We left for vacation on the day after I went grocery shopping in a wool sweater. June was definitively not summer here. According to everyone I talk to, it never is. And truthfully we were both just trucking along throughout the whole month, we had little time to complain or wish for something more. We had planned a mini camping trip all the way into … our backyard, but had to cancel due to chilly rain. But the second we returned to Seattle, you could sense something changed. People in the airport were tee-shirted, Brandon drove us home with the windows slightly cracked, and the next morning big, bright sun shone through the curtains in our bedroom. Summer in Seattle has arrived–and we have fruit pies, galettes, a booming garden, iced tea, and salads for dinner to show for it.
I told myself this year that I wouldn’t let myself return from vacation and just dive right back into the normal routine. I wanted to let vacation linger just a little. You know how you establish new routines on vacation sometimes? Like sitting down together and eating a real meal for breakfast, having an afternoon espresso on the porch, taking a pre-dinner walk, and playing board games late into the evening? I wanted some of that to stay.
But I think that’s why vacation is magical — because all of those new routines and special glimpses at really long, full days just isn’t a reality for most of us. Add to that trying to catch up after being gone almost two weeks (!) and you’ve got a whole lot of no breakfasts together, no afternoon espressos, no long walks, and no board games. But for now, we’re replacing those with other good things: Sam’s mom flew back with us and is staying for a week. She’s hunkered down in the upstairs guest room (that we have dubbed the best napping spot in the house), and we’ve been slowly showing her around town. We introduced her to eating yogurt and granola together for breakfast and she, in turn, made a pretty incredible taco salad for dinner last night. We all get our coffee together in the morning, and she’s helped me cut things back in the garden and troubleshoot what the heck might be wrong with my basil plants.
It’s true that the drawn-out pace of vacation can’t really be introduced back into “the real world.” That’s just the meaning of it: vacation is a physical and mental break from everything familiar back home. These photos were taken on our last day at my mom’s cabin, the one day we’d really reserved to hop on the computers and get a little work done and the one day where we both felt so deliciously relaxed and peaceful that instead we lounged on the porch, read big chunks of our books, and ended up going swimming in a downpour after dinner. We were the only ones in the lake. I wish I had a photo of it, but I guess I do in my mind. That night, there was nothing about the granola business, freelance writing, cookbook headnotes, or quarterly taxes at the forefront of my mind. There was only a wide gray sky, an expansive lake, and the sound of raindrops and Sam’s gentle paddling right beside me. I’ve taken that home with me.
After leaving Lake George, we rented a car and drove to New Jersey to visit Sam’s family. I’d met his oldest sister, Christa, but had yet to meet his mother, Nancy, or his youngest sister, Sara. Along the way, we stopped and Sam showed me four of the houses he grew up in as a kid. In the coming days, we played a lot of Farkle, drove to Philly where it was around 103 and humid — the perfect weather for cheesesteaks at Pat’s and Geeno’s (My vote goes to Pat’s), visited with nieces and nephews, jogged a little, and saw Moonrise Kingdom (very sweet if you haven’t yet seen it). But most of all, we just hung out with Sam’s family, shared meals together, played a few games.
I heard some small Sam stories and watched a sweet home video. I saw Sam interact with his nephew Alex who just adores him. He calls him Uncle Sammy and calls me “Penguin,” which I love: it sort of rhymes with “Megan”, I suppose. I’d smile when we’d pull up to the house and his little voice would shine through the screen door: “Uncle Sammy, I missed you! Penguin, I missed you!” I saw the way Sam cares for his mom. I saw where he came from–the people and places that were influential in some regard. I’ve taken that home with me, too.
And because we returned to a Seattle that’s barely recognizable to me (constant sun!), it was time to start baking a few pies. We picked up strawberries, blackberries, and nectarines at the market one evening while stocking up on a few things to have for breakfasts. The next morning I made a strawberry galette and a blackberry nectarine pie. Then I found these beautiful plums and decided to play around with my usual dough and turn them into a not-too-sweet, bright and gingery galette. One that sings summer, work or no work. Vacation or no vacation.
Speaking of which, in case you missed it a few weeks ago, The New York Times posted a smart, relevant piece on the state of being busy. Reading it at Sam’s sisters house in New Jersey a wave of guilt passed over me. I have become that person. I never wanted to be the person who didn’t have time to meet a friend for tea or call their mom back. In it Tim Kreider says of folks who are always talking about how busy they are: “They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence…I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.” Read it if you haven’t. I feel like what I do does matter in a small way, but I also feel like it’s so easy to get caught up in a frenzied cycle of busyness that you lose the big-picture. That’s it important to call people back on the phone and stop for tea. Or fruit galettes, as it is today.
This recipe has less sugar than many galette recipes, so while juicy and naturally sweet it does come off as just a touch tart. I love this and think the natural flavor of the plums really shine, but if you think you may like your galette a bit sweeter, try 1/4 cup sugar for the filling instead. If you haven’t used rye flour, it’s lovely in pie doughs and quite easy to work with. The directions below use the food-processor method to make the dough. If you’d prefer using a pastry cutter or your hands, that works, too. I prefer not to in the summer just because it’s not and I can never seem to work quite quickly enough. But, as always, do what makes you happy.
For the dough:
For the filling:
In a food processor, add the flours, salt and sugar and pulse once to combine. Add the cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse meal with some small butter pieces intact the size of small peas. Slowly sprinkle in the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just barely comes together. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper. Gather it together into a flat disk, wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. On a lightly-floured surface, roll out the dough to an 11-inch round and transfer it to the baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk egg and 1 tablespoon water together to create egg wash. Set aside.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the plums, sugar, cornstarch, orange zest, and ginger bits. Toss well. Arrange the fruit in the very center of the dough circle, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches all around the border. Fold the exterior edges towards the center of the galette. Don’t worry about it looking perfect or neat–it shouldn’t. Chill galette in freezer (or refrigerator if your baking sheet won’t fit in the freezer) for 20 minutes.
Retrieve from freezer, brush edges with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until crust has turned golden brown and juices are bubbling and thickening. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour before serving (the fruit juices will firm up as it cools so you won’t have a runny galette). Store covered at room temperature for 2-3 days.
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.