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
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.