There were lots of goodbyes. This is true. There were going-away parties with friends I see often and others with those I haven’t seen in over a year. Or maybe two. We’re talking about lots of cocktails, a few beers, a pizza, some Chinese food, and a few donuts. Really, I felt so loved and reluctant to leave this amazing group of people who know how to make me laugh and what to say when the cards are down. It felt a little sudden and sadder than I thought it’d be. But then, Sam arrived.
Everything was set into motion. Just like that. Saturday morning we packed up the Uhaul in Oakland and drove to Marin to stay with my mom for the night. We putzed around the house, Sam napped a little, I ran around the backyard with the dogs, and my mom made a citrusy halibut. We drank rosé and tried not to be sad. The next morning I woke up early and made us sandwiches for the road. My mom walked us out and took a photo of me guiding Sam out of the driveway in that big beast of a moving truck.
Sam joked that he’d never seen two grown women start to simultaneously cry as quickly as my mom and I did. I’m going to miss the heck out of her. When I was doing the farmer’s market she came each Saturday, rain or shine, with a little lunch money, some leftovers from what she’d cooked the night before, and usually a gossip magazines or a bag of M&M’s. Other vendors came to expect and know her, she’d wear something far too stylish for a Saturday morning, and she’d always buy a little pie from me even though I’m convinced she didn’t necessarily want to each and every week. But she’s always been one of Marge’s biggest supporters, and one of my own. And it’s going to take a little getting used to the fact that she’s now a few states away.
But in many ways, a few states is not all that far. I can say that because now, just like that, we’re here. And it’s as good as I thought it’d be. We took two days to drive from the Bay Area to Seattle, stopping in Eugene for the night to stay with Eli and Amanda and their sweet dog, Siri. Eli made a spicy chili and we sat by the fire chatting after dinner. We got up early the next morning and had a proper diner breakfast before hitting the road accompanied by Bruce Springsteen, corn nuts, weak coffee, a little Wilco, and some local radio. When we pulled into Seattle, it was the clearest, bluest day I’ve seen in a long time. It felt like the brink of summer (or at the very least, spring) — warm enough to unpack the truck in t-shirts and crave a cold beer afterwards. My friend Tara stopped by and said it must be a sign that Seattle is truly welcoming me. I like to think that may be the case.
There’s so much more to tell you and show you although, amidst all of the unpacking and settling in, I haven’t gotten around to all that much baking. Until today. See, Sam surprised me Sunday and told me that we had plans at 1 p.m. and I should wear a dress, but he wouldn’t say anything more. When we walked out to the car, there was a card on the driver’s seat and, in it, tickets to the ballet. After Don Quixote, Sam took me to Colombia City Bakery, a sweet neighborhood bakery I’d been wanting to visit for quite some time. We stepped in the door at 4:58 p.m. and they closed at 5. Quick! What to order? We did some haphazard pointing: one brownie, one blondie, a baguette, a gougère (we were hungry), hmm … maybe a tahini cookie! The gougère and the blondie hit the spot, we ate the baguette that night with tomato soup, we gave the brownie to a few friends we picked up from the airport later that evening, and ate the tahini cookie as we strolled down the block back to the car. This cookie was at once completely familiar and like no other I’d tried before.
It resembled one of my most favorite cookies, the Mexican wedding cookie, in shape and stature but it had an amped up warmth from the sesame seeds and tahini. I did some research when we got home and adapted a recipe I found online that I thought might be quite similar — and they were. I added honey for a tinge of extra sweetness and sesame seeds to the actual dough and, let me tell you, we’re in business. Sam says I need to mention that, on the day they’re baked, they really are like a crumbly halvah cookie. So if you’re a halvah fan or know someone who is, these have your name all over them. Even if you’ve never heard of halvah, these cookies are good for afternoons when you need some energy to lug furniture around the house or puzzle over paint colors. Or really anytime at all.
For these cookies, I used white granulated sugar for the dough itself but to sprinkle on top, I used a coarser, raw sugar. If you have sanding sugar at home, that’d be lovely too as it will keep its shape in the oven. And next time I make these, I’m going to experiment with using white whole-wheat flour. I think they’re sturdy enough in nature to accommodate whole-grain flours without even the slightest shrug.
Adapted from: Epicurious
Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
Beat together butter and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then beat in tahini, honey, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 2 batches, mixing until a crumbly dough forms. Transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 1 hour.
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Stir together sesame seeds and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll balls 1 at a time in seeds to coat and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are starting to crack, 12 to 15 minutes total. Cool on sheets 10 minutes (cookies will be very fragile when hot), then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
*Hulled sesame seeds are preferable for baking but they’re usually not labeled as such. Look for seeds that are pale ivory in color; they’re more delicate than the mottled beige ones, which still have their outer coating.
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.