So Marge. A few of you have asked how things are going. I love that. Thank you. Things are plugging along. I’m adding another farmer’s market onto the weekend docket in a month or so and testing some new pie recipes. It’s good. It’s all good. But I have to say: when it’s 38 degrees, rainy, and “ski week” for the kids in school (don’t ask–it’s a California thing) the market is pretty darn slow. That was the case last weekend. And I don’t blame people. If I wasn’t working, you couldn’t have paid me to get off the couch in that weather. It was a pretty surreal experience though: baking a lot of pie and having very few customers come through the market. I gave some slices away to local businesses, telling them all about Marge. They were thrilled. Pie makes people very happy. I made some last minute pie deals at the end of the day. And then I got smart.
I started to trade like all the other vendors do. The sausage guy traded a pie for some bratwurst. I got a few slats of micro greens, some pesto, stinging nettle ravioli and a bunch of chard, lemons, and fennel. Could be worse. I made simple meals with the greens, lemons, and bratwurst. But I’ve been sitting here staring at the fennel in the fridge for days now. What to do, what to do? I consulted the incredible, new-ish Essential New York Times Cookbook for ideas and found just the thing: a bright, wintry salad cloaked in a citrus dressing of fresh orange juice and walnut oil and topped with toasted walnuts.
This salad will, I promise, brighten up even the darkest and chilliest of afternoons. It will make you forget about the fact that you gave away a lot of pie on a particularly slow day at the market.
The recipe, as written, is absolutely lovely. I opted to swap out the extra virgin olive oil for a toasty walnut oil that I think works really well with the brightness of the orange juice in the dressing. If you don’t have walnut oil on hand, olive oil will work just fine. And a note on fennel: when the recipe discusses the fronds, those are the delicate, almost frilly leaves connected to the stalks. As the directions indicate, you’ll reserve them to lay atop the salad.
Slightly adapted from: The Essential New York Times Cookbook
Wash the watercress and cut off the stems. Place leaves in your favorite salad bowl.
Cut the fronds off the fennel stalks and reserve. Discard the stalks. Mince the fronds and set aside. Cut a slice off of the bottom of the bulb, then cut it lengthwise in half. Slice the halves crosswise into thin slices and lay in with the watercress.
Remove the orange peel by slicing off the top and bottom of the orange. Cut around the orange with a serrated knife, using a sawing motion to cut off the white pith as well as the peel. Slice the oranges into thin rounds and add to the salad.
Juice one orange for the dressing. Mix the walnut oil and 1/3 cup fresh orange juice together and season with salt and pepper. Mix with the salt, and sprinkle with the minced fennel leaves and toasted walnuts.
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.