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.
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.