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.
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.