I have this theory that it’s bad luck to talk about something until you’re pretty darn sure it’s going to happen. When I applied to graduate schools back East, I sent an application to Harvard. I didn’t tell a soul. I actually remember walking it out to the mailbox and sending it off on its own, as if the secret might contaminate my other mail somehow. The reason? I didn’t see the point in getting everyone excited about the chance I may go to Harvard if I didn’t end up getting in (and, for the record, I didn’t). These past few months have brought about a little bit of quiet sneakiness in their own way. For a while now, Sam and I have known I’d be moving to Seattle. I started telling a select few friends but was cautious to talk too much about it — I wasn’t sure exactly when we’d find a house or what it would look like or if we’d even like the same houses. I wanted to be very sure before sharing the big news with you, but now I can’t wait to tell you: Sam and I found a very sweet craftsman house on a quiet little block with a big tree in front, a huge basement, and a backyard. And I can’t stop thinking about it.
Something funny happens when you sign a lease with someone. With a quick pen stroke, you begin to turn your individual stories into more of a “we.” I think there’s a delayed sense of this with long-distance relationships because you each have your distinct city, your group of friends, your favorite market, your running route. It’s wonderful to share all of those things with the other person when they visit but at the end of the day, they’re still yours. Until now. There have been a lot of we’s and our’s over the past few days. Sam bought us a few new cookbooks for Christmas so we can begin cooking from them together. And I hear him talking on the phone with family or friends about our new breakfast nook or what we might want to do with the paint. I like that.
I booked a whole week visit to Seattle thinking it would take us much longer to find someplace we both liked. Because we snatched up a house so quickly, we had quite a few days to, well, not look at houses. Sam got some work done, I got some writing done, we walked around Discovery Park with Keena, split a burger at Skillet, shared a pizza at Delancey, strolled Ballard Avenue, meandered around the Arboretum, and had a Mexican breakfast with Tea.
We bought loose-leaf tea at Dandelion, saw The Artist with Molly and The Tree of Life on video from Scarecrow. I ran around Greenlake quite a few times and practiced the fine art of layering (we don’t do this in the Bay Area. At least not this year). And the rest of the time? We joked that this was the week where we showed each other what we could cook or bake. I made Sam my favorite chocolate chip cookies. He made me cream scones and banana pancakes. I made a carrot ginger soup a bit like this one. Sam made a kale gratin followed up the next night with a proper pasta carbonara. I made skillet chicken and roast potatoes our last night together. He made a boozy hot chocolate. It went something like that. All week long. It involved quite a few little trips to the grocery store and some notable dish-washing. It also gave us some time to talk about all of the things we want to do with the new house (paint! new blinds! basement workshop!)
So amidst all of this excitement, there remains lots and lots of packing (remember when I said I wouldn’t do this again?!), a little anxiety, and sadness to leave my dear friends and my mom and dad who live right across the bridge. I’m bad with goodbyes. Many people have asked what will become of Marge. The quick answer is that I’ll continue producing granola up in Seattle and nothing will really change in that way. I’ll ship granola down to the shops in the Bay Area that carry Marge and work to grow the business in Seattle. As for the farmers markets? I’m going to take some time off and really reevaluate what I want Marge to look like in Seattle. Perhaps a little pie shop. Perhaps hold off on that while I focus on other projects, and while Sam and I focus on other projects together. I just don’t quite know right this second. But I’ll tell you when I do. Promise.
From the very beginning of our relationship, there have been so many unknowns. And Sam’s always been the one to encourage me to just go with it. Ride it out. And I have faith that that will continue to be true in this new step. One thing I do know quite a bit about is chocolate. And custard-y desserts.
I thought this was an appropriate recipe to share with you today after thinking about one of the more enjoyable things we ate all week that we didn’t make ourselves: the Dark Chocolate Pudding with Sea Salt that we shared at Skillet on a drizzly Saturday night in Capital Hill. The pudding was thick and chocolatey rather than light and fluffy. You could’ve stood a spoon up in it — creamy and toothsome, it actually reminded me much more of a rich pot de crème than a traditional chocolate pudding.
The night before I left to return to Oakland, Sam took a detour to drive by the new house. I wasn’t paying attention until we turned down our new street and I recognized it right away. It sits a bit taller than the rest. It’s this lovely shade of evergreen and has a big, brick chimney. We just sat parked outside for a short bit, both grinning ear to ear — a grin quite similar to the one I have as I sit at my kitchen table with a little cup of chocolate pot de crème writing to you now.
For this recipe, I was aiming for thick and decadent yet super creamy. I increased the amount of chocolate that most pot de crème require and added a dash of espresso powder to deepen the dark cocoa flavor. The combination of creamy dark chocolate, almond, salt and cocoa nibs makes this a rather irresistible dessert, indeed. And quite simple, too.
Adapted from: Martha Stewart
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Bring half-and-half barely to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until chocolate and sugar dissolve into the mixture. Let stand 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, stir together egg yolk, vanilla, almond extract, espresso powder and salt. Gradually stir the half-and-half mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking as you combine the two. To make for a smooth custard, pour the chocolate mixture through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup. This should yield 8 ounces (1 cup).
Place 2 oven-proof cups or ramekins in a shallow roasting pan, and divide chocolate mixture among them. Pour hot water into the pan so it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.
Bake until custards are almost set in centers, about 30 minutes (custards will firm as they cool). Carefully remove cups from hot-water bath and let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
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.