Time moves differently in the summer. I swear this to be true. It was one of the crueler jokes bestowed upon me when I began teaching: you put all of your energy and every dream of a chunk of freedom into this magical thing, summer vacation, and it’d be over before you could blink. I’m feeling a little of that as I sit here now with just a few days of July left, writing to you on a foggy Friday afternoon with a messy kitchen, a broken washing machine, and an empty refrigerator. Don’t get me wrong: it’s been a good day. We shared a messy biscuit sandwich for lunch from a new spot downtown and lingered over coffee longer than usual before starting the work day. A good week, really. But time has been moving quickly and I’m sure you notice that, too.
The funny thing about this space lately is that I feel just a touch stifled. I’ve actually been in the kitchen every day creating and writing recipes for the cookbook, but I can’t share them with you now. So it’s an odd feeling because I’m so excited to tell you about the Cherry Apricot Chutney and Peach Skillet Cobbler, but I can’t. I’d love to show you how the Blueberry Breakfast Bars turned out, and I’m taking a stab at a very special batch of whole grain seedy granola bars to take hiking with us tomorrow. But all of that will just have to wait. For now.
During the year my mom and I lived together in California, we’d share magazines. Some food magazines, some catalogs, some bad gossip magazines. It was kind of funny passing them around because she’d have pages turned down and I’d try and guess what recipe or pair of shoes she was flagging for herself. She’d do the same with my dog-eared pages. What was it that you liked about this page? We’d try and guess, delighting in the fact that we knew each other pretty well, and we were usually right. When Sam and I visited my mom’s cabin on Lake George earlier this month, I was sitting on the stool in the kitchen chatting with her while she chopped vegetables for dinner. So I’d have something to leaf through and busy my hands, she handed me her recipe binder and pointed out the potato bake she was making that night. I started flipping through to see what else she had in store for herself this summer. I quickly came across a familiar looking French Yogurt Cake, and I tried to recall where I’d seen it or heard about it. It boasted yogurt and lemon and a healthy dash of salt, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how it’d be perfect for breakfast or dessert, with a slather of jam or topped with berries and whipped cream.
After we returned home, I started flipping through my own recipe binder thinking about things I wanted to bake while Sam’s mom was in town. I came across the same exact recipe. Dog-eared. Right in the front. I made some significant changes to the original recipe, using olive oil instead of vegetable oil and turbinado sugar (any good natural cane sugar will be great) instead of white sugar. I think quick breads turn out wonderfully with a white whole-wheat flour (I used King Arthur here), so I used a blend of that and barley flour. It’s not a towering light loaf the kind of which you’d see stacked up at, say, Starbucks. I wouldn’t describe it as fluffy and I wouldn’t say it has a particularly light crumb. Instead, I’d say that this loaf is a squatty champion that’s moist, wonderfully fragrant, and dense enough to support a generous spread of jam and butter. It’s not finicky or moody. It’s a two-bowl affair, a reliably simple recipe resulting in a loaf that likely won’t last long around here this weekend. I’m sure my version turned out much different than my mothers will, but we’ll both bake it this summer and our kitchens, while separated by many states, will have that same scent of vanilla and lemon and the possibility of a warm slice of cake on an average summer afternoon. Maybe yours will, too.
The original recipe called for whole Greek yogurt, but I had low-fat on hand so that’s what I used here. If you have trouble finding barley flour, substitute all-purpose instead. Next time I bake this cake, I want to drop in a handful of blueberries or a pinch of chopped herbs (rosemary would be nice) from the garden.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a standard (8 1/4 by 4 1/4 inch) loaf pan and dust with flour; tap out excess.
Whisk the flours, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Using your fingers, rub the sugar with the lemon zest in a large bowl until the sugar becomes moist and fragrant. Add the yogurt, oil, eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined.
Fold in dry ingredients just to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until fragrant and the top of the cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes before serving. Store covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.
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.