Melty popsicles on the first weekend of September. Banana popsicles, to be exact, with a little bourbon and brown sugar. Thoughts of an Indian summer, a little jaunt here in one week, and choosing to linger — over morning coffee, evening drinks, a good book. Choosing not to linger over the television, online to-do lists, or starting to think about the holidays.
Last week I read a little Anne Lamott piece (via Molly) that spoke to this idea of choosing what you want to linger over or focus on. She talks about how the feeling of being busy all of the time is actually addictive–how much we all like to feel connected at all hours of the day, thriving on multi-tasking and creating little efficient systems around things that don’t necessarily need systems. She says, “Time is not free—that’s why it’s so precious and worth fighting for.” I read this right after I finished a hot-and-heavy texting conversation with my sister Zoe about hurricane Irene. Zoe lives in Manhattan and was writing to ask why I hadn’t checked in on her yet. Didn’t I know she was leaving her apartment to go stay with my aunt and uncle? Didn’t I know that the grocery stores were all sold out of food? That this could actually be big. The truth was I didn’t know. I had no idea.
My excuse? I don’t have cable. Sarcastically Zoe asked if my internet was broken, too. Had I been drinking all day, she wondered. I explained I’d been baking for the farmers market and it just wasn’t on my radar. She only sort of bought it. I think she still would’ve liked a “checking in” text or call. Fair enough. But I have to say, there’s something really, really nice about not having TV and getting to choose what information you look up and seek out. To fight for a little bit of time. While I wasn’t on the verge of breaking hurricane news, I seem to generally do just fine. I looked up where Irene was slated to land and checked in with The New York Times occasionally. But I did miss a lot of the good shots with news anchors and their flailing umbrellas. True. Speaking in general terms, Anne Lamott says, “No one needs to watch the news every night, unless one is married to the anchor. Otherwise, you are mostly going to learn more than you need to know about where the local fires are, and how rainy it has been: so rainy!” So much of it is largely noise.
When I lived in the city by myself for a few brief months searching for employment and nursing a broken heart, I liked to have the TV on for background noise. It made me feel less lonely. It made the apartment feel much less quiet. And I thought I’d feel the same way here in my Oakland apartment, but months ago I realized I didn’t. I cancelled cable but the TV still sat there completely untouched. Now it’s shoved into a closet with my snowshoes, ugly duffel bags, and a snorkel. Am I using the time I’d generally be sitting and watching TV to blaze through all of Russian literature? I’m afraid not. But I am listening to much more music, doing more writing, and every now and again looking around and marveling at my sunny little Oakland apartment. Marveling at the choices we get to make and how we can go about fashioning our days to be kind of how we want them to be. Melty popsicles, shelves of books, good booze, a plane ticket to West Virginia, and the sun setting across my school house desk. That’s the view from here as I linger (or dawdle, depending on how you look at it), stealing a little bit of time before digging into what’s next. In your case, that would be popsicles.
While it may be tempting to add a little more bourbon, remember that will affect how well your popsicles freeze. And this recipe yields popsicles that aren’t at all too sweet. Taste the mixture before pouring it into the molds, and adjust the sweetness as necessary. By the way, I think these would be lovely with cardamom or even a dash of cinnamon.
Quick note: the popsicles take a good 4 hours to freeze up completely (time not factored in the breakdown above), so plan accordingly.
Pour the milk, cream and brown sugar into a small saucepan and heat until just before it begins to boil. This helps integrate the brown sugar smoothly. Add the bourbon and vanilla and pour into a blender. Add bananas. Blend quickly — the mixture can remain a little chunky. Let cool and refrigerate until cooled completely.
Divide the mixture amongst the molds and freeze for 4-5 hours.
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.