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.
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.