New Circles

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A few months ago I went to a food writing conference in San Francisco and attended a session on managing to make good money as a cookbook author or freelance writer. It was a late night session and I hadn’t had a chance to grab dinner (or lunch, for that matter), so my friend Sarah and I slurped down a quick bowl of tortilla soup at the lobby bar and jetted over to grab our seats. In addition to questions about payment and negotiation, the organizers asked us to confidentially rate our level of happiness in our field of work. During the session, I soon realized I was the only one who rated my happiness below an 8. My reason — which I happily shared that night: it’s lonely work. There are days when I don’t see anyone besides Sam and the woman at the grocery check-out line. You’d think a nice antidote to this would be the work I do with Marge where I’m on my feet in a very physical production kitchen — and it is. But I’m still the main baker and, until quite recently, I was alone in the kitchen. So I generally go from writing at home in my office to baking alone in a commercial kitchen. For a person who generally likes people and enjoys talking and sharing ideas and inspiration, I’m out of luck on both counts. But slowly, over the past few weeks, I’ve started to realize things are changing. For the better — and for good, I think.
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After well over a year baking at Delancey on their days off, I’ve recently rented a new space in a glorious, big shared commercial kitchen downtown. In the Bay Area, I rented a shared space as well and befriended Cassandra and Kate, who make caramel corn and cupcakes, respectively. There was always hustle and bustle in that kitchen — and I generally left with a few tamales for dinner or an empanada or two to have for lunch the next day from one of the food trucks that would park outside. My new kitchen here in Seattle has buttery walls and huge windows overlooking a quiet tree-lined street. There are 6 convection ovens (!!), I have three times the amount of storage (read: no more fifty-pound bags of oats in the back of my car) and I bake while other companies are around. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t realize how much I missed that. I don’t yet know everyone’s name but there are three women who make ice cream for a living, on Sunday morning I work with a woman starting her own chocolate company and a man who bakes for a big wholesale cookie company. We share information on vendors, packaging and distribution. There’s chatting and laughter. It’s just what  I need.

In addition to the new shared kitchen, I’ve started doing farmers markets for the summer season. I thought long and hard about hiring someone to do the markets for me — everyone told me it wasn’t the best use of my time, and that I should focus on building the company and being the face of the brand rather than standing outside for hours on end selling a few bags of granola each week. Well, I’m happy to report that Marge is selling far more than a few bags of granola at the markets. And after a lot of deliberation, I’ve decided I’ll be the only one to do them. I’m convinced that the granola sells so well because of the connection I make with the neighborhood families, couples and students. I know that Jeannette likes to mix the Apricot Pistachio granola into her cookie batter; I know that Steve, an older gentleman with a bit of a lisp, will agree to try a sample but only under the pretenses that he’s not going to buy anything — and then he inevitably buys a bag each week; I know that Sara stops by to avoid rush hour traffic and buys a bag of granola each week to send to her pregnant daughter in Ohio. She really likes to talk about the weather and always asks me if I packed a raincoat … just in case.

I’m starting to get to know the other vendors, too. There’s Cougar (how could you forget that name?) who works for a baking company down the row from me. They drive a cool blue VW bus that Sam covets. There’s (another) Sam who makes fresh pasta and has set an all-time record for taking down his tent and entire set-up in about 8 minutes flat. I aspire to be that good someday. Many of us trade with one another when the market ends. I usually come home with smoked salmon, salad greens, fresh pasta, and berries. It could be much worse. In the time in between markets, I’m often doing deliveries or dropping boxes at the post office where I run into Avery who stands outside each weekday selling the Real Change newspaper. Because we see each other so often, he now opens the door for me and we often chat about what he ate for lunch (yesterday it was curry). Sam brought him a bag of granola once about a month ago and ever since, he gives me almost-inappropriate hugs and has coined Sam “The King” and me “Queen.” Yes, trips to the post office have become more interesting.

