When you move someplace new, it’s natural to compare it to the place you’ve just come from. It helps you sort of compartmentalize things and understand them. For example, when I first moved to Boston I’d notice people lining up for ice cream cones in the dead of winter. This was new and kind of odd, but also became one of the things that endeared the city to me. Here in Seattle there are a fair number of differences, too. For example: they do not have citrus at the farmers markets. I’m not sure why this still shocks me (it obviously doesn’t grow here), but it does. People walk a lot. In the Bay Area, getting together with friends usually means meeting at a restaurant, cafe, or a bar. Here, it seems that people meet to walk. I’ve decided I kind of like this. And folks don’t use umbrellas when it rains. I can’t tell you why, but I assure you this is true. The nice thing about moving somewhere new is that these differences eventually become less apparent and just become the new landscape. I know this will happen soon enough. In the meantime, I buy lots of tangerines at the grocery store.
There are small differences that are kind of delighting me, too. Like the way the Goodwill in Seattle seems to have everything you need — and more — each time you visit. When you wonder where to pick something up around town, Goodwill is always the first suggestion; back home, no one I know went to Goodwill unless they were looking for a Halloween costume. In the last two weeks, Sam and I have picked up: 6 champagne flutes, 4 Marie Antoinette glasses, a small framed picture of a red car that Sam is rather fond of, some ball jars, the game Battleship, a small red gumball machine, and a few new records. A good haul.
Much like the way you make mental comparisons to feel more acquainted with a place, you also stock up. Anyone who has moved recently knows what I mean. It seems there’s always something to pick up on the way home, and buying groceries and stocking the pantry just feels good. On Saturday we went to the U-District farmers market and came home with bacon, sausage, a round of cheese, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and apples. We ambled about, Sam bought a poppyseed bun from the Polish bakery stand, and we shared a Rachel’s Ginger Beer. It was a good haul. Later that day, I went curtain shopping with Rachael and ended up finding very sweet lace curtains at the most unlikely of places: Ikea. We elbowed our way through the weekend crowds and fought the urge to buy a $.99 ice cream cone or a jar of overly-sweet Lingonberry jam. As you do at Ikea. Five packages of curtains and many picture frames later, we were heading back to Seattle proper. It too was a very good haul.
And now we have a much quieter Sunday. I just got back from a walk with a friend around the lake (yes, that walking thing is no joke!) and Sam’s downstairs painting the basement. I made this Shakshuka for a very late breakfast after we both had had a few cups of coffee and futzed with house projects. If you like tomato-heavy dishes with runny eggs that invite a hunk of crusty bread, you’ll love this recipe. Shakshuka is a staple in Middle Eastern, Moroccan and Israeli cultures; I first had it here in Seattle at a wood-fired bagel shop called Eltana. It’s essentially a tomato, pepper and egg stew that you prepare right on the stove top–the kind of simple dish that, upon first taste, seems like it should’ve been more involved than it really was. I discovered this recipe in the most recent issue of Food and Wine and made some changes to account for taste and circumstance (we were out of harissa, for example).
William Butler Yeats once wrote that happiness is “neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” While it’s still cold enough to have a little space heater at my feet and don my “sleeping bag jacket” when we walk around the neighborhood, the cherry blossoms are starting to flower and there are little buds pushing up through the backyard soil. Whether you want to call it growth or change, it’s definitely on the horizon. In the air, in the ways I’m learning to balance writing with producing Marge granola, in the people I’m meeting and spending time with, in the way Sam and I actively choose to craft our time. All new, all change, all growth–I think. A good haul doesn’t have to be about physical things like curtains or parsnips; it can be about looking around and nodding in acknowledgement that you are, indeed, doing just fine.
While it looks like there are a lot of peppers in this recipe, it’s not overly spicy at all. It doesn’t have too much heat. If you don’t have a sweet, smoky paprika at home, use regular paprika instead but know that the smoky variety adds such a nice, rich layer of flavor so you may want to seek it out in the bulk aisle next time you’re at the market. Last, you could very well use goat cheese instead of feta if you’d prefer, and serving this with warm pita bread or, like Eltana does, a half of a bagel would be equally wonderful.
Adapted from: Food and Wine
In a large skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and fennel and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, 3 minutes. Add both chiles and the bell pepper and season with salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, red chili flakes and paprika and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice and simmer over low heat until the sauce is thickened, 8-10 minutes.
Make 5 little divots in the sauce for the eggs to crack right into. Crack the eggs into the sauce and cover the skillet. Cook over low heat until the whites are firm and the yolks are runny, 6-8 minutes.
To serve: Spoon the sauce and eggs into a bowl and top with parsley and feta. Serve hot with warm crusty bread.
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.