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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.