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.
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.