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.
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.