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.
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.