I received a note in the mail recently. Addressed to me, obviously, but in my own handwriting. A strange sense of familiarity struck as I stared at it, trying to figure out when exactly I’d addressed it. In Boston? In San Francisco? Maybe it was a mistake, a card I’d meant to send to someone else but accidentally sent back to myself (stranger things have happened). I stared at the envelope turning it over and over in my hands–still nothing. I opened it to find a single card with my name printed at the top.
Have fun. Don’t be scared. Dare to love again.
The note was in my writing, and it was from practically two years ago. I vaguely remember how I felt when I wrote it: Small. Uncertain. Fragile. After moving to San Francisco and realizing pretty quickly that I’d be going it solo, I started doing yoga almost every day just to clear my head and, frankly, have an excuse to get out of the apartment. I remember New Years Day when everyone (including my own parents) was hung-over after too much partying the night before. The light was soft and yellow that morning and the streets were completely empty. I was up early, made a pot of coffee, sat in my little window nook overlooking the city, and decided yoga was a good way to escape all of the New Years Resolution-ness that was bound to start weighing down on the day. I strolled into class, rolled out my mat smack in the middle of the room and sat on down.
We did very little yoga during that class. Instead, we did this exercise that I felt pretty uncomfortable with at first; it seemed too touchy-feely yet everyone was participating and there was no way to sneak out of the room. The teacher had these little wispy papers that deteriorated when you lit them on fire. So we wrote three things we wanted to let go of in the coming year and took turns coming up to the front of the room and burning them. I remember it all being strangely emotional–emotional in a very public way. Usually I would’ve put my guard up and excused the activity as silly, but I let myself actually take it all in and feel that day. We talked a little about our hearts. Everyone had a story.
At the end of class we wrote a note to ourselves that listed three things we wanted to work on in the coming year, three bits of advice. The instructor collected them and promised she’d send them sometime in the future but wouldn’t say exactly when. So here we are, and it’s a very different kind of day, week, year, isn’t it? I hardly recognize or remember the Megan that, shakily and tearfully, wrote this note. And I keep staring at it in awe and gratitude that I’ve been so blessed with a family that encourages following your heart; friends that encourage laughter, cocktails, eating out, and ice cream cones; and, of course, Sam.
So what would today’s note read? I think my advice to myself would be a little less grand in scope. I recently quit my very part-time retail job at Heath Ceramics to make more space for writing and Marge. The discount at Heath is pretty hefty and generally when people quit they make a few large purchases to round out their collection. But on my last day I looked around the shop and couldn’t think of much that I needed. I ended up buying a small bottle of good olive oil and some coffee beans. Daily pleasures I’ll use often–nothing grand, nothing showy, nothing that takes up much space. Because my life is so full on this Saturday in late September.
This weekend I’m traveling up to see Sam for almost a week. When you have been counting down the days and hours until you’re back in each others’ arms, cookies are a darn fine distraction. And not just any cookies, but wonderfully chewy ginger cookies that are soft on the inside yet slightly crackled on top. They’re nothing like light, crisp gingersnaps; they’ve got a little more heft. They’ll make your kitchen smell like fall in one moments time and are perfect for slicing off little bits throughout the evening if you happen to be up working at your desk late at night. But tomorrow they travel to Seattle. Where I’ll be for the longest visit yet. I’ll take some photos and bring them back to you. Maybe in the meantime, you whip up a batch of cookies.
Like many good things, this cookie recipe is the result of an accident (well, really, two accidents) while I was studying at the San Francisco Baking Institute. The first time I miscalculated the amount of flour and the second time we misread the spice profile. Both mistakes have given me one of my favorite fall cookie recipes of all time. Do use bread flour here instead of all-purpose flour: the higher gluten-content is integral in achieving the nice heft and chewiness that these cookies are so good for. Make a double batch; they freeze beautifully.
Preheat the oven at 350 F.
In the bowl of a stand-mixer or in a separate bowl using electric beaters, cream the butter and sugar until well combined, about one minutes. Then add the egg and molasses and mix until just combined, 20-30 seconds. Add all of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated (don’t overmix here).
Using a large tablespoon or ice cream scoop (see note) portion out roughly 2 ounce balls and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until the tops and edges are golden brown and slightly crackled. The very center can remain slightly soft and even just a tad jiggly. When the cookies cool, they will firm up, leaving the inside and center wonderfully soft.
Note: I use a blue scoop (2 ounce, #16) for most cookies in the bakery and at home. It makes for a larger cookie.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.