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.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.