While I was sick last week, I had a lot of time to think about this space and the community here. We’re lucky, aren’t we? We’re lucky to have each other and to be able to draw inspiration from one another. Our lives from the outside might look very different, with varying professions, family lives, and geographic settings. But if you’re sitting down reading this today, I’m guessing you like to talk about food and prepare food and think about the ways in which it intersects with our daily lives, work, and relationships. I’ll be honest: there are days I question this space. Days when the week is unbelievably busy and I don’t have time to make a recipe for the blog, and I wonder what the point is anyway. There are gray days when the love for it can wane under other pressures and priorities. But then there are days when you’re sick for almost a week and have time to lay on the couch and read food blogs you usually don’t have time for. To catch up on your friend’s writings around the web, in awe that there’s such goodness out there. You people! There is so much generosity of spirit and intelligence, humor and talent, and I’m over-the-moon-happy to be a part of it all.
After coming out of the flu, I was craving a few things. I hadn’t had much of an appetite for many days but I knew I was starting to feel better when coffee sounded good once again. And then came the chocolate cravings. And they came on in a pretty fierce way. In fact, I ran over to Theo the other day to pick up cacao nibs for a new flavor of granola we’re doing for Marge and I took the liberty to stroll through the shop and sample away. Usually when you pick up a wholesale order of cacao nibs, you go straight to the back of the factory, grab your box, and get on with your way. But that day, I needed a little taste of Salted Dark Chocolate Almond and a bite of Chai Tea Milk Chocolate, and Bread and Chocolate. For those of you who have not made it to Seattle and to the Theo Chocolate factory, the tour is wonderful and you can walk through the shop attached to the factory and sample anything you’d like. I do this more often than I care to admit here.
That night, Sam was up working late and I was going through some newer cookbooks looking for inspiration. I was leafing through Nigel Slater’s Ripe which focuses largely on cooking and baking with seasonal fruits. I’ve long been a big Nigel Slater fan; the way he describes a recipe makes you feel like his kid sister — he has a charming no-nonsense approach to food. He’s not fussy, he loves simple snacking cakes (which, if you ask me, is reason enough to place him on a pretty high pedestal), and believes in putting beautiful ingredients at the forefront of each recipe. There are many, many recipes I’m looking forward to making from this book–recipes that celebrate summer’s juicy peaches, firm apricots, and soft figs. But on first glance through the book, the one recipe that called to me was an unexpected one. It wasn’t a fruit recipe at all; it was a recipe for Soft Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies. Sold.
Nigel Slater describes the cookies as incredibly soft on the inside although slightly crisp and chewy on the outside. They have loads of good dark chocolate and, of course, hazelnuts. I made them late at night and Sam has professed that they’re the best cookies I’ve ever made. So thank you, Nigel. For that. And of course we’ll get to cookies but I wanted to take a moment to share with you a few of the food blogs I’m loving lately. Each in their own way are setting out and doing something different — you know the kids in high school who had their own crazy, unique style and flaunted it with abandon and, therefore, came off as pretty darn cool? These blogs are those kids. They’re approaching food blogging differently in their own ways, and I find each to be so inspired — a true breath of fresh air. So while these cookies are baking in the oven this weekend, here is some reading for you. Some real goodness.
Domestology: Jessica’s Brooklyn-based blog is a tough one to explain because it is so different from many food blogs I read and come across. It’s centered around home life; in Jessica’s words, it speaks “to the surface of things: my love of laundry and cleaning the bathroom, roasting chickens, baking bread and cakes, and keeping a well-stocked supply of canned tomatoes…” She writes a lot on the history and culture of domesticity, highlighting old cookbooks, cooking utensils and recipes. There are posts about making your own Spoon oil, loving testaments to a dough whisk, or how to make chocolate syrup. If you’re lucky, Jessica will also highlight her hand-embroidered book covers. I love this blog. Very much. For anyone who is interested in the way in which we make a home today — and the way our grandparents used to– you will smile when you see this one in your inbox.
Aesthetic Outburst: Abbey Hendrickson and her husband bought an abandoned farmhouse in Upstate New York in 2011 and are busy renovating it. With two kids under five, this is quite the task and Abby chronicles it beautifully with posts on crafts, collecting odds and ends, working through the renovations (like the living room), or figuring out configurations for their book collection. Two realizations since reading the blog: Man do I want a chicken coop, and gosh do I like Abby’s glasses.
