Pulling off the farmers market this past weekend was a bit of a challenge. I had flown back from Seattle Friday afternoon, knowing full-well that the evening would consist of harried hours of crimping and baking, filling and frosting. And I was okay with that. I wanted as much time there as possible.
Time to explore pie shops and see what other bakers are up to. Time to share french fries with Rachael in the afternoon or a pre-museum hot dog with Sam at Dot’s. Time to take evening walks around the lake or back from Delancey. Walks to the grocery store or the movie theater. Back home from playing darts or out to meet Tara for dinner or Jess for a good chat. Or a rather brisk walk to catch Dana at Booklarder (and we did!)
So you’d think with all of that walking, talking about feeling settled might seem odd. They’re opposites, really. It’s funny: so often that word has negative connotations. In regards to a bad relationship, it could be “she’s just settling.” Or in speaking about someone who has become much less adventurous or interesting, you might say they’ve already “settled.” As for Sam and Seattle, settled is just what comes to mind, what feels right. It feels like we’ve been in each others’ company for a very long time. But then Sam will say something or do something unexpected that leaves me dying with laughter or challenged or thoughtful. So it’s all perfectly comfortable and, at the same time, perfectly new.
When I returned home, with Marge, I just felt less frazzled, less worried, knowing full well that somehow all the baking would get done. It had to. And it did. On Saturday, I had two small leftover pies and I traded them for some beautiful tomatoes. I didn’t really set out to get tomatoes, actually. I wanted a few bunches of greens and some french radishes. But the girl at the farmstand insisted. She said they were almost the last of the season and that I didn’t want to wait. They wouldn’t be around forever.
You could make a soup, she said.
I looked at the large bag of tomatoes she was handing over. That’d be a lot of soup, I said.
Well, yes, but I’m sure you’ve got someone to make soup for?
I continued staring at the big bag of tomatoes, strangely hesitant to reach out for them.
Or, you know, just freeze any extra. That’s what I do. She seemed to be hedging, nervous she’s said or offered too much.
But I decided quickly that I liked her. She was resourceful. She was a woman that appreciated a big pot of soup — for someone else or just for yourself. She was also a woman that was practically giving away tomatoes on a blustery afternoon in early October and, for that, I handed over two small pear pies and walked away with my bag of round, slightly bruised beauties.
And truth be told, I do have someone to make soup for. He’s not in the next room, mind you, but we’re going to see a lot of each other this fall. And continue taking rainy evening walks. And eating lots of soup. Settling, in the best sense of the word. Not like these tomatoes, in which you’re advised by the rosy-cheeked woman selling boxes of them not to wait because they won’t be around forever. No, not like that at all.
This is an incredibly simple soup that consists of roasting a pan of tomatoes, garlic and onion and pureeing them with a bit of broth. Because of its simplicity, do be sure to use the very best, seasonal tomatoes you can find. You’ll taste the difference. Because I leave the skin of the tomatoes on, this soup is going to have a bit of texture at the end. I like this; if you don’t, run it through a mesh sieve after pureeing. The amount of broth can vary, too, depending on how thick you like your soup. Feel free to adjust the amount based on your tastes. If you like a creamier soup, add up to 1/4 cup heavy cream of half & half at the very end.
Preheat the oven to 375′. Spread the quartered onions and cloves of garlic out onto a cookie sheet. You want to get rid of some of the seedy part of the inside of the tomatoes — don’t go overboard here and aim for perfection but your tomatoes will be a bit too juicy if you roast them exactly as is. Use your finger to get some of the seedy parts of the tomatoes out of there. Then place tomatoes on baking sheet along with garlic and onion. Dash the olive oil over everything and sprinkle with salt and parsley
Roast for 30 minutes, or until the tomatoes have softened and slumped and reduced to almost half their size. Remove from the oven and scoop all of the ingredients from the pan into a medium saucepan.
Add the broth into the saucepan and allow to simmer on the low-medium heat for 10 minutes. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the saucepan itself or feel free to cool slightly and use a blender instead.
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.