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).
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.