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.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
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).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.