I’m writing this post to you today on the porch of my mom’s lakefront cabin in upstate, New York. In the past few years, this spot has come to mean summer to me. Sure, I’ve made many wonderful summer memories that dated far before my mom started coming here, but these days I feel like summer really starts on the porch here. Time slows. The daily itinerary involves morning coffee, porch-reading, dock-reading, and discussion of what to do for dinner. That’s basically it. Sometimes this is punctuated by a swim or a run or a soft-serve ice cream cone. Or a long walk down the road. A most welcome change of pace from what our daily itinerary has looked like in Seattle recently (work, work, work, eat, work). Now we’ve arrived happily to the land of lingering.
You may recall last summer I wrote about the cabin here in Lake George. This year we’re staying for just a touch longer and hoping to allow ourselves to truly enjoy a little vacation. Before we left I cleaned out the fridge and discovered two neat little pints of strawberries I hadn’t gotten a chance to slice up yet. Now before we move on, I should also mention that I’ve developed a recent obsession with the ginger biscuits at Cafe Besalu in Seattle. They’re round, light and fluffy as air and have just a hint of ginger. Last time I was there I chatted with the owner about the biscuits, hoping to learn a bit about what flour they use. It became clear pretty quickly that that information would not be available to me. He said that he milled his own flour. End of story, apparently. I poked and prodded to no avail. O.k., I’d move on to the question of buttermilk vs. cream: surely these were cream biscuits given their texture, yes? The world may never know. So here I was a few nights before we were to leave town, continuing to obsess over these biscuits, staring at the strawberries on hand, and deciding that I’d give it a go. A summery version of Besalu’s biscuits with local strawberries and cream. Lots of cream.
I found just the perfect place to start on Molly’s blog: a cream biscuit by the wonderful Marion Cunningham, a breakfast legend. I just adore her and keep telling myself I should bake all the way through The Breakfast Book; as you’ve probably gathered, there just hasn’t been time for that sort of thing lately. But, my friends, there’s time for these biscuits. They’re quick! And so simple! And light and wonderful and a good excuse to use up extra cream and strawberries.
I will say these didn’t rise quite as much as I would’ve loved and I don’t think that’s so much a symptom of the recipe as it is that I over-kneaded them. The one and only thing the owner of Cafe Besalu did tell me was that their ginger biscuits are so light you have to be careful not to overwork them. Verrrry gentle, he said. I think I could’ve been gentler. I urge you to be gentle. Because these didn’t get as big of a rise as I’d expected and because I cut them into squares, I think a more appropriate name for this recipe is a Biscuit Bar. A Strawberry and Cream Biscuit Bar. Still light. Still fluffy. Just a touch flatter than a classic biscuit, but full of fresh berries, sprinkled with sugar, and laced with lots of fresh cream.
I hope you have a wonderful week and a most restful mid-week holiday. While I’m here at the lake, I’m going to be working on some recipe testing for the cookbook , and I also have a few other things in mind:
Reading: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, re-reading some Laurie Colwin, and dipping into Richard Ford’s newest. Also one of the most recent issues of The New Yorker apparently has a great long piece on Ben Stiller that’s supposed to be pretty insightful. In case you’re wondering what Sam’s reading on the dock: Homer’s Odyssey. It makes me smile every time I look over at him in a sea of women and fashion magazines.
Eating: I have so many recipes I wanted to try while here, but I’m keeping realistic goals considering I do want this to feel like vacation — not to mention the only place to shop for groceries is Walmart which I’ve succesfully avoided so far. But I will absolutely make a blueberry pie. It’s time to make a blueberry pie. I’m also hoping Sam will make his famous-in-my-world pancakes.
Drinking: Gin & Tonics. And Negronis, of course.
Listening: Design Matters Podcasts with Debbie Millman. Sam introduced me to these and while they’re technically more design-focused, the folks interviewed are fascinating and I think the conversation applies to any creative craft or inclination. Surprisingly, Alec Baldwin’s podcast, Here’s the Thing, isn’t half bad, either.
Playing: A new-to-us dice game that I imagine old ladies really dig: Farkel. It’s pretty amazing — do you all know this game?! My mom’s friends picked it up at the small local library here, and it’s been our late-night entertainment for the past few nights. We’re going to track one down to bring back to Seattle with us.
Marion Cunningham calls for 1 – 1 1/2 cups cream in her recipe; I used 1 cup here and they turned out just fine. That being said, if your mixture feels too dry and crumbly, drizzle in a little more cream to bring it all together. If you don’t have pastry flours at home, reach for all-purpose flour before reaching for a regular whole-wheat flour which will yield too dense of a biscuit on its own. Cunningham recommends kneading for one minute — I’d just give it a few turns next time — 20 seconds or so.
Adapted from: Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book (via Molly Wizenberg)
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (If you don’t have parchment, leave it as it is, ungreased. The parchment is just for easy cleanup.)
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a mixing bowl, and stir to combine. Slowly add the cream and stir briefly just until the dough comes together. You can do this by hand if you’re comfortable or with a simple wooden spoon. Gather the dough together; If it feels shaggy or too dry, slowly add more cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, just until the dough comes together.
In a small bowl, dredge the strawberries with the 2 tablespoons of the remaining flour to coat.
Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for 20 seconds or so — you don’t want to overwork the dough. Pat the dough into a large square about ½ inch thick. On one side of the square, lay the strawberries out onto the dough. Fold one side of the square over the top of the berries to meet the other side of the square, creating a little pouch for the berries. Essentially, the berries are now nestled inbetween two layers of biscuit dough.
Working quickly, press the dough down to 1/2 inch thickness once again. Don’t worry about squishing the berries –the flour will absorb some of that liquid and if you work quickly to re-flatten your square, they’ll bake up just fine.
Cut into 12 squares. Brush the tops of each with the melted butter so that all sides are coated. Sprinkle the tops with sugar. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve
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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.