I didn’t expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn’t matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won’t remember one year’s vegetable side dish from another. What you’ll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something — large or small.
I started this blog because, like many of you, I love the way food brings people together. I like the conversations that happen, I like the collaboration, I like the stories. I don’t get much out of making recipes alone in my kitchen unless I’m sharing them with others around me. Often this is with Sam. But just as often, really, it’s walking a plate down to the local coffee shop to share with our favorite baristas or giving cookies or pie away to friends. So in thinking about a pre-Thanksgiving post and the one recipe I wanted to share with you before the big day, I kept circling away from the food and towards the gratitude piece of it all. Right this second, I’m thankful for this community (you!), for the opportunity to work for myself doing something I love, for the crisp fall we’ve been having in Seattle, for the satsumas in the market, and for Sam’s mulled tequila toddy recipe. I’m thankful that I get to visit with my family next week, that I’m able to just up and fly home whenever I please, and that I have a business that’s busy enough to make that stressful this year.
I don’t talk about new things going on with Marge much in this space, but if you’re curious and if you like granola, you should hop on over and sign up for our newsletter. I only send it out once a season (at best) and the next issue will have a great coupon for holiday ordering. In fact, I want to send you some granola to try now! I’m not much of a giveaway gal because I can never find an authentic way to work it into a post and really would only do so if it was something I loved. But granola I can do. So if you leave a note here about what you’re thankful for this year, I’ll choose a random winner on Wednesday, November 21 (day before Thanksgiving) and send you a package with all 3 of our current flavors. I really am looking forward to reading your responses!
And now, we’re overdue for a talk on biscuits. And honey butter (I’ve decided this is something we should all just have around in general, biscuits or no biscuits). Now, I love towering, flaky biscuits as much as the next person. These are not those biscuits although they are no less delicious. They’re a drop biscuit so they won’t get those flaky layers but they’re still quite light, rustic in nature, and have a knock-out flavor from the marriage of sweet potato and rosemary. Sure, they’re not towering but they perch happily at the dinner table and sneak on into breakfast territory quite naturally, too. I made a few different versions of sweet potato biscuits before ultimately setting off on my own. I started with a recipe from Martha Hall Foose’s charming book, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea, in which she has you melt the butter and uses white flour and a bit of sugar. They turned out quite tasty but they were a bit heavier than I wanted, so I started fresh with a version that has you working the butter into the flour, adding a smattering of rosemary, and relying on my favorite combination of white flour/spelt flour. There’s no sifting or rolling or turning the dough. Just mix, scoop, and bake. Easy. Just what we could all use a bit more of this time of year.
I hope that you have a very happy Thanksgiving filled with people you get a kick out of in a place that makes you feel at home. Sam and I will be in California with my family, those green beans, Moscow Mules and a few days without work. Yes.
A quick one-bowl affair, these biscuits bake up a beautiful dark orange color and have a slightly herbed, buttery flavor. You don’t have to mash away all of the chunks in your sweet potatoes; drop biscuits are meant to be less refined and a few bits of sweet potato are just fine. Avoid the temptation to boil your potatoes instead of baking them as the instructions indicate — boiling them will draw in extra moisture that will change the texture of these biscuits.
For the Biscuits:
For the Honey Butter:
For the honey butter: whisk together the butter and honey until creamy.
Prepare the potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork a few times, and place right on oven rack for about 1 hour, or until tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Once cool, peel away the skin of the potato and mash well with a fork or potato masher.
For the biscuits: Increase the oven temperature to 425 F. Butter a large baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and herbs.Using a pastry blender or the tips of your fingertips, work the butter into the flour mixture until it’s the consistency of coarse meal. Add the milk and mashed sweet potatoes and stir them into the dry ingredients until they’re incorporated and a dough has formed.
Drop the dough in 2-3 tablespoon dollops onto the baking sheet. If you have a big ice cream scoop, it’s quite useful here. Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until biscuits have risen and their tops are firm to the touch and golden. Serve warm or let cool on wire rack. These biscuits are best the day they’re made although covered and stored at room temperature, they’re fine the next day, too (I warm them in this case 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.