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.
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.