I didn’t know this until last week, but Seattle has a way of gripping you in the fall. Sure, our leaves change in the Bay Area, and the light basks down glowingly in the afternoons and evenings in a much different way than it does in the summer. We get golds and touches of amber. Because I went to graduate school on the East Coast, I’m used to boldly-hued falls, but in Seattle the colors are more muted and in this way maybe even more beautiful. The air is brisk and crisp and you need to break out your coat. A scarf would be good, too. You may want to even leave the heat on overnight or turn it on the second you patter out of bed to take the chill off.
I spent Halloween in Seattle this year — a Monday that, for some reason, felt like one big ol’ Sunday. So we treated it as such. This was a Megan & Sam Sunday Do-Over — something that, should we both never need to work again for some odd reason (very unlikely)–I’d like to repeat again and again. When you find yourself in the position to reenact a Sunday, siting at a cafe with coffee, broiled eggs, bread and mustard, and yesterdays paper is a good option. You don’t get to do it everyday and a Monday that feels like a Sunday is the best of times for this sort of thing.
When you’re embarking on a Sunday Do-Over, time shouldn’t be a huge consideration. You’ve got to really do it right. Feed the meter heartily and just sit with the afternoon. Order Pastis after lunch and people watch.
The quiet afternoon turned to evening quickly (as it’s known to do), and we were a little late with our pumpkins, racing around and looking under car seats to find a lighter or matches as the first family rounded the corner. I headed out to the store to pick up a baguette and a few things to make a quick soup, Sam was playing Ethiopian jazz out on the porch, we took turns fetching all of the little slippery seeds from the pumpkins to roast later, and shared a few bottles of beer.
This was actually the first Halloween that I’ve ever had trick-or-treaters. I’ve always lived in city apartment buildings, but Sam has a little house in a very sweet neighborhood by the lake and there were quite a few kids coming up the walk. If you think of Halloween as an actual holiday, it was our first together. And it was cozy and warm and wonderful.
So in the spirit of do-overs, the soup quickly became one of my new favorites. So much so that I recreated it again here in Oakland last night and am excited to share it with you today. It’s a simple soup but, because of the coconut milk and warm spices, it’s almost decadent. It’s perfect for anytime the opportunity strikes to have a Sunday Do-Over. Or, really, just a moment to sit in the spirit of a Sunday. Let’s take what we can get.
As with most soups, this is better the next day and freezes beautifully. That being said, we very much loved it right off the stove-top. If you prefer butternut squash or pumpkin, either would work well here, too. Spend some time pureeing it well; this will result in a rich fall soup.
Preheat oven to 400° F. Put the sweet potatoes on a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil (makes for easier clean-up) and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft all the way through. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, skin the potatoes — the skin should essentially just peel right off and cut into 1-inch chunks.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sautée the onion and garlic until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the coconut milk and broth and gently bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover, and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes, garlic powder and paprika to the soup and simmer for 5 minutes. Using an immersion blender or a stand-alone blender, puree the soup in small batches until smooth and creamy. Stir in the salt and pepper.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
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).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.