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.
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.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.