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.
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.