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 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.