Eat This Poem: is one lovely blog. How about Orange Cinnamon and Oat Pancakes inspired by Joanne Harris’ Five Quarters of an Orange? Or a Lentil Stew with Chestnuts inspired by a Jane Hirshfield poem? Eat This Poem is a collection of recipes inspired by poetry — and sometimes, a little prose. Before starting this blog, writer Nicole Gulotta penned the food blog, Cooking After Five, for almost four years. While she loved writing and photographing recipes, she’d gone to school for her MFA in poetry and that side of her life began to want more attention. She says, “It became clear this was the right time to begin a new project that combines two of my lifelong passions.” So this is a food blog like no other. It will make you look at a recipe in a whole new way. In this big, wide space that we call the Internet, there is so much potential for new-ness and this is an example of someone staking her small claim.
Remedial Eating: Oh, Molly Hays. Your refrigerator dies? Instead of cursing your day and going out to buy a burrito, you make meringues so your eggs don’t go bad. And include photos of your kids, and the marshmallow clouds that afternoon. You write an Ode to Spring with such tactile photos that we all feel as though we’re in your backyard with you; then you give us creative recipes like Lemon Parsley Sprinkle. A lot of food blogs announce that they discuss food through the lens of life — they use food as a way to talk about other things. Molly’s blog actually does this. You feel, really and truly, as if you’ve been asked inside her home for a cup of tea with her little ones and the controlled chaos that is their home life. Her blog entries are substantial and there’s always a little something I take away with me. It’s actual reading. I hope Molly writes a book someday; I’ll be first in line to buy it.
The Yellow House: began as a blog that chronicled life in a big yellow house in Washington, D.C. Sarah has since moved to rural Virginia where, she says, there are better stars. Her blog is as sweet as ever, with posts on decidedly unfussy cooking, eating, entertaining, and gardening. Like What to Eat on an Early Spring Evening or a Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake for a Cold Winter Day. There are some food blogs that are quite styled — and styled beautifully and I love them for this. Sarah’s blog, however, feels downright real. Her photos strike me as a glimpse into how it actually looks at her kitchen table when she sits down to eat a baked potato on a windy evening. This is refreshing.
Paper and Salt: is very new-to-me (and relatively new, period). It exists in the same literary realm as Eat This Poem, focusing on recreating and rein terpreting “the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction.” As many of you know, I used to teach college-level writing and high school English so a food blog that blends recipes with an author’s life story is a pretty cool thing, indeed. You’ll find Sylvia Plath and Lemon Pudding Cakes and Walt Whitman and Cranberry Coffee Cake. You’ll learn about recipes from certain periods, how they were written, and what ingredients they favored. You’ll learn about writers who were hoarders and what they loved to eat for breakfast. This is stuff I, for one, want to read more about.
Now it’s time for cookies. I made a few small changes to the original recipe, adding more chunky hazelnuts and a little more salt than the recipe called for. It’s written with directions for self-rising flour, so I rewrote the ingredient list to account for the fact that we don’t much use that here in the States. Slater also calls for muscovado sugar and I used white cane sugar because that’s what we had around. I wouldn’t make them any other way.
If You’re Looking For More Chocolate Inspiration:
Before deciding on these chocolate cookies, I had flirted with making a batch of Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies — a simple, very grown-up chocolate cookie. Then, of course, there’s always my go-to brownie recipe, the Deluxe Brownie. These are those brownies, the in-your-back-pocket brownie recipe you want to keep close at all times. And the cookies that made Marge (almost) famous, my Homemade Oreos. These were a winner at the farmers market. I couldn’t make enough. So there you have it. More goodness to surround yourself. Happy reading and baking — oh, and happy May!
Adapted from: Ripe by Nigel Slater
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut the chocolate into pieces (unless you’ve already got feves or smaller pieces on hand, obviously) and put them into a small heatproof glass bowl. Place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water, with the bottom of the bowl not quite touching the water. Allow the chocolate to melt, stirring occasionally.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer until smooth and creamy. Break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk them just enough to break them up. Add the eggs and vanilla to the butter and sugar, beating constantly. Scrape down the bowl if necessary and continue mixing. Add the melted chocolate slowly.
Toast the hazelnuts in a shallow pan until golden and fragrant. Allow them to cool. Grind the nuts coarsely to the texture of chunky gravel, then remove half of them and continue grinding the other half until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and both textures of nuts to the mixture. Mix only until combined.
Place large heaping tablespoons of the mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Leave about 1-inch in between each cookie –they don’t spread too terribly much. Bake for 10 minutes after which time the cookies should still feel soft and just a touch gooey in the center. They will firm up completely as they cool. As soon as they’re cool enough to move without breaking, transfer to a wire cooling rack. If kept airtight at room temperature, cookies will be good for at least 3 day
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.