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.
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.