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These people are all part of my new circle — all because of Marge, really, and this little thing I’ve created that I can really feel expanding and stretching its limbs. Because of all of these changes, it’s been a touch quieter than I’d like around here lately. But I’ve been excited to write this post for awhile now — to share with you this new toy that is taking up prime real estate in our kitchen right now, and a cookbook that has earned a place on top of our stack. The appliance is the Nutrimill Grain Mill and the book is Gluten-Free Girl Everyday  by our friend Shauna Ahern and her husband, Danny. Not surprisingly, the two go together hand-in-hand.

If you’re new to the idea of home grain mills, they’ve really come a long way. They used to be big and heavy and cumbersome. Now you can choose hand mills or electric mills — the Nutrimill happens to be light, relatively quiet and electric. With it, you can mill everything from quinoa flour to coarse cornmeal to garbanzo beans or buckwheat. I can just see my mom reading this right now and scratching her head: why go to the trouble? Why not just buy flour from the store? It’s a good question and we certainly still buy flour from the market, but if you grind your own you’re guaranteed the freshest, most delicious flour available (and you can really taste the difference). Also I’m not sure if you’ve tried to buy, say, quinoa flour lately but it’s pricey. Really pricey. As are many specialty grain flours, and this little contraption makes it easy to just dump in a few cups of quinoa and out comes silky, beautiful, affordable flour.

Now how does Shauna’s book play into this idea of new circles of people and belonging and grain mills? If you’ve met Shauna in person, she welcomes you into her home as if she’s known you forever. There is laughter and bare feet and, if you’re lucky, Danny might make you lunch. From the first time I met Shauna, I felt we’d been friends for some time. And, of course, she happens to be gluten-free so she knows her whole-grain flours inside and out, constantly experimenting to find blends and mixes that she likes and that translate to recipes typically calling for white flour. And that’s where everything converges. With beautiful fluffy whole-grain waffles from her cookbook, with milling my own flour in the morning, and with a new realization of why it makes sense for me to stand at the markets each week: to see this new circle that I’m now a small part of.

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The original waffle recipe in Shauna’s book is actually a savory one: Millet Waffles with Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraîche and Capers. I’d bookmarked the recipe a few weeks ago, and Sam and I had even picked up smoked salmon. But then at yesterday’s farmers market I traded granola for these beautiful little summer strawberries from Alm Hill and couldn’t stop thinking about this coconut milk whipped cream, so a slight tweak was born. I’d make Shauna’s delicious waffles, but instead of doing them savory, I’d add a little lemon zest, touch of sugar and vanilla and top them with sliced berries and coconut milk whipped cream.

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I used a blend of millet, teff and buckwheat flour for these waffles. Shauna has a recipe for the blend in her book — if you don’t yet own the book, you can read her  relatively recent post on making your own blend at home from a variety of different flours. Now I realize many of you don’t have a flour mill at home and want a simple, doable waffle recipe. You can certainly buy bags of flour outright instead of milling them, and feel free to experiment with other whole-grain flours you see in the store. I think these waffles would be wonderful with a mixture of buckwheat and spelt flour. You could play around with whole-wheat flour, oat flour, and/or barley flour. The operative word here is “play,” I think. And it’s a word you’ll find often throughout the pages of Shauna and Danny’s book.

Although I planned on having these waffles for breakfast, the morning got away from me so we had them for lunch instead — it felt decadent and made an average Thursday feel like a Sunday. Just for a few minutes. And then I left the house and walked to the post office to drop off a few packages. Avery met me and opened the door enthusiastically: “Queen! I didn’t think I’d see you today!” He bid me farewell with his characteristic too-long-for-comfort hug and a request that I say hi to The King when I see him. I got home and did just that.

