When I lived in California, I’d often meet up with my friend Susan and hike the hills of Marin. Situated just North of San Francisco, Marin has some of the most beautiful trails — in the spring, there’d be boisterous waterfalls and in the fall there were dry and humble hills. I owned a tattered hiking book that covered the region and over the phone the night before we’d meet, Susan and I would eagerly decide on a trail to tackle. The funny thing about the book? It wasn’t at all accurate. It wasn’t fact-checked. We got lost each and every time we used it. And for some reason, we kept coming back for more. I’m not really sure why, especially considering I’m not someone who favors getting lost off the beaten path just for the heck of it. Repeatedly. But I do know that, because of the poor directions, an adventure always seemed to sneak into our afternoon hikes. The book got us to the trailhead and then about halfway through, we realized we were very much on our own.
I thought of my hikes with Susan last week while in San Francisco for the IACP conference — a few very busy days filled with food and travel writers, photographers, editors, agents, and PR folks. Being back in the city was wonderful; I met up with many old friends, ate guacamole and vegan tortillas at Gracias Madre in the Mission, met my wonderful editor for the first time, had my fill of Blue Bottle Coffee, finally made it to Craftsman and Wolves, and enjoyed a thick and most glorious piece of toast with strawberry jam at The Mill. At the conference itself, I found myself feeling the same way I’d felt on the trails with Susan: I’d approached the sessions and talks with immense enthusiasm and gusto only to be left halfway through scratching my head wondering where I’d landed. This time there wasn’t an actual trail, but a large room full of people discussing book tours and the like, throwing out tips about corporate sponsorship, twitter meet-ups and “tastemaker” (?!) dinners.
A natural human inclination in scenarios like this, I think, is just to excuse it all as silly. It’s not me. That’s fine for them, but I need to be true to who I really am. And I feel that way. I really do. But at the end of the day we all need to make a living too, and those folks discussing corporate sponsorships and tastemaker dinners have that part much more figured out than I do. So what’s the best way to approach our work then? We can be quietly true to who we think we are and to the craft of writing and making food that we genuinely love, or we can become our own lobbyist and PR firm, figuring out ways to make more of a business out of it all? Perhaps the two aren’t even mutually exclusive in the first place — I don’t know. With a book coming out this year, it all makes me a little nervous to think about. There is some truth to the fact that eventually, to continue to succeed in this wacky digital world we all live in, I’m going to have to get more comfortable with some elements of this business that don’t necessarily feed my soul. This involves a lot of unknowns and a lot of that mid-trail feeling of panic.
There are, however, a few things I do know for sure: I know that I love talking to you all about the kind of food I make at home and the way we eat around here. I’m passionate about whole-grains and about baking with whole-grain flours. I know that I love teaching cooking classes, doing farmers markets for Marge and meeting new people in the community. So this will likely be the way I find my way to the end of the trail. Someone else’s path will likely look a lot different. But that’s the only way any of us are going to get there — focusing on what we love and what we’re inherently good at. All the while, crossing our fingers and holding our breath just a little.
This spring sauce is an appropriate recipe to share with you today because I’m giving you an accessible formula for which to approach it (this is your guidebook!) and then it’s up to you to decide how to use it. The roasted scallions join with the toasty walnuts and the bright lemon for a spring spread that gets a lot of play in our kitchen. With savory recipes, I love a dollop of the pesto-like spread, and keep a little jar in the refrigerator regardless of the season. It does wonders to wake up warm leftover grains, soft-scrambled eggs, or simple buckwheat crepes. It’s nice slathered on english muffins or as a spread for crackers or flat bread. I think you’re going to like it.
Feel free to experiment with adding fresh herbs if you have them around. I’ve made this with a heaping tablespoon of fresh dill and it was wonderful. A handful of fresh cilantro is nice, too. I generally end up adding about 1/4 cup of water to thin the sauce to where I like it, so feel free to use more or less depending on how thick you’d like yours. You can also always thin it out as you use it each time.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and toast the walnuts until fragrant, about 7-9 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.
Increase the temperature to 400 F and roast the scallions with 1 tablespoon olive oil (or enough to lightly coat each) until wilted and slightly charred on the tops, about 12-14 minutes. Allow to cool and slice off and discard the white, nubby bottoms.
Place cooled walnuts in the food processor and grind until fine. Add the scallions, parsley, salt, lemon juice, vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil. Process until smooth. The sauce should be the consistency of a thick pesto. If it’s too thick, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to get a spoon-able consistency that you’re happy with.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.
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.