It’s New Years Day and, in truth, I’m left a bit speechless. It’s time to formally introduce you to Whole-Grain Mornings (it’s now officially on sale and appearing in the world!), but I’ve been sitting here for what feels like hours trying to figure out exactly what to say. There’s a quote by Mozart (although some attribute it to an anonymous Zen master) that reads: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” That is how I feel after a busy whirlwind year with little real time for reflection. The year has been full of lots of work, traffic, a new lease for Marge, granola accounts, and conference calls. It’s been full of bringing a book to life, nourishing a relationship, and building a home. But it’s funny how those things don’t start to really settle in and the bigness of it all isn’t truly felt until all the traffic and email and noise just … stop. So today has been a wonderfully uneventful, quiet day. Sam and I went out for breakfast and made a list of our intentions and goals for the year while toasting my book over biscuit sandwiches and numerous cups of coffee. I can’t imagine a more fitting way to usher this lady into the world. So while, for me, the meaning has really come from the quiet — let’s talk about this very special recipe for a moment. And because we’re going to celebrate right, I’d love to give away a copy of Whole-Grain Mornings to a reader (you?) this week, too.
Out of all the recipes to share with you today, I chose what in the book is a Huckleberry Cornmeal Custard — but because of the season (and the lack of huckleberries at this very moment) is now a Blueberry Cornmeal Custard here today. In many ways, it’s highly representative of quite a few of the recipes you’ll find in the book — not shying away from a little butter and cream. While it features seasonal fruits and produce, natural sugars, and whole grains prominently, I didn’t want Whole-Grain Mornings to feel like a diet book — because it’s really not. It’s reflective of the way we eat in our household: good, real food that’s not too fussy to prepare and that you’ll find occasion to make over and over — morning or night, really.
I had a handful of recipes that I wanted to write about to introduce you to the book, but this one won out for a few reasons: it’s one of the very first things Sam made for me when we were just beginning to date, and it’s a great example of a recipe with a story and a past. If on first glance it looks familiar to you, that’s because our friend Molly wrote about a version of it a few years ago in her wonderful book, A Homemade Life. Following that, Jess and Tim both wrote about it on their blogs, and many other food writers made it in their own homes and shared it online.
My first experience of this cornmeal custard, however, took place very far from the internet or any corner of the food writing world. When Sam and I were first dating, he lived in a little bungalow a stone’s throw from Greenlake — one of my now-favorite walking spots here in Seattle. While I would often drag him around San Francisco introducing him to the newest restaurants when he’d visit my city, Sam would often cook for me when I came to visit his. He had a small arsenal of favorites: the best lentils you’ve ever tasted, banana pancakes, and this velvetty cornmeal custard. It’s one part delicate cornbread, one part tender cake, and one part custard — and somehow comes out of the oven in delicious, distinct layers with the berries rising to the top and the layer of cream happily suspended in the center. I’ll always remember watching Sam make it for the first time, oh-so-carefully pouring the cream directly into the center of the pan while instructing me that you must move slowly and not jostle it to get it just right. That particular morning we had big slices with maple syrup and mugs of coffee in the living room, eating quietly while watching the steam rise off the roofs of the houses across the street.
Sam and I dated long distance for over a year, so when I’d return home to the Bay Area, I started to recreate the cornmeal custard in my own kitchen, adding a little lemon zest on one occasion to brighten it a notch, tossing in some berries and experimenting with whole-grain flour on another. Soon I had a version that still resembled the delicious cornmeal custard that Sam made for me on that first winter morning — but now decidedly my own. When I sat down to write this book I knew I wanted to include the recipe since it’s become such a classic in our house, so I began to ask Sam questions about its source so I could properly give credit where credit is due. I mentioned that I’d seen a similar recipe from Molly’s book: did you get it from Molly? Not exactly, Sam said. So the research and emails began. It turns out that Sam used to work at a restaurant here in Seattle called Boat Street and they made a wonderful cornmeal custard at the time. I believe that’s where Sam got the recipe although it must’ve been based off of the recipe Molly ended up writing about in her book– and that appears in Marion Cunningham’s classic book, The Breakfast Book. Suffice it to say: this recipe has legs, as do most things this special.
Because I know that if you’re here reading this post, you’re going to love this book and because I’m so grateful for all of the support and enthusiasm you’ve all showed as I plugged away at it all last year, I’d love to give away a signed copy to one A Sweet Spoonful reader in the Continental US. To enter, simply leave a comment here about the breakfast you’ve been most excited about making in your own home lately. I’ll select a winner this upcoming Sunday 1/5 at 9 p.m. PST and will notify the winner via email.
**UPDATE: Kathleen Love is the lucky winner of Whole-Grain Mornings and has been contacted via email to claim her copy. Thank you so much for all of your great breakfast inspiration; you’ve inspired me to get into gear with some new recipes this season. xox**
Other Folks Writing About Whole-Grain Mornings:
Sprouted Kitchen – Pear Hazelnut Muffins
Food Loves Writing – Buckwheat Crepes with Honeyed Ricotta and Sauteed Apples
Delightful Crumb – Nutty Millet Breakfast Cookies (also featured on Good Things Grow)
Eating From the Ground Up – Banana Walnut Baked Oatmeal (also featured on Shutterbean)
A Cozy Kitchen – Rye Granola with Sour Cherries and Pistachios
Three Many Cooks – Trail Guide Nut and Seed Bars
The Faux Martha – The Very, Very Best Oatmeal
A Couple Cooks- The Best Toasted Oatmeal
Cookie + Kate – Morning Glory Oatmeal
101 Cookbooks – California Barley Bowl (also featured on Naturally Ella)
Come Out For The Book Tour! I’ll have Marge granola samples at many events and would love to sign your book! If you live in San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver or Seattle, I’d love to meet you in person (no really, please come!) For more information: Whole-Grain Mornings Book Tour.
Buy a Copy Today: Whole-Grain Mornings
In the cookbook, this recipe actually calls for huckleberries — those sweet, small cousins of blueberries that I so love to snatch up here in the fall months. If you can find huckleberries, great. If not, blueberries (or any berry, really) work beautifully. Use fresh or frozen; if you opt for frozen, use them straight out of the freezer, unthawed. If oat flour isn’t something you have at home, I’ve made this recipe with many different kinds of flours (barley, white-whole wheat, spelt) and they’ve all turned out great. We like to serve generous slices of the cornmeal custard warmed with a quick glug of maple syrup on top. Sam likes his with a little flaky salt, too.
In a small dish, melt the butter in the microwave on medium-high heat, careful not to let it splatter (about 45 seconds). Pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, in medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
Add the eggs to the butter and wish to combine. Add the sugar, salt, milk, buttermilk, vinegar, lemon zest and vanilla and stir well. Whisking constantly, add the flour mixture slowly and stir until the batter is smooth.
Remove the heated pan from the oven and set on a baking sheet for easy transport to and from the oven. Spoon the berries into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Pour the batter on top of the berries. Then ever so slowly, pour the cream right into the center of the batter. Don’t stir. Carefully slide the pan into the oven, taking care not to jostle.
Bake until golden brown on top, 50-65 minutes*. Cool for at least 15 minutes to allow the custard to firm up before slicing. Serve warm with a generous drizzle of maple syrup. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days (but do rewarm them before serving!)
*Note on bake time: This recipe, more than many, seems subject to temperature and humidity. When I recently baked it on a very wet, damp day in Seattle, it took all of 65 minutes — you’re looking for the top to be golden brown and the center to be dry to the touch but still ever so jiggly if you lightly jostle the pan — it will continue to firm up as it cools.
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.