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 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.