Hello there, August. You have brought with you wonderful tomatoes which I’ve been eating almost daily, outdoor weddings, a new camera to play with, and sunny clear mornings. You’ve brought iced coffee with a touch of simple syrup, dinner with friends outside, and nights spent sharing a beer while watching the Olympics (those runners!).
You’ve brought picnics and big fava beans and juicy peaches. And so far, lots of time in the kitchen testing recipes and writing recipes, but little actually preparing real meals (thank goodness for Delancey pizza and late night burritos from El Chupacabra). You know that summer slump feeling when, although you’re surrounded by beautiful produce, you can’t quite think of what to cook? That’s where I’ve been lately. We’ve been eating lots of egg salad and tuna salad for lunch and simple grain salad concoctions for dinner. Little to no baking. Until just the other day when inspiration struck in the form of a cookbook.
In case you don’t already know, Sara and Hugh Forte, creators of the blog Sprouted Kitchen, have a cookbook coming out in a few weeks. It’s a true feast, visually and otherwise. I wrote to Sara the day after I received it in the mail to tell her I stayed up until 1 a.m. reading it and awoke thinking of all the recipes I was excited to make. Right up at the top are the buckwheat crepes with smoked salmon, creamy millet with roasted portobellos, and that coconut lime tart. And these cookies, of course, which I promptly made and we promptly ate most of the same afternoon.
On the blog and in the cookbook, Sara is the force behind the very do-able and delicious recipes (her salad recipes alone are worth a visit to the blog) and husband Hugh takes the photos. He approaches each dish with a unique angle and eye, resulting in some of the more innovative food photos I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks to both of them, you want to make dinner again. And breakfast. And lunch, too.
Which brings us to these cookies. They are the perfect little tea cookie — an afternoon treat or late night nibble much in the same vein as the sesame cookies we talked about a while back. Strewn with coconut, toasty cacao nibs, and little bits of fragrant almonds, they’re wonderfully nutty and naturally soft from the combination of coconut oil and almond meal. In the cookie world, these are keepers. You’ll get the sense before you even get them into the oven.
I should mention a few tweaks I made before getting to the recipe: I used a touch more salt than Sara does and ended up using demerara sugar instead of the muscovado she recommends. I’d recommend using any natural cane sugar you have on hand. If you don’t have any, it’s easy to find in the bulk aisle of a well-stocked grocery store and will make a difference flavor-wise here (you’ll notice a special chewiness from darker, natural sugars). I also decided to toss in some chopped toasted almonds at the last minute for a little extra crunch.
This afternoon, I’m hoping to break our usual Sunday farmers market routine and check out the Wednesday market instead. To stock up on a few things to cook for dinner tonight, thanks to Sara and Hugh.
Adapted from: Sprouted Kitchen
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Toast the sliced almonds until fragrant and golden brown, 5-7 minutes. Let cool, and then chop well.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the almond meal, cacao nibs, chopped almonds, coconut, baking powder, salt and sugar.
In another bowl, beat the egg very well until it’s a uniform color and doubles in volume. Whisk in the coconut oil and vanilla extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Refrigerate bowl for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
Roll the chilled dough into 1″ balls using your hands. Place on baking sheet with 1 1/2-inches space between them, and give them a gentle press with the palm of your hand to flatten them slightly. Bake until edges just begin to brown, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving.
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.