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 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.