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.
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.