There are moments when I’m truly happy we don’t have cable. This week, a time that finds us amidst the Facebook fiasco, is one of them. Even without TV, I feel like I can’t escape news of the IPO, stock prices, shareholder reactions, and future projections. But in last Sunday’s paper I read something that caught my attention. Mark Zuckerberg’s now wife, Priscilla Chan, made a request of him before moving in together: 100 minutes of alone time each week. And a vacation each year. My first reaction was one of mild shock: only 100 minutes?! I turned to Sam and told him about these agreements that are becoming more and more popular amongst couples — the drive to tell each other what you need from the relationship. The New York Times compared it to kind of an emotional prenup. It all sounded a bit formal and calculated to me. Wasn’t this depressing, I asked Sam? He glanced at me with a look that said that it really wasn’t at all. In fact, at that very moment, we were having our version of 100 minutes.
When you move to a new city and move in with someone for the first time, routines are important. And establishing those routines takes a little while. I’m lucky to have fallen in love with a man that finds routine and ritual very, very important. I know not everyone is like this. So on Sundays for the past month now, we go to one of our favorite bakeries in Seattle and bring the paper. Sometimes we’ll go in the late morning, sometimes we don’t make it until an hour before they close. Sometimes we’re rushing to get the farmer’s market in as well or tearing ourselves away from the computer screen or the garden at a moment that seems completely non-conducive to quiet newspaper reading and croissant eating. Last Sunday was hectic with errands and new projects but Sam insisted we set aside just 45 minutes. It’s our thing.
We order coffees and a chocolate croissant to share (and often a few other sweets). One particular Sunday I may really dive into a meaty article while another morning will find me perusing the Style Section or reading Modern Love and people watching. There’s really no expectation or hope for the morning other than just showing up. Read a few paragraphs or a dozen pages — it doesn’t matter, but be there for that time with each other. It’s become how we do Sunday mornings.
The rest of the week? I’m guessing it probably looks a lot like your mornings. Kind of a harried dash to make coffee and get to work. I’m trying to get better about eating breakfast right away, but it’s usually a later mid-morning endeavor that consists lately of homemade yogurt, farmers market fruit, and toasted amaranth.
If you’re not familiar with amaranth, it’s much like quinoa, a seed that folks generally lump into the category of “whole grains.” It’s gluten-free and especially high in protein and calcium — if you stroll into any grocery store with a decent bulk section you’ll likely see it. As for how to use it, there are a few ways : first, soak it and cook it much like quinoa or millet to make a pilaf to serve with veggies and salads. It also makes a wonderful porridge when cooked with coconut milk. But my favorite way to cook amaranth is by toasting it in a hot skillet on the stovetop and sprinkling it over my yogurt or granola in the morning. The teeny tiny grains puff up much like mini popcorn. Try it. Then toss toasted amaranth on virtually anything: cereals, salads, soups, in smoothies. Maybe it’ll become your new thing — the way you do mornings. On days other than Sunday, I’m right there with you.
As for homemade yogurt, once you make it once, you’ll likely never buy it at the store again. It’s so simple, so much cheaper, and cuts down on all of those plastic containers. I recently bought a yogurt maker and am in love with it, but you can absolutely make yogurt without it, too. I’ll include instructions for both here. Just note that the yogurt will take anywhere from 9-14 hours so you don’t want to start yogurt on a day you actually want to enjoy it. Start it in the evening on a slow weekend and it’ll be all set mid-day on the next day. Sure, you have to think through the timing but that’s about the end of the thought involved.
O.k., I lied. You need to quickly consider your starter. Essentially yogurt is simply milk with added starter that’s kept in a warm place to culture. You can buy a powdered starter like this one online or at a well-stocked grocery store. Or just use store-bought yogurt as your starter. Both work just fine. Just make sure the yogurt you’re purchasing states that it has “live and active cultures” or lists them in the ingredient list. Now about that warm place? I’ve talked with many people who have had luck wrapping their jar of yogurt in a towel and placing it in a warm spot in the house. Our house is old and drafty, so I haven’t had luck with that; instead, I put mine in a little camping cooler alongside a couple jars of hot water. This creates a warm little nest that makes for happy, firm yogurt. The trick is to use as small of a cooler as possible — the larger the cooler, the harder it is to maintain a nice warm temperature.
For this recipe, feel free to use low-fat or fat-free milk if you’d prefer. I think whole milk yogurt just tastes better, so I call for it here. Soy milk generally doesn’t have active cultures, so it isn’t a good candidate. If you’re smart, you may decide to do a double batch of these roasted strawberries and use them later spooned over vanilla ice cream or ladled on top of a simple butter cake. Please note, I didn’t note prep times or cook time in this recipe as it will vary so much depending on how you decide to process your yogurt.
For the yogurt:
Read the back of your particular starter packet for quantity suggestions specific to that brand
For the roasted strawberries & amaranth:
1. Pour the milk into a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan and over low heat, bring the temperature up to 185 F. Don’t stir during this time.
2. Remove from heat and allow the temperature to drop to 115F. If you want to speed this process up, slightly submerge the saucepan in a sink filled with a few inches of cold water. If your soon-to-be yogurt develops a skin on top, skim it off with a spoon and discard.
3. Once the temperature reaches 115 F, add your starter (powdered starter or store-bought yogurt) and whisk quickly to combine.
4. Process your yogurt:
Yogurt Maker Method: Divvy the milk mixture into the small glass cups of your yogurt maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on processing. You can expect a general processing time of 7-9 hours here.After processing, refrigerate for 2 hours before enjoying.
The “Old Fashioned” Method: Gather 2-4 large glass mason jars (depending on the size of your cooler) with lids and fill two of them with very hot water. Screw on caps and place in cooler. These will help maintain a warm temperature in the cooler. In the remaining jar, pour in the milk mixture and screw on lid. Wrap the jar snugly in a towel, place in the small cooler, and close the lid. Taking care not to jostle the cooler, set in the warmest spot in the house. Check progress in 10 hours. On occasion, depending on temperature and starter, my yogurt has taken up to 14 hours using this method. Once firm, refrigerate for 2 hours before enjoying. Do note that the yogurt will firm up a little further in the refrigerator, so if it’s looser than you like it, don’t worry (and, see “Note on Yogurt Thickness” below).
Roast Strawberries & Toast Amaranth:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment & set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Cut strawberries in half lengthwise. If they’re very large berries, you can quarter them instead.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the honey, balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, olive oil, salt and pepper.
4. Add the strawberries and toss until they are fully coated.
5. Turn the berries out onto lined baking sheet and roast until the fruit has softened and the juices are just beginning to thicken, about 40 minutes.
6. To toast amaranth: Place a small, dry saucepan over high heat (don’t use a low-sided skillet as the amaranth will jump as they puff). Get the pan very hot before adding the amaranth; shake the pan continuously until most of the seeds have puffed up. If some of the seeds start turning a darker color — that’s o.k. Some are stubborn and don’t necessarily want to pop, so if you have a good mix of puffed and little-bit-darker amaranth, you’re in business. If you have extra, store in a little air-tight jar and use throughout the week.
Note on Yogurt Thickness: If your yogurt is too lose or you prefer a Greek-style yogurt, simply drain you homemade yogurt. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a very fine weave dishcloth and place it above a large bowl. Strain the yogurt. Either discard the liquid (whey) that strains away — alternatively, many folks cook with it. Scoop the remaining thicker yogurt into a bowl; enjoy.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
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 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.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: