This year in particular, it seems to be a race to transition from fall to winter and start thinking about gingerbread and gifts and holiday travel — when really we just got home from Thanksgiving a few days ago. Regardless, we’re feeling it here too: this afternoon we’ll head out to buy our tree at the Boy Scout lot down the road and stop off for clam chowder at Ivar’s — a new but fierce tradition in our house. Sam will hang some lights outside, and at some point this week we’ll string popcorn and cranberries on the tree, hang a wreath on the front door, and nuzzle garland on the shelf above the fireplace. There’s a rumor it might even snow tomorrow — I won’t hold my breath. But I would like to hold my breath and hope to prolong the in between time we find ourselves in now as we look back on one holiday and ahead to another. I’d like to draw it out as much as possible this year.
Before bed for the past month or so, I’ve been reading Nigel Slater’s Notes From the Larder. I know some of you are familiar with it already, but if you’re not, Notes From the Larder is essentially a kitchen diary with recipes spanning each day (or most days) of the year — so it’s uber-seasonal and full of Slater’s succinct and beautiful meditations on simple, daily food. The entry for November 18 is titled “An Autumn Taking Stock and a New Pear Cake.” While I didn’t make the pear cake depicted in the photo, I can relate to the feeling of taking stock this time of year — especially as we gear up for another busy holiday full of travel, seeing friends old and new, gift buying and giving, and family.
While Slater’s entry really focuses on taking stock around the garden, it’s also a universal sentiment. He notes, “The garden seems to have been in this state of assorted ochers and reds for several weeks now. It is rare I stop and look for as long as I have today, but I just cannot take my eyes off it … For many, this garden would not be a scene of romantic melancholy and rich-hued foliage but an unholy mess in desperate need of weeding, raking, sweeping and pruning.” There is an inclination to do a lot right now: decorate the house, select the perfect cookies, plan a holiday gathering, purchase just the right gift, get a little exercise, make travel plans — all in the span of three weeks. It’s a lot. And Slater’s inclination to look around at the garden — which exudes the need for much tending — and notice the beauty in the wildness is something I want to put in my pocket this season. There’s a very strong chance we won’t get to everything we’d like to do or see or read or accomplish this season. It just can’t all happen. I hope to be able to stand amongst the flowers and the weeds and not lament the latter too, too much.
Remember how I spoke in the last post about being prohibited from preparing kale at the Thanksgiving table? Well I’m making up for that today with this creamy squash and kale bake I developed for Attune Foods. The kale bake is similar to the Winter Greens and Grains Gratin I made last year — only this version boasts pieces of butternut squash, less cream, and a crispy topping made from Uncle Sam Cereal, butter and Parmesan cheese. It’s perfect for the weekends you return home and crave kale after heavy holiday meals, yet it also satisfies the desire for comfort food on cold December nights when you don’t have much stocked in the refrigerator. Perhaps you’ll find occasion to make a pan of it during this busy in between time. And hopefully, eat it slowly — saving some for leftovers the next day.
For the Bake:
For the Parmesan Topping:
Preheat the oven to 425 F and butter a 2-quart baking dish.
On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is just tender. Stir once or twice to avoid sticking. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F.
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm remaining 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the shallot, kale and a pinch of salt. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally to ensure even cooking, for about 5 minutes. Fold the cooked squash pieces in with the kale and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Prepare the topping: In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, Uncle Sam cereal and Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, Parmesan cheese, heavy cream, milk, nutmeg, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper. Turn the squash mixture into the prepared baking dish and pour the liquid over the top. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove foil and top with Parmesan topping. Bake uncovered for an additional 20 minutes, or until top is crispy and center is set.
Allow to cool and set for 15 minutes before serving. Cover leftovers and refrigerate for up to 3 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.