I spent the weekend slowly packing — working through my office and then moving down to the kitchen. We’ve still got about two weeks until we actually move but I hate leaving things to the last minute and feeling like a crazy person (regardless of how much one plans, doesn’t moving pretty much always make you feel like a crazy person?) So instead of working on freelance projects or doing carefree spring weekend things, I spent some quality time carefully selecting kitchen items I know we can live without for a little while: colander, salad spinner, yogurt maker, madeline pan. Making donation piles of books, old games and pants I haven’t worn in two years doesn’t seem to be a problem, but when it comes to the kitchen it’s hard for me to let go. Case in point: the madeline pan. Do I remember the last time I made a madeline? Not really.
But beyond the things I chose to pack, I’m interested in the ones I’ve deliberately left out, knowing I clearly can’t live without them: ice cream maker, muffin pan, favorite salad bowls, pie plate. Apparently, there’s ice cream and pie in our future balanced with a few good salads and a muffin or two. At about 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, we’d run out of newspaper and good packing boxes and it was time to take a break. I scanned a few recent cookbooks to see if a recipe called to me right away, and sure enough I found just the thing in Anna Jones’ new A Modern Way to Eat. Cookies. And not just any cookies. These are soft, slightly chewy Coconut Oatmeal Cookies made with oats, toasted coconut, coconut oil and a little brown sugar. They’re so simple you can pull them together even if you’ve packed much of your kitchen into boxes and aren’t entirely sure where your measuring cups now live.
I received a copy of A Modern Way to Eat in the mail a few weeks ago and was immediately smitten. The style of food is simple, healthy vegetarian and most of the ingredient lists are short and familiar — because of this it comes off as approachable right away. While recipes such as Deep Dish Leek and Greens Pie, Smoked Paprika Oven-Baked Fries and Strawberry Poppy Seed Crisp entice, I’m charmed by the ways Anna gives you a blueprint or snapshot into making your own salads, soups or roasts. For example, there’s a great page on Ten Ways with Avocado on Toast, or Three Go-to Pasta Recipes. I love the page on How to Make a Great Salad, which contains steps 1-5 that start you off Choosing Good Salad Leaves (and listing options) followed by Adding Some Interest (again, with lots of inspiring ideas), Adding Texture, Make it Hearty, and so forth. Anna encourages you to get creative with food on your own terms, off script, without strict formula or recipe.
Her Coconut Oatmeal Cookies won out on Sunday simply because I had all of the ingredients on hand and didn’t have to make an extra trip to the store. Oven preheated, ingredients weighed out, and we were in business. Climbing over boxes to melt the coconut oil, burning the coconut once and having to start over, realizing I was out of raisins and relying on dried cherries instead — nothing could hold these cookies back. Sam worked the farmers market for me that day and when he got home I handed him a cookie on my way out the door for a run and he texted a few minutes later that they were ACTUALLY AMAZING. Sam is critical when it comes to cookies and he doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as I do, so for him to really get behind something sweet in a way that would necessitate capital letters is a rare occasion. That’s a big endorsement around here.
Megan’sNotes: I made a few tweaks to the recipe as I went: I added 1/2 teaspoon of salt (original recipe didn’t call for any), I swapped in whole wheat pastry flour (the recipe calls for either spelt or coconut flour), and I actually ended up adding 1/2 cup more flour than the recipe calls for because my cookie dough was pretty wet once I’d completed the instructions. This could certainly be user error (although I did carefully weigh all ingredients), but I just had a hunch they weren’t going to turn out well if I put them in the oven as is. What I ended up doing is giving you my tweaks below for what worked for me, but perhaps be mindful that Anna calls for 3/4 cup flour in the recipe so if you want to be a purist and follow her formula precisely you could certainly start there. Then if your dough is quite wet like mine was, you’re going to want to add a bit more. I found 1 1/4 cups flour to be perfect, and that’s what you’ll find in the recipe below. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.
Anna’s recipe calls for raisins, but we happened to be out so I used dried cherries instead. Certainly use any dried fruit you’re excited about — I thought chopped dates would be really nice next time. Or perhaps fold in some toasted nuts like pecans or walnuts instead of the fruit. The options feel endless.
Adapted from: A Modern Way to Eat
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spread the coconut out on one baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown and fragrant, about 5-8 minutes. Set aside to cool. Increase oven temperature to 375 F.
Weigh out the following ingredients into a bowl: both flours, oats, toasted coconut, cherries, brown sugar, salt, and baking soda.
Next, melt the coconut oil in a small pan (or use the microwave) until liquid. Allow to cool slightly before adding the maple syrup. Stir the warm mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well — the dough should look a little crumbly but should come together when you squeeze it and form into a ball.
Using a spoon and your hands, form the dough into balls. For larger cookies, make them just over a tablespoon in size; for smaller ones, make them a generous teaspoon size. Place on prepared baking sheets, leaving 1-inch inbetween each cookie. Gently press down on the tops of each to flatten slightly.
Bake the larger cookies for 11-12 minutes and the smaller ones for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden on top and even in color. When you pull them out of the oven they will still feel soft and you’ll wonder if they’re done — they firm up as they cool. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the trays before transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.
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.