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.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
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 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.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: