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.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a deep dish 10-inch pie pan. Place the buttered dish in the oven to warm while you make the batter.
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.
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.