Early last week brought longer days than usual, a bit of a commute downtown, parking garages, to-go coffees and take-out lunches. It brought a complete lack of yoga, a few more glasses of wine in the evenings, and immense difficulty sleeping. All of this thanks to the photo shoot for my cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings. I entered into the week nervous and apprehensive: what if for some reason the recipes don’t look photo-worthy? What if the many personalities on set (photographer, food stylist, Ten Speed art director, myself) don’t all mesh? What will be on the cover? What if, what if, what if. It turned out all those worries were for naught and I really could’ve slept a bit more, and perhaps had one fewer glass of wine.
The photo shoot was in downtown Seattle at Clare Barboza’s light-drenched studio. I was matched up with Clare months ago, and couldn’t feel more lucky. She gets my aesthetic — we talked about food styling and keeping everything very loose and spare with a soft, neutral color palette. I brought many of my own dishes and linens from home and Clare was happy to use them (although, as you can see, she’s really not lacking in amazing props). The cookbook itself is going to be highly visual with all of the plated/styled shots by Clare and a number of other photos by me. They’ll be of our Seattle life, our house, garden, and farmer’s market. At first, I was concerned that the images would feel disjointed and wondered why I’d agreed on structuring the book in such a way. But now, when I look at all of the images together, it’s a seamless fit — I can’t wait to show you!
Julie Hopper is Clare’s incredible food stylist and she made my recipes look stunning (for those of you who don’t know, the food stylist prepares all of the recipes and helps style them for the photo). I actually don’t quite know what she did to the tops of my Pear Muffins, but they were perfectly domed with just the right amount of nuts scattered in every little nook and cranny. Julie was a joy to work with, has an enviable collection of sweet aprons and stylish boots, and a calm disposition as she set out using her medical tweezers to move little bits of thyme around a plate. She’d often call me over to the kitchen to ask how I felt about the way something looked or ask questions about whole-grain cook times. In this way, the three-day shoot felt more collaborative than I could’ve ever hoped and, at least for me, celebratory. I left each evening smiling big.
During the shoot itself, there was a lot of downtime while the recipes were prepped and while Clare and Julie set up the initial shots. There was email-checking, tea-making, clementine-snacking, and a lot of general gawking. There were so many surreal moments like the one above where a recipe I worked on for months was being seriously discussed by two smart, talented, professional women and we were all weighing in on angles, the perfect amount of crumbs and messiness, and whether or not it was a cover candidate. Betsy, the art director from Ten Speed, would take each finished photo and plunk it into a working PDF; seeing the photos side by side in the order in which they’d appear in the book was pretty incredible — equal parts validation and relief. After all that worry, it was really all coming together.
The toughest part of the shoot was the debate over the cover image. Weeks before we all met, my editor and I talked about potential recipes for the cover and flagged them — so during our shoot, we all knew which recipes were cover candidates and they were given lots of extra attention in terms of spacing, where we could fit the type, and what would be the perfect crop. I have a breakfast cobbler recipe that I think we worked on for over 3 hours — and it didn’t end up getting approved. So there are ups and downs: moments when everyone in the room is jazzed about a potentially beautiful cover but it turns out that the publisher doesn’t think it’s a good fit. Or vise versa. We’re still working out what will be on the cover. In the meantime, I’ve decided to go back to yoga and real life has crept back in. As it usually does. I made 100 pounds of Marge granola yesterday morning and shipped out boxes to 8 different states. I’ve got deadlines and dinner plans and a hike on the calendar this Saturday. So life goes on.
For those of you who are regular readers, you know that the book is coming out this December, 2013. It’s a seasonal cookbook focusing on a fresh new approach to breakfasts featuring many of my favorite whole-grains. One of the things I’m most excited about is the organization (which my friend Shauna helped me think through): you know how what we eat for breakfast on, say, a busy Wednesday usually looks quite different from what we eat on a lazy Sunday? I wanted to recognize those differences and allow this book to be not just a pretty cookbook, but a refreshingly useful one as well. So each season is split up into sections representative of the different kinds of mornings we all have; you’ll be able to flip to a recipe that speaks to the way you want to do breakfast on any given day.
I have to admit: I’ve been cooking from the cookbook a great deal ever since I turned it in. Sam’s started to put in requests. We’re enjoying living with the recipes and really letting them settle into our household. I’m even finding myself tweak and adapt them further which is to be expected, I suppose. I truly can’t wait to share it with you later this year and to see which recipes you allow to settle into your own household.
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.