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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.