I don’t remember the first time I met Ashley Rodriquez, which in my experience is often the case with friendships that begin online and soon blossom to actual friendship. When I lived in San Francisco, I started reading Ashley’s beautiful blog Not Without Salt and when I moved to Seattle a few years ago, we had the opportunity to actually grab coffee and share meals in person. She’s someone I feel I’ve known for a long time, and I’ve been so looking forward to her first cookbook, Date Night In. I tested a few of the recipes for the book, and knew it was going to be filled with dozens more that I was excited to make. What I didn’t expect was the rich narrative, detailing the challenges and joys of marriage and how Ashley and Gabe navigate having three young kids, vibrant careers and a romantic home life together (and if you know them personally, they do it with admirable style).
On my first read of the book, I noted recipes I wanted to come back to and others I wanted to try right away, and then I got sucked into the storytelling. The basic premise is that, with three young kids at home, it became unrealistic to go out on dates with any sort of frequency and Ashley and Gabe were finding the time they spent at home together to sort of pass by, in a blur of nighttime computer use or resting after a long day. So they set aside a weekly date night in which, after the kids are put down to bed, Gabe makes a cocktail and Ashley cooks a meal (they’ve concluded that Ashley is a better cook, and are both happier when she’s the one at the helm).
While my home life with Sam looks much different as we don’t have young kids, I think the wonderful thing about this book is that it reinforces how important it is to set aside a deliberate chunk of time to spend together. Something to ground you as a couple. We discussed this right after we returned from our honeymoon: after a whirlwind many months of nighttime wedding planning and then a trip to Italy and Morocco that was packed with new sights and places and food — we came home and found ourselves spending evenings on our couch, eating something easy and quick we’d thrown together and often watching a movie or a show. One night we both looked at each other with an “Is this it?” look. It was almost as if, after all of those months of intense excitement and newness, we’d forgotten how to just be at home together on a normal old Wednesday night with leftover chicken and kale salad.
I mention this because I’m inspired by Ashley and Gabe’s deliberate move to figure out a way to focus on their relationship despite all of the little things that so often get in the way, and I think we can all aspire to this — whether it looks like actual Date Night dinners or simply scheduled walks around the neighborhood to get a coffee. I started to think about other ways this could take shape this morning as I chopped and sliced and whisked, and I think the key is being generous and easy with ourselves while still holding expectations for ourselves and our partner. In truth, most nights around here are going to look like simple dinners spent together catching up on our workday. Sam always makes me a cocktail, and I have a New Year’s resolution to read more so I’ve been trying to get in a little bit of that, too. Winters in Seattle are quite dark, so when I start to feel a bit down about the shortness of the days, I look ahead to July and August and September when we’re eating outside and lingering until 10 p.m. with fresh corn and tomatoes and homemade ice cream. There’s no fixed way to be together, and I guess if there were things would start to feel pretty dull. I’ll take the nights of leftover chicken balanced nicely with more planned, special evenings in, too. The best we can all do is strive for a good balance. I think Ashley would agree.
This is the perfect winter salad — bright and fresh with sweet bites of pomegranate contrasted with slightly salty bits of cheese and tart apple. If you’ve never purchased or used celeriac before, it’s not the prettiest root vegetable, but it’s relatively easy to peel and slice right away. And if you want to save yourself a bit of time, a mandolin is really helpful in making the matchbox slices for this salad. Ashley’s recipe did not call for hazelnuts, but I thought they’d add a nice crunch; feel free to use another nut or seed if you’d prefer.
Ever so slightly adapted from: Date Night In
In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Add the celeriac, apple, fennel, leek and Cheddar. Toss well to combine. Transfer to a serving dish and finish with pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts flake salt, and freshly ground black pepper. The salad can be made 4 to 6 hours ahead and store, covered in the refrigerator.
Note: For help or instructions on roasting nuts, I like this tutorial.
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.