What I’m about to tell you doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s one of those rare things that happens to you and that’s so much bigger than you — it’s difficult to put it into words. And the reason I have waited to tell you is because I haven’t really known the right way to go about it. But this space has always been as much about my life as it is about food, and if we never talked about any of this I probably wouldn’t blog again for a very, very long time. Because this is, now, my focus. My attention, my daydreams, my real dreams, my heart, and a glimpse into the future. This is it. Meet Sam.
Sam lives in Seattle. I live in Oakland. We met in August or September over coffee to talk about designing the website for my baking business, Marge. We sat outside, talked websites, ideas, and business. I’m sure Seattle weather came up (as it does) and I remember Sam commenting on the weight of the letters in the typeface of the bakery sign. I kind of loved that. There was something about him, even then, that captivated me in a certain way. Right when I thought about beginning a baking business, I knew I should take notes along the way so I could look back and remember the whole thing. These notes are filled with everything ranging from lists to sketches to fully fleshed out paragraphs. A few weeks ago, I reread them and found an entry from the day after I met Sam that very first time.
A bakery, looking for a man I’d only spoken with over email and wasn’t too sure what to expect. A smart man, I knew. A man that was excited about Marge and that excitement and passion for his work assured me we’d get along just fine. A notebook of ideas. A fine hat. A long talk sitting outside with glints of afternoon sun. And breezes. Smiles and laughter and a strange and sudden trust. And a lot of “Get this’s” — I’d never sat down and thought about Marge in this way, and it was nice. There was possibility and assuredness there, and when I looked at Sam talking about it all, I know this somehow. Echoing somewhere is the Rilke quote: “Dig into your self for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even down to its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.” The impulse about Marge, yes. To create something. The impulse, I think, to know Sam better: yes, too.
Now fast forward months and months and you’ll find a Megan that routinely spends hours upon hours on the phone with Seattle Sam. A Megan who forgets where she parks, walks to yoga without her yoga mat, buys sorbet and leaves it in her car overnight, finds music and food to sound and taste infinitely more amazing. A Megan who finds herself smiling throughout the day. For no discernable reason. A Megan that hasn’t seen this much light in a very long time. Actually, ever. And if you fast-forward just a bit further you’ll find a Megan that just dropped Sam off at the airport last week after an amazing two-week visit.
A visit that, in many ways, is hard to explain to people who want to know everything we did and saw. Truthfully, there were dozens upon dozens of moments but so many of them were deliciously quotidian: holding hands and strolling through Point Reyes Station, beers at Magnolia on Haight, riding around on Sam’s back (across streets, over bridges, from room to room), shopping for records, early morning farmer’s markets together with double thermoses, hiking Tennessee Valley and running from waves, Chez Panisse and Zuni Cafe, afternoon coffees at Cafe Zoetrope, Sam making bacon and eggs in the morning, a few new books, listening to old Bruce Sprinsteen, Friday Night Lights together on the couch, port, finger-crossing for parking spaces, whirlwind trip up to Lake Tahoe to nap by the fire and work in each others’ company, sunny Dolores Park.
So you see, Sam and I have fallen in love. This, by the way, doesn’t work wonderfully well for people who like to plan, manage, and control their lives (yours truly). If I’d been able to choose, I certainly would’ve chosen a man who lived closer. Sure, saying goodbye on the curb at the airport is no fun. But I’m telling myself not to try to make perfect sense of it all or figure out all of the logistics this second. Because it’s not that kind of thing. Rather, this falls more in the ‘blindly and patiently’ camp. The ‘take deep breaths’ camp and the ‘don’t scare Sam away by making a spreadsheet of your future life together’ camp. Yes, one of those.
And so, in the spirit of ‘blindly and patiently’, I’m leaving you with two things today. First, an encouragement to grab onto the hand of the one you love (or the nape of their neck or their kneecap or shove your hand down the back pocket of their jeans. You get it). Quite a few people I know who saw Sam and I happily with one another encouraged us to enjoy it while it lasts with the underlying assumption that it won’t. That it never does. With it being that spark, that light, that inability to look away. So I want you to grab onto the hand of your love this afternoon. Just because. Just because I know it can last. And second, I’m leaving you with a wonderful recipe for a rustic olive loaf–a bread that takes a little time, nurturing, and patience. And with all three, it comes out perfectly every time. As I know it will with my Sam.
Although it seems like a long first rise, the recipe is pretty accurate here. Plan out the following day to allow for enough time. Before baking, I brushed the loaf with infused rosemary olive oil and a little sea salt. Use your favorite olive oil — or nothing at all.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, olives, and yeast. Add the water and, with your hands, mix until the dough is wet and sticky, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
When the first rise is complete, dust a work surface with flour. Gently scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece–can use a dough scraper or spatula here. Lift the edges of the dough in toward the center and nudge and tuck them in to make it round.
Place a tea towel on your counter and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2 – to 5 1/2 -quart heavy pot in the center of the rack. Remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes. *** (see note)
Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.
***If using Le Creuset or similar pot, remember to screw off the knob on top of the lid — it’s not meant to withstand quite that much heat.
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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.