We’re back! After a restful few days in Lake George, I ended up flying home while Sam spent a little time with his family in New Jersey and a few days in New York City by himself before taking the train all the way back to Seattle (a solid four day journey). If you know Sam, this isn’t surprising; he loves trains. When he’s gone, I quickly revert back to my single gal days of eating veggie quesadillas for dinner (over and over) and staying up working later than I’d like. We would talk on the phone often as Sam would narrate his very full days in New York City and the stops and layovers he had while on the train. After a few days of me lamenting the fact that I wasn’t there to experience it all with him, he encouraged me to ditch the quesadillas and do something special for dinner. See a movie. Go to the museum for just an hour. In short: I needed to get better at dating myself.
I love seeing new things, trying new restaurants and traveling just as much as Sam. But I’m not as good at going it alone; I like to experience things with other people. I always romanticize traveling alone and then when I’m in the thick of it, I realize I’m not the biggest fan. Sam’s the complete opposite, and I both envy and adore the way he approaches solo days alone. As an example, his first day in the city looked like this: a visit to the Brooklyn Farmacy for egg creams (it was terribly hot in New York that week), checking out Book Court for a few new books, and visiting both the City Reliquary Museum and the Museum of Arts and Design. He had a veal meatball pizza at Co. for dinner, a nice long walk through Chelsea, and got some reading done back at the hotel. During a layover in Chicago a few days later, Sam told me all about his pork belly and kimchi biscuit breakfast at The Little Goat and, later, his stopover at the Palmer House Hilton for coffee, a Manhattan and postcard-writing. The man is good at dating himself. I have a lot to learn.
I’m not going to lie and tell you I began cooking more elaborate meals after his nudge — that simply didn’t happen. I also didn’t get to the museum. Or take myself to a movie. But the weather in Seattle has been absolutely summer-perfect (sunny mornings and long, long days) that a milkshake seemed in order. It needed to be a really special milkshake with farmers market berries and an afternoon catching up with the paper. I picked up some vanilla bean ice cream and we had already had a bit of leftover buttermilk, so late in the afternoon last Sunday, the time had come: it was time for a solo date.
I turned on the oven to roast the berries (while it may seem initially fussy, this is the only way I do strawberry milkshakes these days — it draws out their natural sweetness and elevates an everyday milkshake to something quite special), fetched last week’s newspaper and the pile of mail I was still sorting through and sat down at our kitchen nook. There was a postcard from Sam that he’d written while sitting at the counter at the Brooklyn Farmacy. There was an interesting piece on mermaids and a 36 Hours in Munich that made me itch for travel. And that milkshake: sweet roasted strawberries, speckled vanilla ice cream, and slightly tart buttermilk all coming together in one thick, delicious summer milkshake. For that one afternoon at the very least, I feel like I started getting the hang of this dating yourself thing.
I first started roasting strawberries with a little balsamic vinegar after reading about the method from Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks, and I haven’t done it any other way since. The vinegar draws out the dark sweetness of the berries and the honey balances it beautifully. It’s a good idea to select strawberries that are roughly the same size — this way they will roast evenly. If your berries are quite large, feel free to quarter them.
For the Roasted Berries:
For the Milkshakes:
Roast the berries: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment (you don’t want the juices to run off and muck up your oven).
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, honey and vinegar. Add the halved strawberries and toss to combine.
Turn the berries out onto the baking sheet and roast until they’re soft with the juices just beginning to thicken –but not burn—about 25-40 minutes (really depends on the size of your berry halves). Scoop the roasted strawberries and juices onto a large plate to cool.
Prepare the milkshakes: Using a milkshake maker or a blender, combine all of the ingredients and blend until combined. If you like a thicker shake, this is a good time to add an additional scoop of ice cream. Serve in your favorite glasses. Enjoy immediately.
(Note: Remember this breakfast recipe using roasted strawberries? I think you’d like that, too)
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.