I’d heard from many friends that buying a house wasn’t for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I’ve started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing’s first: we bought a house! I think! I’m pretty sure! We’re still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we’ll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much.
I’m not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn’t the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we’d be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend’s book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
For two self-employed people, getting pre-approved for a loan today is a challenge in and of itself. It took us quite awhile and the paperwork and questions are still trickling in. And then when we thought it was all set, we were still waiting on the tax transcripts which were “in processing” and seemed to be stuck in the backlogs of IRS tax return hell. I spent hours on the phone with the IRS and ultimately decided to don my favorite power hoodie and head downtown to their offices where there may have been tears and I may have bought my representative a sandwich to try and sweeten the deal. I’m not sure which one worked (maybe it was the power hoodie?), but it does seem like those transcripts are no longer “in processing” and are now “released.” When I heard the news, I started researching movers and we keep talking about how we should really start to think about packing a box or two. I think this thing just might be real.
When Sam and I were dating long distance years ago, I flew up to look at houses to rent with him in Seattle and remember walking into the house we live in now and thinking ‘this is the one.’ I looked at Sam and could tell he thought the same thing. I could just see us there. I had the same feeling when we stepped inside of our new house: I could see us there. It’s big enough to stretch out and start a family, it has a great deal of charm and character while also somehow feeling fresh and renovated, the kitchen will be a great working space for a second cookbook once I get that in the works, and there is a roomy office for Sam. And! A huge walk in closet. It’s a really good house. And I keep pinching myself that — barring anything strange in mortgage land — we will get the keys later this month. We joked that potato salad on the living room floor could be a great first meal, although these stuffed shells wouldn’t be half bad either.
I’ve found in the last few weeks that comfort food gets its name for a reason: it’s what you really crave in stressful times. I haven’t had a good kale salad in awhile, but pasta, nachos and grilled sandwiches have been making the rounds. We just had these stuffed shells for dinner last night, and I hadn’t intended to blog about them, but Sam encouraged me to take a few photos along the way just in case it was blog-worthy and they turned out wonderful — the balance of flavors was spot-on with the sweet fennel and onion, bitter radicchio, and slightly nutty Fontina. I longed for a bit more sauce, so next time I’d heat up some additional marinara to serve on the side. Good comfort food for stressful times … or just anytime, really. I’m loving all the beautiful spring salads I’m seeing online right now, but sometimes a good baked, saucy shell is really what everyone needs more of, no?
I ended up cutting back on the fennel just a little here and added more cheese, opting for Fontal instead of Fontina, which is apparently Fontina’s less expensive (but no less delicious) cousin. And I think these shells would be great with any number of other vegetables; I love the idea of doing them with different mushrooms, greens and goat cheese. The possibilities are endless.
Lightly adapted from: Food and Wine
Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a large, deep skillet, melt the butter in the oil. Add the fennel and onion and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes; add water as needed to keep the vegetables from scorching. Add the radicchio and cook until very soft, about 10 minutes, adding water as needed. Scoop the vegetables into a bowl and let cool.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta al dente. Drain and cool under running water. Pat shells dry. Fold the ricotta, Fontina, and parsley into the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the eggs.
In another bowl, mix the marinara sauce with the cream. Pour 1 cup into the 9×13-inch baking dish and swirl around a bit to coat the bottom. Stuff each shell with a heaping tablespoon of filling and nestle the shells in the sauce as close together as possible. Drizzle remaining sauce on top and sprinkle with the mozzarella. Bake the shells for about 40 minutes, or until bubbling and crisp on top. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
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.