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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.