I’ve tried to write this post a number of times over the past three weeks and failed. I’ve learned that when you get to be a certain age and you tell people you have big news to share, they assume you’re pregnant. You assure them that’s not it. Engaged! Nope, that’s not it either. We’re not getting a puppy and we’re also not buying a house. Or a new car. But I am staying up late at night, pacing a lot, alphabetizing our spice cabinet, and cleaning odd nooks and crannies to try and really acquaint myself with the task at hand: I’m writing a cookbook! I will be working with the wonderful folks at Ten Speed Press on a whole grain breakfast cookbook coming out Fall/Holiday 2013. It will feature Marge granola recipes along with mueslis, warm grain cereals, breakfast bars and cookies, yogurts, seasonal fruit toppings and all sorts of other start-the-day goodness. There will be stories of mornings in San Francisco and here in Seattle, of starting a small business, and moving to a new city. I’ve been so looking forward to toasting with you all here, and can’t wait to share some of this journey with you. It’s going to be one busy summer. To be completely honest, I have had a little bit of trouble beginning the cookbook. I sat down to write a friend the other day and the words to describe how I’ve been feeling finally came to me: I’ve been circling it. I truly feel like it’s been this thing in my life, in our house, and at the table that I’ve just been kind of walking around, keeping my distance, and checking out from afar. Sam and I talk about it as if it’s a living being. A sibling or a child. A pesky one. A sleepless one.
This is odd because I tend to be a go-get-em’ kind of gal. I’ve written large graduate papers, designed and taught composition courses, and started my own business. But for some reason when it comes to delving into the cookbook, I turn to something else. You can’t possibly start developing whole grain recipes unless you have pretty jars to store all those grains in, right? Errand #1! It’s probably a really good time to organize your hard drive, get those finances in order, and really learn the ins and outs of Evernote. Task #16! Maybe it’s time to research a new camera, try that sandwich spot across town, and write a letter to your grandparents. Now that that’s all done and I’ve circled and circled, I’ve run out of errands and tasks.
When I was talking to my mom the other day on the phone, expressing concern that maybe I’ve been avoiding this project, she assured me that I’d actually been working away on it. Then Sam told me the same thing. Subconsciously, they said, I was tackling it. All of that organizing and cleaning, all of those errands — that was my way of making space for it all. Clearing the decks, I call it. In a way the project is kind of like when you walk into a dark room and you can see the shape of a figure or an object perfectly but can’t quite make out the details just yet. You probably know that feeling.
It’s a feeling I experienced when I taught freshman writing during my last semester of graduate school. I spent the summer beforehand planning the course I’d teach. I knew the shape of it very well. But on the first day, I doubted myself. All of a sudden I realized that the big picture was clear but the details were far from it. I didn’t look much older than my students, I’d memorized the rules for comma usage at 3 a.m. the night before to make sure I knew exactly what I was talking about, and my left eye started twitching nervously. My cheeks became hot and I wished I’d worn different shoes. That night I had a pep talk with myself: You know more than these kids. You know a lot. The shape and content of this course is well-researched and engaging. But the outline was just the beginning–next came the time to really dig in. The second day I wore more comfortable shoes, pulled my hair back, and walked in more assured. As I did the rest of the semester. And the following year. The details became clearer and clearer with each day.
And now here we are. At a juncture where I know I have so much to share with you. Making perfect granola and yogurt at home, getting acquainted with morning whole grains, how to make awesome breakfast cakes, savory porridge, homemade maple butter, jammy fruit toppings. It’s the way I eat in the morning, and I’m being given the opportunity to share that with you all. In recipes, narrative, and photos. That’s major. So, maybe we can have a drink to that. And then I think it’s time to get down to business.
This cocktail was inspired by a drink I saw over on Design Sponge recently called The Moroccan. It features coriander simple syrup, orange liquor, and dry vermouth. I wanted to add a touch of gin and then balance that out with some Rachel’s Ginger Beer (if you’re in the Seattle area and you haven’t tried RGB, you’re missing out. It’s not at all too sweet and loaded with real ginger. I love it straight on a warm afternoon or in many a cocktail.)
For this drink, the coriander simple syrup lends an earthy citrus flavor; pick up coriander seed in bulk at your local market so as to avoid buying a whole container that will likely sit around for months. They’ll be fresher this way, too. I usually make my simple syrup a little less sweet than most. If you like yours sweeter, add a whole cup of sugar. Save leftover simple syrup in a mason jar in the fridge for future cocktails. And last: thank you for being here, now, on this little ride with me.
To make the simple syrup, heat the water, sugar and coriander seeds over medium heat in a heavy-bottom saucepan until the mixture just comes to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. The longer the syrup sits, the more the flavor will develop. Drain the liquid away from seeds and set aside (store what you don’t use in a mason jar for later).
To mix the drink, combine the vermouth, orange liquor, gin, simple syrup and bitters over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake well. Pour into cocktail glasses. Pour ginger beer on top of each cocktail as a floater. Garnish with orange slices. Chee
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.