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.
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.
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.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.