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Not Quite What You’d Think

I wrote to a friend today lamenting the fact that our fridge is filled largely with leftover grains. And some beer. It’s like college, with farro and wheat berries replacing the cold pizza. I had grand visions, when Sam was on the train, that I’d try a few recipes I’d been cutting out of magazines and make proper meals for myself. There were to be the green chile enchiladas or the Moroccan braised chicken. Or even a simple homemade tomato sauce. Instead, I ate pudding. And pumpkin beer. The first night I thought it kind of novel and fun: look, it’s like when I lived alone! The second night I admitted it to only Sam on the phone. The third night I thought there may be something wrong. So much for the enchiladas and braised chicken. So much for that tomato sauce. Clearly what I really wanted was some chocolate pudding. 

I also had big plans to write a great deal of the narrative parts of the cookbook. Much like those enchiladas, that didn’t really happen either. I haven’t talked a whole lot here about the process of writing the cookbook quite yet. I think everytime I sit down to do it, I want to have a grand statement about it, or feel really joyful and proud. Neither one of those things has struck me yet. My friend Tara wrote a post about writing her first book this past week that struck a chord in so many ways. Yes, it feels like a blur. It feels scary. You feel like you don’t know what you’re doing … even though you really do. And deep down you know that. But it’s hard to convince yourself of the fact. So instead, you eat pudding for dinner. Over and over. You buy mums to plant in your window box and they sit outside the front door for three weeks dying. You only read magazines at night, all of those good novels you once read a distant memory.

I will write a post about the book, certainly. A number of people have mentioned how they’d be interested in hearing about how I develop original recipes and how I continue to find inspiration with such a tight deadline. Many of you may remember Heidi’s post on writing her cookbooks. The one thing I will say, right now, is that I reached out to people who knew more than me right off the bat. I’ve always done that, whether it had to do with Marge, or freelance writing, or traveling to a new city. I sit down and think about who I can ask. Who would know more? And people are almost always gracious and williing to share. I called Heidi a few months after signing with Ten Speed, knowing we shared a publisher. I wanted to know if she had any advice, I wanted to know if she thought I could do it in such a tight deadline. If you’ve ever met Heidi, you know she’s most, most generous with information and advice. We talked about inspiration boards (see mine below). We talked about how I was organizing the whole thing wrong (it turns out one loooooonnnng word document isn’t the best approach): Heidi advised me to start printing out all of the pages and actually compile them visually for myself. It’s helped immensely.

My friends Emma and Sara have answered questions about photographers, recipe measurements, and have so sweetly responded to my midnight freak-outs. Anne has been awesome, as always. Shauna helped me conceive of a whole new way to organize the sections of the book. Molly advised me on publishing questions and Jess sent me sweet encouragement (and granola from Boston to try!). And then: You all! Thank you, as always, for being here. This book is happening largely because of you, my friends. Really. I feel so grateful.

My point? The book’s not ready to be talked about fully quite yet. But there are so many people out there who have given so much already. My mom is recipe-testing her booty off. As are a smattering of you out there. And I’m trusting that it’s all going to come together in the end. It’s nose-down work, this writing business. It’s not quite what I expected, really. It’s harder. It’s not just about me sitting happily in the kitchen meeting a deadline. There are meetings, design approaches, photography choices,  book-size decisions. There are ingredients, and seasons and colors to consider. There are recipes you have to make seven times to get just right. There’s pretending. And hoping. And finger-crossing.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to write this book. It really is a whole new approach to breakfast, with sweet and savory whole-grain recipes that span busy weekdays to Sunday brunches. And it’s going to make millet fans out of some of you just yet. You wait! But for now, I’ll just say hello from Thursday morning. And isn’t that Mumford and Sons album good? How about the new Avett Brothers? Do you have mulling spices in your cupboards yet? Falling leaves outside the door? Roasted a squash? Watching Parenthood (so good)? And, most importantly: does anyone have a good lead on cute lady oxfords? I’m in the market. Big time.

