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.
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.