–should’ve made jam. But enough with the “should haves.” I’m not letting pumpkin slip through my grip. And I’m sharing these lightly spiced, super moist fall muffins with you today. Better late than never.
This recipe is from my bakery crush, Flour Bakery in Boston. I wrote about their oatmeal cookies last week on The Kitchn and last year when I visited Boston, I snapped a few photos. Flour is the ultimate feel-good bakery. We’d often go when it was freezing out and we needed a distraction from medieval literature and lectures on literary theory. Joanne’s banana bread and double chocolate cookies are the best distraction a girl could ask for. A funny thing I’ve been noticing lately is that I’ve started developing major bakery crushes on bakeries I haven’t even been to. I could make a long list of little bakeshops I’ve fallen in love with after visiting once (or 27 times), but this is different. These are spots I’ve been introduced to online or have heard about through friends. And like any good, fierce crush I can’t stop thinking about them.
- I’m actually quite obsessed with a little baksehop I stumbled across online called Violet. The shop is in East London, and is run by Claire Ptak who used to do pastry at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Their website is lovely and really gives a true sense of this place and the aesthetic. It seems as though Claire’s successfully created a sweet little neighborhood spot that would feel much like stopping into your best friend’s kitchen for a slice of cake in the late afternoon.
- Then there’s Four and Twenty Blackbirds in Brooklyn. These two gals bake pie. And savory treats and breakfast pastries. They have a big communal table and serve locally brewed beer in the evening. And people come from late morning into the night to eat, sit, chat.
- Floriole. I think I first learned of this Chicago bakery from Lottie + Doof (he is a Chicago boy, after all). I’ve since stalked their daily specials online and fallen in love. Their menu is simple but virtually perfect and the space inside is sweet as can be.
- Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneos: I’m ashamed that this little spot in the Dogpatch is in my neck of the woods and I’ve never been. I’ve heard only amazing things about the couple who built out the space from scratch. While technically not really a bakery I suppose, they do make virtually everything from scratch and in addition to their ice creams, they apparently do a fabulous fudgesicle and people trek to the little-bit-out-of-the-way neighborhood for their homemade cones.
Do you have any bakery crushes? I’m visiting NYC in a few weeks, actually, so if you have any spots you love there, I’d love to hear about them!
…And now onto muffins!
The addition of pastry flour here makes this muffin a smidge lighter and fluffier than the one at Flour. If you don’t have pastry flour at home, go ahead and use all all-purpose flour. I also amped up the spice profile after making them once and wishing there was a little more oomph of fall in each muffin. Feel free to top them with pecans instead of pumpkin seeds if you prefer.
Adapted from: Flour by Joanne Chang
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a standard 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line with muffin papers.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture is nice and light. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
On low speed, add the eggs on at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the orange juice and pumpkin on low speed until combined–don’t worry if the batter looks a little curdled. It’ll firm right up. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves until well mixed. Dump the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and fold carefully with a spatula or spoon until the dry and wet ingredients are well combined. Don’t overmix here: you’re just joining the wet and dry ingredients. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, dividing it evenly and filling the cups to the rim. Sprinkle the tops with pumpkin seeds or pecans.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown on top and spring back when pressed in the middle. Let cool and then place on a wire rack for an additional 20 minutes.
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.