With oxfords behind us, it’s time for pudding. We eat out every now and again, and I’m often trying dishes and thinking, I wish I had that recipe! But I rarely ask for it because it can be awkward. But almost a year ago now, when I was up here visiting Sam, we ate at Skillet Diner. Truthfully, we eat there more often than I care to admit these days. It’s just such a solid spot for comfort food: fried chicken, meatloaf, biscuits, big salads, pie, cocktails … and pudding. They serve this Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding that I fell in love with the first time I tried it. It’s served with Pie Brittle on the side, is a genius way to use up leftover pie dough scraps (sprinkle them with a little sugar and bake them off).

When I returned to the Bay Area then, I wrote to Skillet to ask for the recipe and to see if I could share it with you all here. At the time, I’d just written about Chocolate Pot de Cremes, so I didn’t want to bombard you with chocolate pudding-like desserts. But I think it’s about darn near time. The recipe came to me as most restaurant recipes do: It was two sentences long. So I’ve flushed it out for you a bit here. Not that pudding’s tough, but there are a few things to know to make it great. While Skillet makes their version by “buzzing” it with an immersion blender at the end, I took the old fashioned whisk-and-stir-over-low-heat approach and find that it works much better. So that’s how I’ve written it for you here.

The recipe really need little futzing, but I did end up decreasing the sugar, added a little vanilla, and love to sprinkle some flaky salt on top. I use natural cane sugar here (turbinado) because it’s what we have on hand these days, but if you’d prefer to use white granulated sugar, it’s not a problem. Green & Black were kind enough to send me a box of chocolate a few weeks back, and I chose the always wonderful 70% Dark bar for this pudding. The more I look at the recipe now, I realize it’s actually a pretty standard chocolate pudding recipe. There are few bells and whistles. And maybe that’s why it’s been such a comfort lately. While I’m spending so much time thinking about flavor profiles and interesting seasonal ingredients for the cookbook, sometimes it’s nice to have something simple and straightforward that takes few decisions and delivers everytime.


Skillet Diner’s Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding

Serves: 4-6

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup natural cane sugar (or white sugar if you prefer)
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
2.5 ounces chocolate (70% is best, 61% at the least), coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
flaky salt, to top, optional

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Heat the milk and cream in a small heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat until little tiny bubbles form around the edges, but not fully boiling.
Crack the eggs in a small bowl and whisk. While whisking the eggs, pour a touch (roughly 1 tablespoon) of the hot milk into the bowl to temper them (so your eggs don’t get clumpy and cook when you add them altogether). Stream in a little more milk, whisking continuously to temper the eggs. Pour in a little more milk, and then go ahead and pour the egg mixture into the saucepan.
Next, add the dry ingredients to the saucepan and whisk until combined. Continue cooking over low heat and stirring to avoid sticking or clumping until the pudding thickens, about 15 minutes. You’re looking for it to coat the back of a spoon. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until it melts. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Strain the pudding with a fine-mesh strainer to remove clumps. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap and let cool before serving.
  1. Posted October 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Love getting a little peek into your process. It takes a village to write a book I suppose. I haven’t forgotten the recipe. I actually picked up Millet yesterday. They will happen. Cheering you on from down the street!! Also, I really must get to Skillet Diner. Would you believe I’ve never been? I hear so much about the cinnamon rolls.

  2. Janet
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Loved this post. And you. And pudding.

  3. Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    What a lovely pudding! And I can’t wait to hear more about the book :)

  4. Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I feel like this post was meant just for me. I know that it’s not, but now that I’m standing at the very beginning of this process (circling around it, a thing you mentioned a past post), I can relate in a way that I perhaps couldn’t before. I reached out to so many folks beforehand, but haven’t lately, so thank you for reminding me to do that. It helped immensely in the proposal process. You are awesome and I cannot wait until I get to cook from your lovely book.

  5. alyssa
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I read a lot of blogs, and have seen a lot of hyped cookbooks come out, (especially lately) but I’m very cautious about which books I actually buy. Smitten Kitchen will be the first this year, and when yours comes out I’m buying it for sure. Thanks for working so hard, so I don’t have to!

  6. Posted October 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    I have the woman diving into the water on my board too! I think I plucked it from Real Simple. I loved the idea of plunging into something….whatever it might be, even if it’s scary. It spoke to me. Best of luck with your book. I check in here often to read your words and would like to remind you of how talented you are. Plunge away!

