This very week, each year, I’m faced with immense vacation guilt. If you’ve been reading the site for awhile, you know that Sam and I visit my mom’s cabin in Upstate New York for July 4th each year. Grandparents, aunts and uncles come. A small handful of cousins along with a few novels, a bit of sunscreen, and some old tennis rackets. What doesn’t come along are work emails or granola orders or vendor spreadsheets. And at first I always feel like the world might come crashing down if I leave these things for one week. And then I always return and pick up right where I left off … with a decided lack of world-crashing-down. So I’m reminding myself of that this morning, one day before we take off, with just enough time for me to share these delicious fresh banana blondies with you.
About a month ago, I received Dan Lepard’s indispensable baking book, Short & Sweet, in the mail. I think that if you had to own just three baking books, this should be one of them. Lepard writes a baking column for The Guardian with recipes that maintain a real likeable simplicity while still taking swift yet subtle forays into new places — especially in regards to whole grain flours (and I love this about him). There are Rye Hazelnut Brownies, Blueberry Creme Fraiche Cupcakes and a Marmalade Layer Cake. There are Raspberry Ripple Tarts and Sticky Toffee Apple Buns. He also has a wonderful chapter on bread baking, with accessible recipes for quick loaves, rolls, baguettes and whole-wheat breads (hellllooo walnut loaf!). It was almost impossible to choose just one recipe but the Banana Blondies really stuck out so I gathered up a few ingredients and set out to make what I knew would be the perfect treat for us to travel with.
And then I changed the whole recipe. Not deliberately and not so I could claim that I’d “adapted” it at the bottom of this post. In truth: I didn’t want to use white flour like the recipe called for and have, instead, been wanting to experiment more with einkorn flour (more below). I also didn’t want to use white sugar. And Lepard calls for this scrumptious sounding toffee that you make and fold in and, well, I’m truly awful at making toffee. So I changed everything up and added walnuts and chocolate instead — and while I’m sure Lepard’s recipe is divine, these are too. And because of that, I can’t wait to continue to draw inspiration from this book all summer long.
If any occasion were worthy of fresh banana blondies, it would be one in which my first cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings, goes on sale for pre-order on Amazon. It doesn’t officially release until January 1, but you can order it now and you’ll be one of the first to get it at the start of the New Year. I know many of you have followed along from the first announcement to the preview of the photo shoot, so I wanted to give you the latest update. My publisher and I had a lot of back and forth discussions about the cover with many differing opinions and weeks and weeks of nail-biting, but at the end of the day, this is truly a book that I’ll be so happy to own and that I’m already cooking from often. If you like and frequent this space, I think you’re going to like it as much as I do. And as a sidenote, I’m also on Goodreads where I often list what I’m reading and where you can learn even more about the cookbook. I’d love to connect with you all there, too!
Because I won’t be back here for a little over a week, I wanted to leave you with something more than a recipe for the best-ever blondies. I wanted to leave you with a few lines from a new-to-me-poem by a beloved poet. In her poem, Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches, Mary Oliver, asks: “Listen! Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” Later she notes that, if not: “Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!” So that’s what we’re about to do. Dusting off the tennis rackets, picking out a few new novels (I’m planning on digging into The Burgess Boys and Capital), and putting an “away message” on our email accounts. We’ll stay in Manhattan for a quick day, with plans to fit in a few meals at Prune and Red Rooster and then off we go on a train headed for the country. I’ll be back with some photos to share with you, as usual. And hopefully a good recipe or two. In the meantime: blondies, books, poetry and “breathing just a little.”
A quick note on einkorn: If you’ve never used einkorn flour, it’s a wheat flour that acts much like white all-purpose flour in baking recipes so it’s a really easy one to substitute without noticing much of a change in taste or texture. Einkorn is technically the first species of wheat so it’s completely non-hybridized and is considered to be, genetically, the purest form of wheat available. You can buy einkorn wheat berries and use them however you like to use farro or another heartier grain at home (grain salads etc.) or you can buy the flour and use it in your favorite baking recipes. It has a subtle, slightly sweet flavor and a beautifully soft texture. If you don’t have einkorn flour, spelt flour would work really well in this recipe — or certainly feel free to use all-purpose flour, too (or a mix of all-purpose and your favorite whole-grain flour). If you use something interesting, I’d love to hear about it!
When I first pulled these out of the oven, I was sure I’d have to title this recipe “Banana Cake” as they looked far puffier than a good blondie should be. But don’t over-bake them and allow them to truly cool completely before serving and they’ll resemble the best of both worlds: a slightly cakey blondie.
Inspired by: Short & Sweet
Butter an 8-inch square pan. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a small saucepan, heat the butter and white chocolate over low heat until combined — stir occasionally to prevent burning. Scrape the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or feel free to use a bowl with electric beaters). Add the banana pieces, vanilla, and natural sugar and beat until just combined. Stop the mixer and add the egg. Continue beating until smooth.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. With the mixer running, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in three rounds, being careful not to over-mix. Once combined into an even batter, fold in the walnut pieces and chocolate chips and spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the middle no longer wiggles. Let cool for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving. Store leftovers at room temperature, covered, for 2-3 days.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
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).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.