We are in the thick of June now, aren’t we? Seems so sudden but the neighbor kid across the street bounces his basketball at all hours of the day instead of just after school, and we’ve had a few real sundress afternoons in Seattle. I remember when summer used to be this broad expanse of what seemed like endless time. There were trips to the local library with my mom, outdoor sprinklers, mid-day naps and sleepovers that included spoonfuls of raw cookie dough with my best friend, Kristin. It obviously looks different now. There is a noticeable lack of mid-day naps and raw cookie dough, that’s for sure. There are deadlines and work obligations, but at least they’re often punctuated with sunny mornings, outdoor cocktails at our funky little picnic table, occasional gardening and quick camping trips.
While the days are longer, for some reason they tend to fill up just as quickly so lunch often ends up a haphazard meal — usually a combination of leftover grains, some vegetables from the crisper and a fried egg. Alternatively, a substantial salad or Sam’s coleslaw is a good fill in. But this year, I’ve gotten really into cold soba noodle salads. The noodles cook in a mere 4 minutes and they’re just as good cold as they are warm. If you’re new to soba noodles, they’re made of buckwheat so they’re naturally gluten-free (just be sure to buy the buckwheat variety if gluten is a concern as they do make wheat-based soba noodles now, too). They feel much lighter than traditional pasta noodles, making them a natural choice for the warmer summer months.
Along with seasonal lunch slumps comes the inevitable summer hustle of weddings, graduations, social obligations … you know. In the midst of all that, it’s often easy to retreat into quicker, easier ways of coordinating our days. Last week I read a great article in The New York Times by Jonathan Safran Foer called How Not to Be Alone (thanks to Olaiya for passing it on). In it, Safran Foer discusses how so many of us have begun to prefer substitutes for actually connecting with family, friends and neighbors instead of the real thing. I’m just as guilty: I’ll often prefer text messages over phone calls to quickly arrange meetings with friends. Sam chides me at the farmers market because there are some people who just like to stand at the booth and chat — obviously not intending to buy a bag of granola and, truthfully, blocking the table for others who may wish to. He always assures me they could be customers someday once I make a genuine connection with them. Or maybe they’re just having a rough day and need to chat. In Sam’s camp, Safran Foer mentions that “everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy.”
The final paragraph of his essay really caught my breath. I read it a few times. Then I thought about it for two days straight: “We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.” It’s easy to forget all of that. It’s easy to look past the people standing at your farmers market booth who want to say hello — just because. It’s easy to text your friends with business questions instead of calling or curse your landlord for not having email, thereby forcing you to actually pick up the phone.
I can’t say that I’ve mastered any of it. I still like emails and text messages to coordinate with friends and family; it gives me time to measure my response and check the calendar. But this article made me pause as I think about my last post and how much better I feel having more people in my day-to-day life now. I guess I was saying the same thing as Safran Foer — just not as eloquently. Connecting with each other is all we have. Today it’s easier to skirt around it than to actually dive in. But maybe, just for the summer, we can all practice the fine art of the dive. I’m going to try.
After I put the photos of this recipe up on the site, I realized it looks quite similar to this pasta salad with avocado dressing that I made weeks ago. I must be in a the mood for seedy pasta dishes with flavor-forward sauces — because here we are again. But this one is quite different, I assure you. Since seeing the parsley pesto recipe in Bon Appetit, I’ve had parsley on my mind. My version has a bit of added garlic and lemon zest for brightness. It’s super green — which I love — and is a great way to use up leftover parsley.
Beyond the noodles, this salad has all of the textures a good noodle salad should have: crisp radishes and English cucumbers paired with mild sheep’s milk cheese and toasty seeds — a most satisfying summer lunch on its own or a great accompaniment to a larger dinner spread. In truth, you can add any vegetables (or cubed tofu) you’d like here: blanched asparagus, summer carrots or English peas would be colorful and delicious. Or chop up a mess of summer greens like kale or arugula and fold those in at the end. If you try a variation, I’d love to hear about it!
I like this salad cold but you could certainly rinse the soba noodles under hot water instead of cold water, toss it all together and serve hot. A quick logistics note: there are pepitas in both the salad and the pesto, so plan to purchase and use 1 1/2 cups total. Next time I make this, I’m going to top each serving with a bit of lemon zest, and maybe even fold chopped parsley into the salad itself. Red chile flakes would be nice, too.
For Parsley Pesto (Makes about 1 1/4 cups pesto)
Cook the soba noodles in a medium pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes. Drain then rinse thoroughly under cold water. Drain again and pat dry.
Toast the seeds: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lay all of the pepitas (1 1/2 cups) in an even layer on one side of a rimmed baking sheet and sesame seeds on the other side. Toast for about 5 minutes, or until slightly fragrant — the sesame seeds should become more golden than white. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Make the pesto: Pulse 3/4 cup toasted and cooled pepitas in a food processor until smooth. Add parsley, garlic, chives, oil and Parmesan and process until smooth. Fold in lemon zest and season with salt and pepper.
Assemble: In a large bowl, toss together the soba noodles with the radishes, green onion, cucumber, toasted seeds (I reserve about a tablespoon of each to sprinkle on top) and ¾ cup – 1 cup parsley pesto. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the ricotta salata at the end. Divide into serving bowls and sprinkle with some the reserved toasted seeds. Leftovers will keep for 2-3 days if covered and refrigerated.
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 always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
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.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.