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)
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.