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.
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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.