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.
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.