Hello from the other side! I realize we haven’t been back here for a few weeks, and I’m sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I’ve been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you’d print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important –you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit “send.” My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that’s what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
And then I proceeded to take the longest nap I’ve taken in six months. I don’t generally allow myself to take naps, but I made a pretty big exception and woke up feeling squarely on the other side of it all. We went out to dinner and had good wine and bowls of pasta at our favorite celebration spot. I felt teary and tired and gripped onto Sam’s arm for most of the meal, still in disbelief that I wouldn’t be waking up each morning working on book recipes. In a sense I feel like I just told you guys about the cookbook. In another sense, it feels like I’ve been working on the manuscript forever. I’m so pleased and proud of the way it has turned out, and can’t wait to share it with you.
It will be a little while though: Now that the publisher has it in their hands, it takes almost a year to make the book come to life. Right now, we’re looking at a December 2013 publish date, so this next year will be filled with lots of edits, a photo shoot, design meetings, revisions and the like. I think it’ll be a busy year but for now, I’m glad to step away into the land of eggnog, Christmas trees, strings of lights and afternoon naps.
If you’ve followed the blog for some time, you know that Sam is the web designer I hired for Marge and, after dating long-distance for a year, he is the reason I eventually moved up to Seattle from the Bay Area. Our story will be in the book as will the story of beginning and growing a small business. It looks like it will include anywhere from 60-70 whole-grain breakfast recipes, and I’ve been snapping photos of our house, neighborhood, farmers markets, and ingredients I use in the kitchen and many of those will be in the book as well. The cool thing is that the photos will actually be a collaboration in the sense that there will be many by me, but plenty of photos of the food itself will be done by an incredible local photographer (I’m not certain I’m yet allowed to say who she is, but I will as soon as I get the thumbs-up).
On Sunday we were debating what to make for breakfast and Sam asked if I’d cook something from the book. We’d both gotten used to having the recipes around all the time that he was starting to miss them as I’d been focusing much more on writing rather than recipe testing. That moment made me smile — the book’s become a part of our lives quickly, and so many of the recipes are new morning favorites. We lounged around debating which one it would be: whole-grain gingerbread, salmon crème fraîche tart, gingered grits with golden raisins, or maybe just some good leftover bread with my honeyed tangerine marmalade. So many decisions. So many recipes we’ve both come to love.
For now though, it feels good to have a little space from the book, to dip into my files of holiday recipes that I’ve been looking forward to making. This eggnog loaf actually wasn’t even on my radar until this week when my friend and fellow Kitchn writer, Emma Christensen, developed it. The second I saw her photos I knew I wanted to make it and thought I’d try doing so using whole-grain flours and natural sugar. The result? A lightly-spiced holiday loaf cake with a subtly sweet, boozy glaze that is already nominated as a must-make-again-soon this holiday season. I rarely tell you that you absolutely must make something on the blog. I figure you all decide what looks good to you, try a few recipes every now and again, and move on with your lives. But if I were to rate the recipes here from 1-10, this is a 10. It’s simple to put together with ingredients you likely already have at home (with the exception of eggnog, perhaps) and makes a wonderful afternoon snacking cake, morning sweet or after-dinner dessert with a little espresso.
The trouble I have with loaf cakes is that they often come off as heavy and dense but because this version is made with a mixture of spelt flour and whole-wheat pastry flour, it has a delightfully light, springy crumb and doesn’t feel at all overly-indulgent. If you’ve baked much from the blog, you know I have a thing for spelt flour. Remember the Rhubarb Custard Bars in the spring or the more recent Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits? I often turn to spelt flour in the kitchen because, while it’s whole-grain in composition, it behaves much like an all-purpose white flour: it has a mild flavor and produces baked goods with a tender, soft texture. Here, it helps form a loaf that’s everything a holiday cake should be: fragrant and begging to be shared.
Happy weekend to you. I’m so looking forward to lots of baking in the month ahead. Also, the lovely Melissa from The Faux Martha won the granola giveaway from the last post. Thank you all so much for commenting — I loved hearing what you were thankful for, and loved sending a box of Marge out to a blog reader. Let’s do that again soon, shall we?
The only natural cane sugar I had in the house was a coarse turbinado sugar, so I used that here and it turned out delicious. I will say that the butter and sugar don’t whip up quite as light and fluffy as they would with a finer-grain sugar and that’s why my version isn’t as tall and stately as Emma’s loaf. But I’m not so sure it’s a short coming, really. For the glaze, Emma suggests any dark booze you have: rum, bourbon or brandy. I opted for rum and folded a little into the batter itself. Last, full-fat eggnog is the best choice for this recipe as the lower-fat varieties won’t become nearly as frothy.
Adapted from: Emma Christensen’s recipe for The Kitchn
Heat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×5 loaf pan with parchment so that the extra hangs over the sides. Spray the parchment and loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the eggnog at high speed until it becomes frothy and airy, about 8 minutes. Don’t expect it to actually firm up like whipped cream as it has other ingredients (namely eggs) preventing that. Keep the frothy eggnog in the refrigerator until ready to use.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the two flours, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
Wash the bowl to your standing mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Beat the butter at medium speed until it become creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the sugar until the mixture is is smooth and well-incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla and the rum. Scrape down the sides as needed.
Add the flour mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer, and mix on low until the ingredients just come together into a dough. Be careful not to overmix.
Using a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the whipped eggnog into the batter. Then fold the remaining eggnog into the batter. It will feel pretty loose at first, but don’t worry: just keep gently folding and stirring, and eventually it will form a nice, pourable batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then lift the loaf out by the parchment paper and transfer it to a cooling rack. Remove the parchment.
When the loaf has cooled but is still warm to the touch, whisk together the glaze and spoon over the top of the loaf. Allow the loaf to sit until the icing is set and dry. Slice and serve. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to three days.
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.