Something funny happens when you live with someone instead of dating them from afar. You learn little nuances about each other’s behavior, see the bottom-of-the-barrel sweaters, take out the trash, and buy underwear and shampoo together. Sam calls my beloved furry slippers old lady slippers and, to be fair, they kind of are. And I’ve become well acquainted with his holey “sick sweater,” his eagerness to retrieve the mail in the early afternoon, and his uncanny ability to drink more tea than anyone I’ve ever known. Also, I’m learning things about myself. Like the fact that, apparently, most people don’t eat a whole grapefruit when they sit down for breakfast. According to Sam, they stop at a half.
Also, something funny happens when you both work largely from home. You have to find a certain rhythm to make it work. I think it’s largely unspoken — you discover the other person’s patterns and moods. I can hear Sam pitter-patter into the kitchen around 3 p.m. and I know a cup of coffee or a pot of tea is happening. He knows when I’m in my “efficient kitchen mode,” organizing, baking, cleaning and perhaps photographing, and he quietly sneaks away to his office.
So we’re figuring it out. In the midst, there are many shared evening beers, new-to-me music from Sam’s collection, exploring the Ballard farmer’s market, and walks around our neighborhood (the library! the hot chocolate!). I’ve set up my writing office and am getting used to working in the cold. The writing office doesn’t have heat. The mornings are brisk.
It’s all quieter than our visits which were often packed with restaurants we wanted to show one another, plays and beaches and movies and road trips. And I love it even more — the everydayness of it all. The holey sweaters and old lady slippers and eagerness to get the mail. The pot of white beans simmering on the stove all afternoon. And the fact that we get to sit down and share it together. Whenever we want.
A note on this recipe: This stew is oh-so-loosely based on a recipe Melissa Clark has for a White Bean and Farro Stew in her wonderful book, Cook This Now. In her directions, there are a few very specific steps she takes in preparing the stew — some of which I kept here and some which I altered. I added kale for a more complete meal and used barley because it’s so nice in soups and stews this time of year. In her version, Melissa Clark cooks the farro separately and then spoons the beans over it. I took a hint from her, cooking the barley separately but I mixed it into the stew along with the kale at the very end. This way, while cooking, the barley wasn’t hogging the moisture from the beans.
Soaking the beans overnight is always a good idea if you have the time. If not, the beans will just take a few hours longer; there’s something nice about a pot simmering away on the stove all afternoon anyway. I’ll leave the cook time’s out of this recipe as it will obviously so depend on how you’re preparing your beans (see your options below). Also, for an even heartier stew, you could add bacon or sausage to the pot.
Adapted from: Cook This Now
If you plan on soaking your beans, put them in a bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let them soak for at least 4 hours — overnight is ideal.
Cook the beans: drain (or rinse if you didn’t soak overnight) and place them in a large pot along with the oil, 3 of the whole garlic cloves, celery and onion over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and salt. Cover with water, stir gently, and bring to a boil. Once the pot boils, reduce heat to medium-low and allow it to simmer, partially covered until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1-4 hours depending on how long you soaked your beans (if at all) or how old your dried beans are. You know your beans are done when they’re soft in the middle but still slightly firm on the outside. You will likely need to add 2-3 cups of extra water as the beans simmer and the water is absorbed–you always want to have the beans just barely covered with liquid, so do keep an eye on your pot every now and then.
Cook the barley: In a small saucepan, add the barley to 3 cups boiling water and stir together. Cover the pot with a lid and reduce the heat to low, allowing the barley to gently simmer for 40-50 minutes, or until it has absorbed the water and is no longer crunchy. Note: Cooking time on barley can vary quite a bit depending on if you’re using hulled or unhulled grains (hulled has only the outer shell removed and takes longer to cook).
Mince the remaining 2 cloves of garlic. When the beans are done cooking, remove and discard the onion, celery and bay leaf. Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced garlic and puree. Return the pureed mixture to the pot. Add the cooked barley and chopped kale and allow the pot to simmer on low for just a few minutes. This will allow the kale to soften into the stew nicely.
To serve: spoon into bowls and drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, flaky Maldon salt, red pepper flakes, a few chopped celery leaves, grated Parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon.
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.