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
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.