If you had stopped by our house anytime in the last few weeks, you would’ve likely left with pumpkin madeleines, cranberry cake, half of a cheesecake, or a hearty slice of apple pie. Yes, just a few days ago I turned in a batch of recipes to a magazine I’ve been working with for their holiday issue. It has been an excessive few weeks in our kitchen but whenever possible, we’ve been bringing sweets to friends or down the street to the corner coffee shop (a.k.a. Sam’s office). After I sent in the last of the recipes, it was time for some good, clean food. We went to the store a few night’s ago and bought greens, yogurt, tuna, lentils, an avocado, peanut butter and a few other staples. We had soup for dinner; I had more for lunch the next day. After that much buttercream, it’s time for a bit of simplicity.
Coincidentally, this week I picked up Tamar Adler’s Book An Everlasting Meal. In it, she writes about the pleasures of simple food, of roasted vegetables and a single boiled egg. She writes about how to craft meal after meal with some greens, olive oil, eggs, and a little leftover rice. I think some people think this isn’t really cooking, and this is why I sometimes feel self-conscious talking about what I like to cook for dinner. It’s rarely grand. It’s usually vegetarian and is more of a “throwing together” than a “composing,” but come 7 or 8 p.m, it’s where I usually land. Just last night, Sam and I had roasted sweet potatoes with a little kale and a soft egg on top. That’s my kind of meal. That’s the way I like to do things, and is probably one of the reasons I’m quite drawn to this book.
I read a lot of food writing. I appreciate a great deal of it, and really stop and marvel at some of it. Adler’s writing falls in the marveling category, with sentences describing the best way to cook greens: “hot and lustily, with garlic, in a good amount of olive oil.” Hot and lustily! And of eggs she speaks of the “reassuring fact that so much privacy, cracked open, isn’t a fragile thing at all but ready for gusto, incubating euphoria.” With sentences that will often catch you off-guard, the book is a celebration of the simplicity inherent in food and the most sensible way to approach preparing it. A lot of this has to do with making a meal out of very little, and thinking of leftovers in a new way.
So here we are with some leftover cream and buttermilk from holiday recipe development, and a turned down page from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine in which there was an unassuming recipe for Drained Buttermilk with Soaked Raisins. It ran in a piece on Dutch comfort food and it spoke to me because of its spareness. Instead of raisins, we have some beautiful ripe mangoes on the counter so I diced those and topped my version with juicy bits of sunshiny fruit and ground, salty pistachios. Oh, and of course, a generous dollop of honey.
When talking about her goal with the book, Adler writes, “I only mean to show what cooking is: an act of gathering in and meting out, a coherent story that starts with the lighting of a burner, the filling of a pot, and keeps going as long as we like. So, our end is clear. If our meal will be ongoing, then our only task is to begin.” Last night I began with the leftover dairy in the fridge: I lined a colander with a dish towel, filled it with buttermilk, put it in the refrigerator, and went to bed. I awoke to this.
While The New York Times didn’t call this dish yogurt, I found that it basically is. My version uses less cream, and I’d encourage you to use whatever sliced seasonal fruit or roasted nuts you have on hand. Also, I don’t know why, but I really love this when it has a chance to come to room temperature just a bit rather than right out of the refrigerator. Do note that it must chill overnight in the refrigerator, and that time isn’t accounted for in the total time above.
Put a colander inside a large bowl; wet a clean kitchen towel and wring out as much water as you can. Fold it in half to create a double layer; line the colander with it. Add the buttermilk and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 24 hours.
In the morning, remove the buttermilk from the refrigerator and use a spatula to scrape the thickened buttermilk from the towel into a bowl and stir it until it’s smooth and creamy. Discard the liquid that has strained away into the bowl (or use a little to drizzle on top along with the honey).
In a separate bowl, use electric beaters to beat the cream to a soft peak. Fold the cream into the buttermilk. Portion into individual bowls and top with diced mango and ground pistachio. Drizzle a healthy spoonful of honey on each.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.