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.
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.