It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn’t been for me. Angels don’t sing. Stars don’t explode. Relatives don’t cry. There isn’t a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, “the one.” To be honest, I always knew that I wasn’t the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I’d have some kind of moment where I could tell I’d found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I’ve been back to the stores we visited — and I’m more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I’ll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
The one thing I have been pleasantly surprised with is that I actually like many of the dresses — a much better problem to have than not finding anything at all. And I’m finding myself drawn to dresses I never would’ve thought were much like “me.” I went in saying only simple, streamlined dresses would do and I’ve been getting kind of into some train action — even a little beading here and there. Who knew? Also, I’m in LOVE with the accessories! Bring on the sashes! In fact, I’d like to start wearing those silky wedding sashes to my yoga classes — why aren’t we all wearing more sashes? Fake camellias in my hair? Bring it.
But really, if I had to sum the whole thing up, I feel like this is a way harder decision than I thought it would be and I know in the big picture of things it really doesn’t matter. That we will get married in September with all of our friends close by, and our families will meet for the first time and there will be pretty flowers and champagne and ice cream and I won’t be thinking for a second about the dress. I’m trying to look ahead and remember all of that this week, trying not to get bogged down in the little details and remembering the great party we’ll have.
The recipe I decided to share with you today is appropriate for a few reasons. It’s all about looking ahead — to the colors of spring and the act of preserving which always reminds me of warmer weather and planning for future meals, moments and days. It’s a recipe for Quick Pickled Strawberries from Marisa McClellan’s newest book Preserving by the Pint and it’s given me the full, forceful nudge I’ve needed to get excited about spring. (Sam would like me to mention here that “quickled” would be a more apt, if not fun, term. I’m on the fence.) I’ve said it here before: I’m not much of a canner. There are a lot of things I’m good at but finessing hot water baths, rubber gloves, and dozens of jars is just not one of them. One of the things that’s long frustrated me about canning is the scale the recipes are written in. I don’t actually want 12 jars of peach jam; I want a few jars to enjoy using a handful of peaches I picked up from the farmers market. So I was truly delighted to receive Marisa’s book in the mail last week. I think it’s going to change things around here this season.
Most of the recipes in Preserving by the Pint are designed to yield just a few jars. In the introduction, Marissa notes that “Preserving on this scale means that I get to explore different flavor combinations without ever committing massive amounts of produce to an idea that might not work out. It also allows me to have three or four dozen different kinds of jams, conserves, and sauces in my pantry.” On my list in the spring chapter alone: Honey-Sweetened Strawberry Jam, Mustardy Rhubarb Chuntney, Sorrel Pesto.
Now what does one do with strawberry pickles? I have really fallen in love with these little ruby gems. They’re snappy and slightly acidic and bright. They’re really wonderful on salads or as a garnish in your favorite cocktail. Perhaps best of all, they’re super quick and don’t require any processing: you simply put your jar in the refrigerator overnight and the next day you’ve got beautiful strawberry pickles! If only choosing a wedding dress were so easy.
The only little tweak I made to Marisa’s recipe was in the amount of sugar — she calls for 1 tablespoon and I used just a touch less. I’ve been using my berries in a salad made of simple greens, shaved goat feta and a lemony vinaigrette. It’s been deemed the salad of the season around here. I’d love to hear what you do with yours. Please note that the strawberries must sit for at least 24 hours in the refrigerator before enjoying and that time isn’t factored into the breakdown above.
Recipe from: Preserving by the Pint
Wash the strawberries, remove the stems and leaves, and cut into halves or quarters, depending on size.
In a medium saucepan, combine the vinegar with 1/3 cup / 80ml water, the sugar, salt and peppercorns. Set over high heat and bring to a boil.
Place the tarragon in a wide-mouth 1-quart/1-liter jar and add the chopped berries. Once the brine has boiled pour it over the strawberries. Let the pickles cool until room temperature, and then place a lid on the jar and refrigerate.
Allow the pickles to rest for at least 24 hours before eating.
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.