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.
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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.