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
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.