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.
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.