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A quick note on kitchen scales: When beginning to work with whole grain flours, it’s really important to dust off that kitchen scale. If you don’t have one, they’re relatively inexpensive and really come in handy for a variety of reasons. I use this one and love it. Why are they so important? 1 cup of one variety of whole grain flour won’t weight the same as 1 cup of another. For example, 1/2 cup of buckwheat flour isn’t going to weigh the same as 1/2 cup of quinoa flour. This is important because if you swap in and out flours and are only going by cup measurements, your proportions will be off and your end product will suffer. But if you’re weighing your whole-grain flours, you can’t go wrong: you know that, even if you’re not using Shauna’s Whole-Grain Baking Mix, if you use 170 grams of your favorite whole-grain flour blend, you’ll have delicious waffles.

Millet Waffles with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream

Millet Waffles with Strawberries and Coconut Whipped Cream

  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Cook time: 15 mins
  • Total time: 1 hr

In my humble opinion, the coconut milk whipped cream is indispensable here. Do note that it works best when the can of coconut milk has been refrigerated overnight. I forgot and did a slight cheater’s version by popping it in the freezer for an hour, so mine was a touch looser than I would’ve liked — but no less delicious. Regardless of method, it does need chilling to help it whip successfully, so plan ahead for that. And while I used strawberries here, any juicy seasonal berry would be delicious. Sam has put in a request for thinly-sliced banana next time. I think he may be onto something.

Adapted from: Gluten-Free Girl Everyday

Ingredients

For Waffles:

170 grams whole-grain flour mix* (See explanation above)
55 grams (About 1/3 cup) cooked millet
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 cup buttermilk, plus more to thin out the batter if needed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled (should still be liquid but not hot to the touch)
Neutral-tasting oil, to grease the waffle iron

To Top:

1 1/2 cups washed strawberries, hulled and sliced

Instructions

Prepare the batter: Whisk together the flour, millet, baking powder, salt and natural cane sugar in a bowl. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, stir together the buttermilk, vanilla extract, eggs and lemon zest. Add the melted and cooled coconut oil and stir well. Pour in the liquids into the dry ingredients and stir together with a rubber spatula until the batter is well combined. If the batter seems to thick to scoop and pour, add 1-3 tablespoons additional buttermilk to loosen it up a bit. Let batter sit for 30 minutes before you make the waffles.

Make the waffles: Preheat the oven to 250 F. Turn on your waffle iron, and when it’s come to full heat, brush both surfaces with oil and pour about 1/2 cup of the batter into the bottom of the iron. Cook until the waffle is golden brown and crisp on the edges, about 5 minutes. Put the waffles in  the warmed oven while you cook off the rest.

To serve: Arrange 1-2 waffles on each plate and spoon a generous scoop of strawberries onto each. Dollop the coconut whipped cream on top.

Comments

  1. Ryan

    Glad to hear that you like the nutrimill! My best advice is to never taste anything with bean flour in it before you have cooked it. You will taste it all day!

  2. Nicole

    I totally understand your need for community. It is one of my greatest struggles here in Alaska.
    I was curious, is Cougar from Port Townsend? I have only known one Cougar (real name) and he was the son of a friend in Port Townsend when I lived there.

    1. megang

      Gosh, Nicole: I don't know. But very good chance, huh? I'll ask him next Wednesday!

  3. Nancy

    Hi Megan, this recipe sounds great and the new mill looks terrific. I remember how large and heavy the old mills were. I'm glad that there is so much joy in your work days now. Have fun and thank you again for all the interesting recipes.

  4. Kristin

    It's wonderful to read the contentment here, Megan. Very happy for you! Let's get together soon! So sad to miss Saturday.

    1. megang

      I'm bummed we're missing each other, too! Yes to getting together very soon! Enjoy Chicago!

  5. momgordon

    Actually your mom was thinking if you find one of these grain mills on my counter, it might be time to take me to the home!
    Love the thoughts on community! xox

  6. charlotte au chocolat

    These look so delicious, and I love the idea of coconut whipped cream! Glad you've been finding more of a community- it does make such a difference!