  7. Posted October 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Another local hanging her head because she’s never been to Skillet (you, me, Ashley: date?). But I love your inspiration board (how many people do I know who have slept in that wee watery bedroom by now? So stunning). The book thing turns us all upside down. But somehow we all seem to muddle through (with varying levels and lack of grace). I think you’re doing pretty great.
    And chocolate pudding never hurts. That picture is making me want to drizzle it with something boozy. xox

  8. Posted October 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Adorable. You, that is. We are two peas in a pod when the men-folk are traveling. I, too, have visions of all these great dishes. I actually have them written on the white board in my office. Along with cocktail ideas. Then …. I eat tortillas with spicy eggs, pinto beans smashed with garlic, rice pudding, hunk of blue cheese with a dried up baguette, and usually a glass of wine. When he was gone recently I had visions of chocolate pudding. Chocolate pudding with ribbons of burnt salted caramel. Yep. Didn’t even make that. Too bad you aren’t living down here, then when the men-folk are traveling, we could cozy up at the bar at Boot and have a proper meal. With bourbon.

  9. momgordon
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Ring the bells that still can ring,
    forget your perfect offering.
    There is a crack in everything,
    that’s how the light gets in.
    (Leonard Cohen)
    Seemed an appropriate comment here. And I did tell you about my loafers!

  10. megang
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Love you, mom. Also: oxfords, not loafers! I’m looking for kind of slimmer, slightly shiny-ish lady oxfords. I’ve found some I love for $400. I will need to sell much more granola…

  11. Posted October 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm

    Megan its lovely reading a little bit about your process. I personally can’t wait for the book. Oh, and a chocolate pot de crème? Always.

  12. sim
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    pudding looks amazing! and great loafers to be found at j.crew…i got some on sale for $125, so check out their sale section. they do free international shipping too, at the moment.

  13. Posted October 11, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    oh i love this. a. your mom. so cute b. I understand you c. go girl. you’re doing so good and you’re in the thick of it. know it’s up from here. soon very soon. and speaking from outside of the trench? It’s worth it. All of the insecurity and pretending and sugar and making something for what feels like the bazillionith time. You’ll come through with flying colors and I can’t wait to see it, my friend.

  14. Posted October 11, 2012 at 10:34 pm

    This pudding looks absolutely divine and the perfect food for eating whilst procrastinating :-) I’m sure everything will come to you in due course. A cookbook looks like such a simple thing, but so many hours of love and effort go into each page.

  15. Mary
    Posted October 11, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Loved this post. Eat more pudding.

  16. Posted October 12, 2012 at 7:31 am

    There are so many days I have these grand ideas of the wonderful things I could make in my kitchen. I revisit bookmarked recipes that have sat in an electronic file for months and have yet to be sampled, but since it’s just me and a cat at my household, these recipes rarely are made. In my opinion, cooking and/or baking for one just isn’t as fun, unfortunately. Half the pleasure of cooking is enjoying it with someone else! Such are the problems of living solo… although leaving the dishes in the sink without anyone giving you flack is sometimes really great! :)

    I’m really excited to read and cook from your book! Especially at the mention of “savory whole grain breakfast recipes!” Your hard work is much appreciated already!

    Also, Frye is making some cute oxfords, both with a heel and without. Cheers!

  17. Posted October 12, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Love the inspiration board. And I agree with Mary – eat more pudding.

  18. Posted October 12, 2012 at 8:27 am

    So honored to be in the tribe of people who give sometimes useful advice or encouragement. {Donuts? YES}

    Am always available to chat when you need it about writing, other books, or anything at all.

    YOU TOTALLY HAVE THIS, by the way. The book is gonna be grand.

  19. megang
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:36 am

    THANK YOU, Anne.

  20. megang
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Thanks, Ileana–it’s helped me kind of gather my thoughts. I’m a pretty visual person, so I’m going to keep using them even when the book is done. Happy weekend!

