Hello from our guest bedroom where I have officially taken up refuge as our upstairs bedroom is stifling hot and my inexpensive drug store fan doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. We’re having a bit of a heat wave in Seattle, and Sam has been out of town all week so dinner has been a mellow affair, usually consisting of quesadillas or, on occasion, a big bowl of berries + whipped cream or popsicles. I finally just bought a popsicle mold and am not quite sure what took me so long, but I’m hooked and these coconut numbers were the first recipe I tried. The ingredient list seemed deceivingly simple, and I thought there’s no way they could be as velvetty and luxurious as the ones I buy from our local co-op. But they are, and you can tailor them to fit your own taste in terms of sweetness and amount of toasted coconut. I’m not quite ready to share how many of these I’ve eaten this week, but I thought it was time I shared them with you.
There are a lot of popsicle molds on the market today, and choosing one can be a bit daunting. I bought this one thanks to a recommendation from Molly and am loving it so far. It’s a pretty basic design, but the popsicles are easy to unmold after running a bit of warm water around the edges and I can’t help but feel like the options are endless here: mango lime (my sister Zoe’s idea), fresh raspberry, watermelon. It’s going to be a good summer. I started with coconut as it’s my favorite flavor and after some research I realized how most coconut pops are really just coconut milk with a little sugar and possibly some vanilla. I saw a great recipe from Leite’s Culinaria that I based my pops on, and then I was intrigued by Joy the Baker‘s use of toasted coconut in her pops. So this recipe is a bit of a mash up of the two married with my desire to use as little sugar as I could get away with. I think you’re going to like them.
If you’re not a big fan of toasted coconut, you could leave it out altogether and make very simple coconut pops. I like the texture but realize not everyone does. And please do yourself a favor and use full-fat coconut milk; the light version is more watery and will result in a much less delicious popsicle. Last, the amount of sugar is really personal preference so I indicated a small range in the recipe. I used 2 1/2 tablespoons in mine and was very happy with them, but I will say that for whatever reason (someone out there must know the science behind this?!) the mixture will taste sweeter warm or at room temperature than when you freeze it. So if it’s tasting not quite sweet enough while you’re warming it, you’re going to want to add a little sugar. If you fear you may have bumped up the sweetness just a bit too much for your taste, it’s likely perfect.
Now as if homemade coconut popsicles aren’t exciting enough, I’ve been waiting to share some big news with you: I’m pregnant and Sam and I are expecting a new addition to our family in early November! I’ve been excited to share the news with you here, but also hesitant and nervous — continuing to wonder if everything was o.k. and if it was an appropriate time to tell a wider audience than just family and close friends. Apparently for some people that feeling of never being quite sure if everything is o.k. never really goes away, and I’m afraid this will likely plague me for the next few months. But! So far it looks like we’re giving birth to a real live human and not a lizard (good news!) We’re going to try to not find out the baby’s sex, and to let it be a surprise; I’ve started to want to know, to be honest, but Sam really wants to be surprised and I’d like him to have that. And in the big picture of things, there aren’t that many great, great surprises in life are there? So I’m trying to hold out … although I have suggested we stop calling the baby by the girl’s name we’ve chosen as there’s a strong change it could be a boy and it’s just going to start to get weird. So now we have lots of neutral names, mostly after vegetables for some reason. My dad calls the baby Foxy. I like that.
I’ve been lucky so far in that I haven’t gotten very sick and besides general tiredness, have felt pretty strong. The first trimester I was fascinated by foods that I typically love that I no longer wanted anything to do with — I’m always a little skeptical of certain medical rumors and figured all of those pregnant women who talked about cravings and aversions were just … looking for an excuse to eat more hot fudge. But it really is true: I was repulsed by coffee (which I usually love), salads, and most hearty vegetables. I could do butter lettuce but that was about it. Instead, I was a fiend for potato salad (which I usually make maybe once a year and never buy), pineapple and pretty mediocre cheese. I was actually making trips to the market to buy quarts of the pre-made potato salad at the deli, barely recognizing myself but kind of delighting in the strangeness of it all. Morning would come and I’d find myself standing by the sink eating pineapple out of the can. Lately, I’ve rediscovered the simple potato chip and BOY are they delicious! Yesterday when I picked up a poster we were having framed, the woman at the frame shop looked me up and down and said in all earnestness: “anyday now, eh?”; hopefully that is not a result of the potato chips (sour cream and onion! barbecue!) and instead a sign she doesn’t know what a 20-week pregnant lady looks like. Let’s all just assume it’s the latter because I think the chips may be here to stay.
This photo was taken as part of a weekly series I’ve been doing just for my own records so I don’t forget what I look like. Some weeks it’s actually amazing to see how much my belly has grown in a mere seven days. This was week 19 after a snack of almonds and a chocolate milkshake (highly recommended). I hope you’re staying cool in your neck of the woods, and I’m excited to be able to speak more freely about what I’ve really been cooking and eating lately — especially now that vegetables and salads are back in the pro column. See you back here soon.
Feel free to double this recipe depending on how much space you have in your popsicle mold; I certainly will next time. And I noticed some recipes call for a pinch of salt, so you could experiment with that as well. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, you could use 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract instead, but you won’t have those pretty little flecks which, if you’re anything like me, will likely make you happy.
Adapted from: Leite’s Culinaria
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread coconut onto a rimmed baking sheet and toast in oven until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. It can burn quickly, so keep an eye on it. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool completely.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the coconut milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and sugar. Stirring occasionally, cook until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture just barely begins to bubble (although don’t let it boil). Remove from the heat, cover, and let it steep for 1 hour.
After steeping, remove the vanilla pod and discard. Whisk the coconut milk mixture well and stir in the toasted coconut. Pour it into a bowl with a spout or a large measuring cup for easier pouring. Fill 6 ice-pop molds evenly with the mixture. Freeze until firm, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
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.