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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.