  21. megang
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Sara: Indeed. In what feels like a lifetime ago but was really only a few years ago, I wrote often here on the blog about eating/cooking alone when my then-relationship ended and I was living alone for the first time in over a decade. I just couldn’t seem to put together a proper meal for myself. For months and months. I think maybe this is more true for people who are perhaps more nourished by giving and sharing (me and, it sounds like, you too). So I hear you. Hopefully you’ve discovered some good things to add to your arsenal: scrambles, poached eggs on top of grains, oven-baked quesadillas (Gosh, I love these) … And thank you for the Frye recommendation. I’ll be checking them out this afternoon. Have a great weekend (relish in that sink full of dishes!)

  22. megang
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:40 am

    Mary: You rock. That is all. xx

  23. megang
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I’m so not worried, Ashley. I know you’ll get to them and am really looking forward to hearing what you think. I’m teaching a similar recipe at The Pantry tomorrow … fingers crossed! And no: I don’t believe you’ve never been to Skillet. It’s wonderful although whenever we go, we always talk about how it’s way more expensive than we remember. While it doesn’t really seem/feel like it, it can be more of a date night, price-wise (i.e. don’t bring the kids). Miss you + hope to see you soon!

  24. megang
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Yes, Kimberly: ASK! I’m a big proponent. I’m going to make tee-shirts: Just Ask! I’m always blown away by how generous people are, and in the end, it usually saves you lots of time and stress. I suppose we’d all get there in the end, but I’m a big fan of help :) But you’re in the fun, idea-generating stage now which just can’t be beat. I’m here whenever you need an ear. Until then, happy fall weekend! xx, m

  25. megang
    Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Ah, thank you so much, Steph. So nice to hear that you check in and are enjoying the blog. Today’s plunge: whole grain quiche, polenta squares, and lots of oatmeal experimentation. Happy weekend!

  26. Posted October 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Oh YES, I am sooooooooo with you. I need a nap already. Best of luck w. it all – you can do it! And I know it will be absolutely great.

  27. Posted October 14, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Homemade chocolate pudding is like a nice, comforting hug.

  28. Posted October 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    The first time I went to Skillet I was with one of my best friends. We ordered five plates of food, demolished all but two bites, and left a little heavier, slightly drunk on goodness.

    Skillet just makes things that say, “Put me in your belly and I’ll fill you up with love.” I think walking in the door is deciding calories don’t exist for a while. It’s all about pleasure. I love how close together the tables are, so you can take a peak at what everyone else is eating, exchange reviews, and maybe bites.

    I’m so excited they shared with you. And even more excited you shared with us. But do you know what takes the pudding? (Yeah, I went there.) That you ate it, alone, with pumpkin beer.

    You, my lady, are my kind of woman.

  29. HK
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 7:04 am

    I love Miz Mooz oxfords. Totally cute, well made, and reasonably priced. I bought a pair a couple of years ago, and I’m still wearing them. http://www.miz-mooz.com/ The heels are a bit on the higher side, but they make your legs look good, especially with skirts!

  30. megang
    Posted October 19, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Thank you for the shoe rec! Happy weekend to you!

  31. Posted October 31, 2012 at 9:07 am

    I have had a terrible craving for chocolate pudding for months! Don’t know where it came from, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Specifically, the kind in the little plastic cups, as gross as that may be. Might be time to make one like this. Good luck with the rest of the book!

  32. Posted November 7, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Pudding is my all-time favorite comfort food. I remember my mom making it when we ordered pizza at my house on a Friday night! What a combo. Pizza Hut and homemade pudding. I have just come across your blog. It’s lovely, real, and your writing is so enjoyable!

  33. Posted November 8, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Meg, I too have been in the market for cute lady oxfords! My favorite general, flat, cute, new oxfords are these “mallorka” style from Steve Madden, but the cheapest price online is $75 (http://compare.ebay.com/like/121010641014?var=lv&ltyp=AllFixedPriceItemTypes&var=sbar).

    Otherwise, I’ve been trolling the Etsy and ebay pages, always searching “leather oxfords” and filtering by my size. I just ordered a cute pair in burgundy (!?) for around $40 total and it made me think of you. Fingers crossed for both of us. : )

  34. Posted November 14, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Mumford and Sons? I love their new album! Glad to have stumbled upon your blog and looking forward to hearing more about the book.
    - Gayle

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