It was almost 90 in Seattle earlier this week. Now it’s 10:15 p.m. and I’m nursing a little thimble of bourbon and a very dark chocolatey walnut brownie, thankful for these long, light nights. Already thankful for July and hopeful that it’ll feel like a spacious and slow season of tomatoes, late nights, early mornings, picnic table dinners and learning to grill (finally). Over the past few years I’ve done a sort of summer bucket list on the blog, listing a few things I’d like to tackle or accomplish that season. But this year that feels all off for so many reasons. Namely, between wedding and honeymoon planning and houseguests and attempts at weekend getaways — I can’t stomach many more lists. Let’s deem this the season to get rid of lists, shall we? A season in which there are still so many things to get excited about, from brownies to books to podcasts and music. So let’s dive in.
A few books I’m excited about this summer: I’ve downloaded Eleanor and Park onto my iPad and am looking forward to starting it this weekend, despite the articles Sam sends me on why YA fiction is lame. I’m also almost done with This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (and looking forward to the movie in September!). It’s a great, quick read touching on the modern family and relationships in general; the writing is breezy but smart. As for cookbooks, I just bought Nina Planck’s spot-on The Real Food Cookbook and can’t wait to start cooking from it. If you aren’t familiar with Planck’s other work, she’s big into a very commonsense, ‘listen to your body’ approach to eating and cooking — and I love her encouragement to eat full-fat dairy and butter. This cookbook feels very approachable to me — each recipe has just a handful (some, a large handful) of ingredients with no wacky flavor combinations or extraordinarily innovative techniques or ideas. For some reason this summer, this feels like just what I need. Real, simple food without the bells and whistles. I haven’t been this excited about a cookbook for a really long time (I’ll make something from it soon – promise!)
And of the few podcasts I’ve been listening to lately: I think I’m a bit late to the party, but I so adore Grace Bonney’s podcast After the Jump. You may know Grace from Design Sponge, but her podcast appeals to me because it speaks to a lot of the small business issues and questions I struggle with. She interviews really interesting people — from authors to chefs to business owners — and gets their take on building a brand, forming a business, eeking out free time within a busy schedule, marketing and design, and how to navigate this weird social media world many of us find ourselves swimming in. I also listen to Splendid Table when I’m packing up boxes at Marge and then there’s a funny Harvard Business Review Podcast HBR Ideacast that I find myself drawn to as well. What podcasts are you loving? Tell me! I’m thirsty for them.
As for summery food, how about Heidi’s line up of Picnic Bowls? I’m also going to hop on the trend of Coconut Snow (have you tried it?) and I can’t wait to try Melissa Clark’s Master Ice Cream Recipe. And for breakfast, you all know how much I love millet — how about Laura’s Vanilla Bean Millet Porridge with Lavender Strawberries and Super Seeds? YES. Or these Raw Bounty Bars or this Tomato Tart with Basil Oil and Almond Pepper Crust? Summer: let’s do this.
But back to the business at hand: brownies and Erin Alderson’s brilliant cookbook, The Homemade Flour Cookbook. The entire gist of Erin’s book is centered around using different whole grain flours (and milling your own) in sweet and savory recipes for each meal of the day. I spent an entire hour with the book when I first opened it up, carefully placing post-it notes and jotting down future notes (bring on the socca!). If you haven’t yet heard of Erin’s book, maybe you’ve stumbled across her blog Naturally Ella, where she covers all manner of healthy vegetarian fare — from crepes to seasonal whole grain salads, messy tacos to chocolate cupcakes. Erin’s blog has a certain ease to it; much of the food is similar to the way we cook at home, so I suppose I feel like I just pulled up a chair at a good friend’s counter: a refreshing sentiment seeing that Erin and I have yet to meet in person.
I chose this recipe in particular because it’s simple and I’m going to make a grand sweeping assumption here that if you’re anything like me, complex recipes don’t belong in the summertime kitchen. For the past few weeks, dessert in our house has consisted of little bowls of farmers market berries. Or an occasional coconut popsicle. But these warm, looooonnng nights leave me craving a little something sweet later in the evening and these walnut brownies have proven to be just the thing. I’d also like to report they make a great late morning / second cup of coffee snack — especially if you’ve been waking up early with the sun as I have lately. The only tweak I made was in using a little less sugar and a little more walnut meal (I’m on a bit of a reducing sugar kick). Erin calls these Walnut Cocoa Brownies, but for me they came out on the thinner side (and I tested them twice) — no less delightful, but appropriately nicknamed Walnut Brownie Thins, I think (I ran it by Erin and she approves). And whereas some cakier brownies can be crumbly and messy, these hold together almost like a chocolate shortbread cookie, so you can take them on the go easily, too.
Slightly adapted from: The Homemade Flour Cookbook
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, stir together the walnut meal, arrowroot, cane sugar, cocoa powder and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, vanilla and egg. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine.
Spread the brownie batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 38-45 minutes, or until brownies are set in the middle and pulling away from the pan a bit. Let cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
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.