Last week Sam and I were supposed to head to Olympic National Park to stay in an old lakeside cabin for a few nights. Lake Crescent, to be exact: a crystal clear spot complete with a rickety traditional lodge, canoes, hiking trails and hot springs. We’d planned the trip months before and were both so looking forward to some much needed downtime, but because of the government shutdown all of the National Parks were affected so we received a call the morning we were to head out of town that we should stay home. Sam was still in bed at the time; I’d been up early packing and laying out sweaters and novels and getting big thermoses of coffee ready. As I began putting away the sweaters and novels and setting the thermoses of coffee aside, I became more and more disappointed. I crawled back into bed and broke the news to Sam. Not surprisingly, he exclaimed with a smile, “where should we go instead?!” This is a ‘roll with the punches’ gene that I do not have. A few hours later we were in the car headed to Portland, where we had two memorable meals, a handful of great cocktails, a number of good neighborhood strolls and one very fine piece of pie.
When we’re in Portland, we both love staying at the Ace Hotel. It’s in a great part of town, if you opt for the rooms with shared bathrooms (which I really don’t mind), it’s quite affordable, and they have a great adjoining bar. During this trip, many friends reached out on Facebook or over email with some last minute suggestions, so the first night we had drinks at Kask (smoked cinnamon Manhattan!) and dinner at their next-door restaurant, Gruner, a Pacific Northwest-inspired German restaurant: very special, seasonal, thoughtful food. We shared an Alsatian flatbread pizza, a plate of house sausages, a beautiful freekeh and spicy greens salad and a plum galette for dessert. Then we strolled back to the hotel in the uncharacteristically warm drizzle.
The next day we had brunch at Sweedeedee on a recommendation from a few girlfriends. Sweedeedee is the kind of small, unassuming neighborhood cafe that I’d like to envision I’d open one day. They jot their daily menu specials on a big roll of paper; have pies, sweets, and homemade bread overflowing onto every nook and cranny of the counter; play great records; and serve bountiful salads, sandwiches and breakfast all day long. You feel more like you’re in the living room of a great old friend — albeit one who cooks — rather than in a city cafe. There’s no rush to leave, there’s strong coffee — and, of course, there’s Salted Honey Pie. After lunch, Sam bought a few records at Mississippi Records and we strolled about Alberta Street a bit. Closer to our hotel, we popped into Canoe and Alder & Co., shopped Powell’s Books on Hawthorne and bought a few Christmas gifts at Monograph Bookwerks (very cool little spot specializing in art and architecture monographs and artist books). That night, we went to Ava Gene’s for dinner, what I’d describe as “little bit edgy Italian” — not staunchly traditional, but really solid, occasionally playful Italian food. We shared good wine, fava bean toasts, creamy burrata, and lamb ragu pappardelle. We were one of the last ones to leave — passing on dessert but reminiscing about the pie from earlier on our walk back to the car.
That pie! Let’s just talk about the pie, shall we? I first had a honey pie in Brooklyn at one of my favorite pie shops, Four and Twenty Blackbirds. It was delightfully flaky and pretty darn sweet — but the combination of honey and salt seemed a revelation at the time. The slice at Sweedeedee had more heft — I’m guessing they may have added a bit of cornmeal to the filling. The flavor was spot-on — just lightly kissed with honey. The whole weekend I couldn’t stop thinking about honey pie and baking one at home, but one that would have the best of both worlds: super flaky, honey-kissed, but not too terribly sweet. A pie humble in stature — like a good custard pie, but better. I figured the best way to tone down the potential ‘too sweet’ factor was to add a good bit of buttermilk and no additional sugar. I used my favorite rye pie crust recipe and didn’t skimp on the salt. It is so, so wonderful; I really hope you bake one yourself. I’m going to try and convince my mom that we should have it for Thanksgiving this year. It’s that good. Sometimes a failed lodge trip results in something sweet all the same. I hope your October is off to a great start.
For the pie crust (yields two 9 – inch pie crusts):
For the filling:
Make the pie dough: Whisk both flours, salt and sugar together in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work in the butter until coarse meal forms and some small lumps remain. Starting with 3 tablespoons, drizzle cold water over the dough; quickly stir in the water with a fork or your fingers until the dough begins to clump together into a more uniform mass and becomes slightly sticky. If it’s still dry and crumbly, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Divide dough in half and form 2 single flat, chubby disks; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Once chilled, work quickly to roll out one of the disks on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 11-12 inches round. Carefully transfer to a 9-inch pie plate and nestle gently into place. Leave 1-inch of overhang (if there’s a great deal of overhang, trim), then fold edges under and crimp. Freeze the remaining disk for a future pie!
Pre-bake the pie shell: Preheat the oven to 375F. Prick the bottom of the pie shell a few times. Line with parchment paper or aluminum foil and fill to the top with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove pie weights or beans along with parchment or foil and bake for an additional 8 minutes, or until the shell is nice and dry on the bottom.
Decrease the oven temperature to 325 F.
Make the filling: In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the melted butter and honey until combined. Pour the honey mixture slowly into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, until well combined. Fold in the flour and stir well.
Assemble: Place the pre-baked pie shell on a baking sheet for easy transport to and from the oven. Strain the honey filling and pour into the shell. Carefully place pan into the oven and bake until the filling is set, about 55 – 60 minutes. Cool for 1 hour, then sprinkle the top liberally with flaky salt (if you sprinkle the salt on while still too warm, it may just dissolve onto the top of the pie instead of remaining flaky and pretty). Serve room temperature – or cold the next day. Refrigerate and cover leftovers for up to 2 days.
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.