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.
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.