    1. megang

      Charlotte-The whipped cream is really to die for. I just bought another can today at the store so we can make it again. Hope you're enjoying your week! mg

  7. Tim

    I hadn't visited your site for a long while. My loss. I am phasing out of Cal and am looking forward to scaling down. I am glad for a little lonely time. Like you I too loved the energy at the kitchen and the folks you mentioned. Ebb, flow and on we go. Best to you. Hey! I'll have more time to check out my favorite sites.

    1. megang

      Great, Tim! Glad to have you back. Lonely time is always nice. We're finally going on vacation in about a week and I can't wait for some "lonely time" of just doing a whole lot of nothing. Nice to hear from you + nice to see a comment from you. All best, mg

  8. Leah

    I quite enjoyed this story! I can completely empathize that creative work can be isolating. It's lovely to hear you have more people and places in your life right now! I think you made 100% the right decision to do the markets yourself. You probably sell more by being there in person and connecting with people. It's win win! Thanks for sharing.

  9. molly

    I have been grinning for days, after first reading this :) I love the idea of your new circles, radiating out, like a perfect polished agate tossed into the Sound, all the way here to MY new backyard (Ohio). Good granola is like that. As are good people.

    Cheers Megan,

    M

    1. megang

      Well, Molly: reading your comment made me smile for hours. Thank you so, so much. Always hard to know if a post resonates at all with anyone, so always nice to hear that it has :) Hope summer is treating you well and you're enjoying that NEW backyard (yahoo!). xox, mg

  10. Denise

    I am so happy (and proud) for you and Marge. Things are really taking off for you, and it is so well deserved. Now back to these waffles ... sounds like a lazy Sunday morning is in our near future.

    1. megang

      Thanks, Denise! Yes... things are growing pretty quickly, it feels. Which is good (depending on the day you ask). But seriously: these waffles. They're always good. Miss you!

  11. Ileana

    Glad to hear this! I found myself in a similar situation not long ago. It is lonely. Now I'm in an office job and catching up with coworkers every day is a big perk. Now if only they'd give me food. ;)

    Anyway, loved this post.

  12. Kasey

    M, I'm so glad to hear you've got a new kitchen space and people around you! I can definitely see how it can get lonely working by yourself day in and day out. I think about that sometimes when I consider a future freelance career. It's nice to be in an environment surrounded by like-minded people. Waffles are my favorite way to start a weekend - must check out Shauna's book :) xo

  13. Sara

    Congrats on the new space! I'm so happy for you, and it sounds like it will be really fun and.. maybe even inspiring? Keep up the good work!

  14. Julie

    I'm glad you found a new "circle." It took me a long time to find friends and a social life when we moved out here: I work from home, and it can be difficult to meet people when you don't have school or kids to automatically bring you together. I've made some great friends here now, but I'm still working on figuring out my balance.

    My trick is to go to a coffee shop a few days a week to work. Even if I don't directly talk to the other people there, I'm still around people and talking and out of the house!

    1. megang

      Hi Julie! Man do I agree about getting out of the house ... it helps a lot. It's so much easier to just stay in because it's comfortable and you can make yourself lunch and wait neurotically for the mail (that's me, at least) but it is good to mix up the routine. Glad you're settled with your new "circle." Enjoy your week! ~mg

  15. Courtney

    As someone who sells at a farmers market every week (alone) and bakes at a commercial kitchen (alone) this post really hit close to home. I realized a couple of weeks ago that the main reason I do the farmers market is because of the connections I make with people. I'm not an out-going person by nature, but I love being able to talk to people about something I'm really passionate about (even if they don't buy anything!). Thanks for sharing and I'll definitely have to check out Shauna's book soon since I have a gluten sensitivity :)

    1. megang

      Man, Courtney ... don't I know! Really nice to hear about your experience, too. And if you have a gluten sensitivity you MUST check out Shauna's book. I truly love it and have started to cook from it quite a bit. Enjoy your weekend! mg

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