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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.