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 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.