There are many times when I feel like we’re on the same page here. Maybe we chat about the change of seasons, or really good chocolate, or a book I’m reading that you’ve also heard of. Maybe we talk about summer travel plans, or cherry blossom trees, or how to balance work and life in a relatively sane way. But I have a hunch that we’re not on the same page with what I want to talk about here today. I’m willing to guess that, for most of you, you’re far beyond me on this one. It’s true: unbeknownst to me, I’ve been left terribly behind. This thing I speak of? Gardening. Or the backyard in general. Really, let’s be honest: I’m talking about plain and simple yard work.
For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in city apartments. Whether it was in downtown Boston, little-bit more suburban Brookline, San Francisco, or Denver, I haven’t had much space to stretch out my gardening limbs and give it a go. Here in Seattle, we have a pretty sizeable backyard and outside of all the major grocery stores and nurseries, there are edible plant sales, gardening tools and wheelbarrows on display. Clearly, it’s time to stock up! Well, as I soon discovered, this is easier said than done. I decided to check out the nursery on a random weekday last week so I wouldn’t be fighting the super efficient, clog-wearing, slightly intimidating weekend gardening crowd. I got a cup of coffee on the way, the sun was out — I was feeling good. This feeling lasted all of 9.2 seconds until I stepped into the nursery and realized I had no idea what to buy. No clue. I started taking photos of tools and sending them to my mom: Is this what people use to weed things?
Instead of texting back, she called immediately. Were you not paying attention all those years I was outside in the yard? Apparently not. It became clear to us both pretty quickly that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t know anything about gardening, I didn’t know much about the yard. Period. Soil baffled me. Compost confused me. I ended up buying a hoe, a lopper (my new favorite word), a watering can, some potting soil, a trowel (basically a hand shovel, for all you city non-gardening folks), some grass seed, and a big shovel. I was set. I came home and got to work, putting on my old Converse and pouring a big glass of fizzy water to take out to the yard with me. I was going to whip it into shape, surely, in a matter of hours with all of these great tools. Well it turns out it takes much longer than a few hours. It turns out it can be kind of lonely, discouraging work (I’m going to try music next time. And much more fizzy water. Maybe a cookie or two as well). When I put a few hours into something, whether it be writing, baking, running–whatever, it’s nice to see something in return. I don’t feel like this whole new world I’ve entered into is keeping up its end of the bargain. The Yard Waste bin fills up too fast, I notice some weeds missing for sure, but our yard looks pretty much the same.
But, hey. Our lawn is mowed, I’ve planted herbs and they’re sitting on top of this great outdoor table I found at Goodwill for $9.25. That’s the start right there, yes? We have big plans to build some raised beds in the next two weeks and I really want to grow kale and carrots (do carrots grow here? Anyone? Anyone?). I’ve reserved a few gardening books at the library and am trying not to get prematurely discouraged by talks of zones, perennial-ness, and rain cycles. It’s a whole new world, for sure. I’m trying my very hardest to put my conquer-it-in-one-day, first child mentality aside here and think of this more like a marathon than a sprint. This one’s going to take awhile. Our yard might not look like our neighbor’s yard for quite some time. If you’re one of the many friends planning a visit this summer, you may want to bring your hiking boots to navigate your way around back there. Or at the very least, maybe bring your trowel and I’ll put you to work.
I wish I could tell you that I used our own herbs for this recipe, but I didn’t. Although I’m most confident in a few weeks time, I’ll be able to. This recipe I’m sharing with you today is a fantastic lunch recipe. I popped it in the oven around noon the other day, made Heidi’s Tuscan Kale Salad, heated up some bread and we had a pretty fine lunch for a Wednesday. This is the first recipe I’ve made from An Everlasting Meal and I’m eager to try a few more (the Thai-fried rice is up next, I’m thinking). I’ve mentioned Tamar Adler’s book here before; her recipes are more narrative than prescriptive and rely on a more intuitive, stress-less approach to cooking. She encourages using up what you have laying around the kitchen and teaching yourself around the kitchen by doing and relying on what you already know. Trusting yourself more. So this recipe is appropriate for today as it’s very much in the spirit of the backyard project: we’re working with what we’ve got, and learning as we go. Much easier when fueled with hot, herbed cheese, I guarantee you.
For this recipe, I added more herbs than Tamar Adler calls for and decided to throw in a handful of capers at the very end. Serve with big hunks of bread and salad. Or use as a dip with your favorite crackers or chip
Adapted from: An Everlasting Meal
Heat the oven to 425 F.
Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add salt until it tastes a little less seasoned than you’d like: A lot of water will evaporate when this bakes, so you don’t want to over season it ahead of time. Spread the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate and bake it in the middle of the oven for 35-38 minutes. The top will develop a toasted brown skin and inflate slightly and then deflate when you take it out.
Serve warm with crusty bread and salad. It’s also great served cold or room temperature and will keep, if covered and refrigerated, for a good 2 days after it’s made.
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.