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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.