Yesterday I looked up and realized we’re into the last half of July. Already. And I had one of those inevitable panics where I feel like we haven’t been hiking enough, we haven’t done any camping or road-tripping or picnicking. Sam and I used to devote Sunday mornings to visiting one of our favorite bakeries and reading the paper — and then moseying into Ballard to shop at the farmers market. But now that I bake all day on Sundays for Marge, that tradition has slipped by the wayside. And I feel the same thing happening with the season this year. While I honestly wouldn’t want to be anywhere other than Seattle, our summer can feel pretty short (it really doesn’t get going until the beginning of July). And on those gray, dark February days, I want to make sure I’ve gotten in some good hiking, camping and picnicking. This whole grain skillet crisp is a good place to start: while we didn’t take it out picnicking, I did take it out into the backyard and had a very generous slice right out of the skillet. Slowly. At 9:30 p.m. when it was still light out. So really, when you consider those moments, July could be worse.
I’m not sure if I’ve formally shared with you all yet, but I’ll be working with Attune Foods for a handful of months developing original recipes using their incredible line of whole grain cereals and graham crackers. I feel very lucky as they’re all products that I truly believe in and use often in the house. This recipe is made with their classic Uncle Sam cereal which I love because it’s not at all too sweet (less than 1g of sugar!) but packs a whallop of protein and fiber. The ingredient list contains a total of four ingredients — you don’t see that much these days. When we’re not sprinkling Marge Granola on yogurt, Uncle Sam has become a staple around here.
As for the crisp: it’s a quick, juicy mess of summer all nestled in a cast-iron skillet. If you’ve tried some of the whole grain, seasonal recipes on this site you’re going to like it. It relies solely on whole wheat flour and almond meal — with a splash of buttermilk and a handful of sliced almonds. The topping straddles the line between a crisp and a cobbler (it’s a touch biscuity) and I’ve used it atop a layer of blueberries and blackberries, too. The result? It was a close competitor to the version below. In that way, I say use any berries you like if you can’t get your hands on summer cherries, and let me know if you try other fruits as well — I’d love to hear about it. Until then, a recipe and a promise to be back here soon — with a summer picnic under my belt. I wish all the same for you. Late July: let’s do this.
For the filling:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Generously butter a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or other oven-safe pan.
Make the crisp topping
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the whole wheat flour, brown sugar, almond meal, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and kosher salt and pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter. Pulse 20-30 seconds, or until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Slowly add the buttermilk and continue pulsing until the liquid is incorporated. At this point, the dough should come in clumps.
Turn the topping out into a medium bowl and fold in the Uncle Sam cereal and almonds; mix with a wooden spoon (or your hands) until both are incorporated.
Prepare the filling
Toss together the cherries, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla extract and cornstarch in a medium mixing bowl. Transfer to the prepared cast iron skillet or other baking-safe pan.
Spoon the topping over the cherries by the heaping tablespoon, so they’re almost fully covered (it’s okay if some around the edges are peeking through). Place in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even baking. The top should be golden brown and the cherry juices bubbling through.
Remove from the oven, and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving. Serve warm or room temperature. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the crisp will keep at room temperature for 1 additional day.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.