I wake up in the morning and consult the Google calendar. Lately I’m not sure how I could make much of anything happen without it. Tasks are driven largely by to-do lists with breaks for an occasional lunch. And lots of granola baking in between. My yoga teacher hasn’t seen a whole lot of me, and Sam and I finally went grocery shopping for real last night (it’s been awhile). This time of year seems populated by things that other people need done: from the farmers market organizers to new Marge vendors and book-related emails — there’s a lot to tend to. That is, until the craving to bake cookies strikes on Sunday night and it seems that, actually, everyone can wait.
This newfound uber-busyness is largely because the farmers market season has started for Marge, so the week is dotted with new markets, new baking days, and lots of errands. Regardless, we’re going to try and sneak away on Saturday night for a quick camping trip. Preferably with cookies, a little flask of bourbon, some oats for morning oatmeal, a good flashlight and a few books. Sam wants to cook steak over the coals — I’m nervous about that and am voting for pesto pasta instead. We’ll see who wins out.
Ultimately, I suppose, it really doesn’t matter because we’ll be in the woods without email. And sometimes when everyone else needs something from you (and needs it now), it’s really nice to just close the computer screen, put on a Townes Van Zandt record, and do something for no other reason than ‘just because.’ Like getting out in the woods or baking cookies. I hope you enjoy a long weekend, too. And that you answer to no one other than yourself. For at least a day.
A quick note on these cookies: These were inspired by a cookie recipe on Sprouted Kitchen last week for Mapled Chocolate Chip Cookies. For ‘just because’ cookies, these may seem a little high maintenance on first glance. But they’re really not. The method is a wet/dry ingredient affair, but I do understand that all of the ingredients may not be in your cupboards. Quinoa flakes are so wonderful in baked goods — they add a nice, chewy texture and a good hit of protein. They’re easy to come by in gourmet or natural grocery stores but if you can’t track them down, feel free to substitute rolled oats (not instant) instead. If you don’t have almond meal, simply grind raw almonds down in your food processor until a fine powder forms. As for flax seeds, they’re optional. They add a nice crunch that I really love, but you could also grind them into a powder and fold them in that way instead; your body will absorb the nutrients more readily, but you’re sacrificing that beloved crunch. And I choose crunch. Ultimately, for this weekend at least, choose what makes you happiest.
As with all of my recipes, substitute away as you wish. If you like raisins or dried cranberries, you could fold those in in lieu of chocolate chips. Instead of pecans, chopped hazelnuts would be dreamy. As would walnuts. And instead of whole-wheat flour, spelt flour would be a great swap. You’re going to pull these cookies out of the oven and they’re going to seem not quite done — they’ll firm up slightly as they cool, and they’re oh-so-wonderful when they sag a little in the middle. They’re much softer and chewier than they are firm and crisp — just how I like them. I think that you will, too.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or line with an oven-safe baking mat.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or hand beaters, cream the butter and both sugars on medium speed until they’re pale and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and salt and mix until just combined.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the almond meal, quinoa flakes, whole-wheat flour, and baking soda. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add the chocolate, coconut, flax and pecans and fold a few times to combine – be careful not to over mix. Cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight.
Form a heaping tablespoon of the mixture into a ball and place on the baking sheet, 1 ½-inches apart. Flatten very gently with the palm of your hand and sprinkle the tops with flaky salt. Bake for about 12-14 minutes, or until golden on top (they may seem a touch underdone, but they’ll continue to crisp up as they cool).
Remove from the oven and cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
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.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.