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.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
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 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.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: