I’ve been dreading writing my vows for months now — much in the same way I dreaded writing term papers or tackling really big, looming projects. To cope with the fact that I wasn’t yet actually writing anything down on paper, I bought different journals, thinking the problem was that I didn’t have the right note-taking vehicle. I bought a little black Moleskine. Still wasn’t feeling inspired. I picked up an Indian-print handmade paper journal at the student bookstore in the University District. It collected dust. I pulled out an old notebook covered in a print of Babar the Elephant doing yoga — surely this would be the ticket. Sadly, not so much. I finally pinpointed what my problem was: I had no idea what writing vows even looks like. I knew it was important to both of us that we do so, but most of the weddings I’ve been to have been pretty standard and I hadn’t seen many examples of couples writing their own. Enter Google. YouTube. Enter deciding to give up for weeks on end. And then one night, I poured myself a cocktail and decided to make a batch of cookies. Sam was out with a friend and as I sat waiting for the cookies to bake, I started to miss him and think about all of the reasons I love his company. The vows wrote themselves that night. No Babar journal, no YouTube inspiration — just the smell of warm walnut-flecked cookies and thoughts of why I looked forward to seeing Sam walk though the door.
As with many creative projects, I suppose, writing vows became much easier the less I focused on how they’re supposed to be done. That wasn’t doing anyone any favors. Because let me tell you, if you start googling advice on writing your own vows? You get some very bland, heavy-on-cliche… very, very bad vows. I won’t say much more about what I came up with here; we decided not to show them to one another so they’d be a surprise on our wedding day. I made Sam stick to a word count limit because I worried he’d veer into Moby Dick territory (if you know Sam, you know this is a valid concern). When I read them out loud to myself to make sure there weren’t any clunky parts, I realized I can’t at all imagine keeping a calm, steady composure in front of close friends and family. So I suppose I’m going to have to really work on that. Or maybe not. Maybe the less overworked these things are concerning how they should or will be, the better.
So instead, let’s talk about these cookies. How they beckoned me into late night baking. How I had all of the ingredients on hand at home. How we ate them for breakfast, and how Sam loved them so much, he sent many a cookie emoji requesting more. The cookie recipe is from my friend Nicole’s new book, Flourless. Nicole and I lived in San Francisco at the same time, way back when; I think we first met at a literary reading in the Mission in a very crowded, very hot cheese shop where we both read pieces of our work and tried not to sweat or stumble too much. I feel like we succeeded. The last time I saw Nicole before she moved to Morocco, we had toast at The Mill in San Francisco with our mutual friend Anne and talked all about our books (little did I know both Anne and Nicole were pregnant at the time!) and the joys and difficulties of being a first-time cookbook author. So when I received this gem in the mail a few weeks ago, I was particularly excited: here it was in the flesh! And so, so good.
The thing I love about Flourless is that the recipes are all gluten-free but don’t rely on gums or binders, instead using nut meals / nut flours and fluffy egg whites. In the Introduction, Nicole notes that this is a book full of recipes “that do not call for hard-to-find ingredients and that also happen to be gluten-free — the naturally flourless concept made real.” Nicole’s style reminds me of my own (which is probably why I’m so fond of the book): she doesn’t shy away from dark, dark chocolate and gravitates towards fruit-heavy breakfast sweets and desserts. The book doesn’t feel like many gluten-free baking books I’ve come across in the sense that the focus isn’t at all on what’s not there (wheat flour) and how to compensate for that lack; instead, the focus is on big, bold flavor and decadent desserts that you could make on a late Tuesday night … or take a bit more time with for a special occasion.
I was particularly drawn to this cookie recipe because it has no added sugar; it’s sweetened solely with banana. And I love the generous addition of oats and ground almonds along with the toasted coconut. As I suspected, you could really rename these Banana-Coconut Breakfast Cookies, and we basically did. They’re so wonderful in the morning with a cup of coffee, and I didn’t think twice about doing so thanks to the good, wholesome ingredients and lack of sugar. I’d like to credit them for helping me write my vows — and they very well might have. But perhaps the act of mindlessly working through a physical task instead of sitting and staring at a blank journal was just what I needed. That and a night without Sam to recognize all of the things I appreciate when he walks back through the door.
A note on nut flours / nut meal: Nut meal is becoming more and more common in the store. Bob’s Red Mill makes a line of Almond and Hazelnut Meal and Trader Joe’s just came out with a great cashew meal. You can certainly make your own by grinding down nuts in a coffee grinder or food processor — just do so slowly so as to avoid over-processing and making a paste instead.
In a way, these are great ‘clean out the pantry’ cookies as you can sprinkle in any leftover nuts and seeds you have lying around. While Nicole doesn’t call for sunflower seeds, I decided to add them at the last minute and love the extra bit of crunch. Because these aren’t at all too sweet, the extra bit of flaky salt on top really amps up and rounds out the flavor.
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together the banana and coconut oil. In another bowl, whisk together the oats, ground almonds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Stir in the walnuts, coconut and sunflower seeds.
Drop by the heaping tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheets. With the palm of your hand, gently press down the tops of each cookie to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake until the cookies are very lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 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.