Sam calls Delancey, the pizza restaurant owned by friends Molly Wizenberg and Brandon Pettit, his Cheers. He spoke so highly of it when we started dating, but because I lived in San Francisco at the time I couldn’t quite envision what a special place it was — I hadn’t yet been. After a few trips to Seattle, more than a few slices of pizza, one long, very blustery boat ride out to Coupeville with Molly and Brandon that included Molly’s banana bread and mussels at Toby’s, I started to understand. When I finally moved to Seattle to join Sam, Delancey welcomed me into the kitchen on their days off so that I could bake Marge Granola. The very loose agreement was that I’d stay a few months until I got my feet on the ground and found a production kitchen of my own. I think I was there a good year. And today when Sam and I are too tired to cook, we’ll head over to Delancey to say Hi to Brandon or Joe, give Katie or Kim or Noelle a squeeze, learn one of Mariko’s new signature handshakes, and share a pie. This Winter, Sam’s nephew Kevin moved to Seattle from New Jersey and now he’s there too, working at the bar next door, Essex. Niah, the head bartender, makes my favorite cocktails in the city, and we’ll almost invariably run into neighborhood friends like Ashley and Gabe, Kip and Sasha, or Amy and Michele. So now I get it — it is more than a restaurant. It’s where everybody knows our names.
To back up a moment or two, Delancey is really what brought Sam and I together. I had read Molly’s blog for about a year before starting Marge in the Bay Area and I’d saved enough to think about hiring a web designer for the business. At the time, I found myself caught down an internet rabbit hole one night searching for designers and came across the site credits for the Delancey website. I’d noticed that a guy in Seattle by the name of Sam did the website and… it turned out I really liked his work. I reached out to him and he wrote back with a very formal email (if you’ve ever written Sam, he comes off more like an articulate 80-year old than an articulate 35-year old). Many of you know the story that follows –how we eventually fell in love– but I sometimes pause and think about how it likely wouldn’t have happened had it not been for Delancey … and for Molly. I’m so grateful that I stumbled upon this place that Molly and Brandon have created. And so grateful that it ultimately led me to Sam.
If you haven’t yet been to Delancey and had the pleasure of eating a slice of Brandon’s pizza or snuck one of those delicious sea salt chocolate chip cookies home, Molly’s beautiful new book might bring more than a little of that experience to you. I received the review copy for Delancey probably about a month ago, dove in and finished in a few days’ time. I had a lot going on and remember feeling really guilty for just laying on the end of my bed and reading … but I found myself enveloped in the backstory behind the faces and place I’d come to know so well at the restaurant. But it’s not just the story of building and running a restaurant, it’s also the story of how Molly found her way within it all (ultimately realizing that a line cook wasn’t her destiny), and about how she and Brandon found a balance in their own marriage and time at home. I think a lot of people who haven’t worked in the food business tend to romanticize what it really looks like: you see bakers on their morning shift or waitstaff in linen aprons and think it all looks so lovely (!) when in reality it’s cleaning out a hood at 12:30 in the morning, a chef quitting on you a week before you open, or navigating spreadsheets and payroll and staffing and ordering. Thanks to Molly’s book, you will be drawn into this world, and you’ll be sad that it ends. If you’re lucky and live in Seattle you can just come in for a drink tonight at 5 once you get to the final page. If you live far away, you’ll have to put it on your list for your next visit.
If you’re expecting to find pizza recipes and all of the characteristic specials that comprise the Delancey menu in Molly’s book, you may be disappointed, I suppose. The book is largely narrative with a good number of recipes scattered throughout — recipes that Molly notes are ones they served early on when she cooked there, foods they wished they had more time to make, recipes that friends made for them when there just wasn’t time to cook, and favorites from home. While I have more than a few bookmarked, the one that called to me first was Brandi’s Coconut Rice Pudding. Brandi was the head pastry chef at Delancey in the early days and has since gone on to open her own cooking school and community kitchen called The Pantry. I’ve volunteered and taken a number of classes there and can’t recommend it enough (Craft cocktails! Layer cakes! Cooking a whole salmon!)
I tweaked her recipe just a bit in using brown basmati rice instead of more traditional basmati rice — and in doing so, found that my cooking times differed from what Molly mentions in her recipe. My pudding took almost twice as long to cook, actually (depending on the type of rice you use, this could be a common occurrence). Molly also suggests setting 1 cup of the milk aside and adding it at the very end once the pudding is finished cooking and because I was in a hurry and was, apparently, really excited about this pudding I added it all at once so I will include my method below. I also splurged and used a whole vanilla bean instead of the 1/2 that Molly calls for. It all worked beautifully.
I’m not sure if we’re just hearty rice pudding eaters, but Molly’s recipe notes that it yields 8-12 servings and we definitely found it to be more like 6-8 servings, so I suppose just consider what kind of eaters you have at home. In the recipe, Molly mentions topping the pudding with roasted cherries if you’d like; I ended up roasting a quick batch of strawberries to spoon on top although I think I prefer it plain.
Slightly adapted from: Delancey
Put the rice in a medium bowl, add cold water to cover, and swish the rice around with your fingers to remove the excess starch. Drain and repeat.
In a heavy large (4-quart) saucepan, combine the 1 1/2 cups water, the washed rice, and the salt. Place over medium-high heat. When the water begins to simmer, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15-25 minutes — depending on your rice. If there’s a little excess water, simply drain away. Then stir in the coconut milk, milk, cream and sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the pod as well. Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender and the mixture thickens to a soft, creamy texture — a good 60 minutes.
Remove from the heat and discard vanilla pod. Transfer the pudding to a storage container. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Serve in small bowls, with roasted strawberries (or cherries) if you’d like.
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.