We just returned from my mom’s cabin on Lake George in upstate New York where we often spend the 4th of July. As usual, each bedroom was packed with family members (this year the couch was even occupied for a night), and our days with reading, lounging on the dock, swimming a bit, maybe jogging down the road or playing tennis if you were feeling ambitious. We drank a notable amount of seltzer water; I managed to read three books and my mom threw us a family baby shower complete with balloons, chocolate cake and Mike’s rhubarb bars.
In previous years, my mom has planned most of the dinners and even some lunches, but for breakfast we’d all fend for ourselves. I’d often bake a pie or a batch of brownies in the afternoon and everyone would help out where they could, but she would largely do the shopping and brunt of the cooking. This year was different: having just moved from California to Vermont, my mom had a lot on her plate and sent out an email before the holiday weekend asking us all to chip in and help with the meals. Sam and I claimed Friday dinner: we grilled sausages and Sam made his famous deviled eggs. We cut up some unusually seedy watermelon that I found at the co-op in Burlington before we drove out to the lake, and I made a summery quinoa salad that I expected to be kind of epic. The trouble was that it wasn’t. I overcooked the quinoa until it was kind of a congealed mush and everything just went downhill from there. But I knew that the idea was strong — to pack a whole grain salad with all the things of summer (corn! tomatoes! basil!) — so when we got home to Seattle I tried again. And this time it’s a winner.
For our book club this past Monday I made a similar quinoa salad from an old issue of Bon Appetit with herbed goat cheese and some fresh peaches I picked up at the farmers market. I made beet hummus to go with it; Natalie brought summery tomato garlic toasts and Sarah brought pita to go with the hummus and gelato for dessert. It was the perfect colorful mishmash of a meal that I think makes summer eating so wonderful. Natalie said it best: It’s all so easy when everything is so fresh and beautiful.
I was inspired by the recipe from book club and decided to take another stab at my supposed-to-be-epic quinoa salad. I kept Bon Appetit’s quick pickled onions, but added a mishmash of summery ingredients I had on hand. It’s so colorful and smashing it looks like confetti straight from a pinata, so that’s what I decided to call it. Now if the pickled onions feel like a step you’re just not into, you could leave them out altogether (although I think they’re crazy delicious) but make sure to add a little acid to round out the flavors of the salad — I’d start with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, taste and adjust as needed. The nice thing about the onions, I will say, is that the recipe below makes a bit more than you really need for the salad, so you’re set for future salads, sandwiches, or tacos.
You can make this salad about 6 hours ahead if you’d like: to do so, just leave out the basil and greens and fold them in right before serving. While I didn’t use it this time around, I think this salad would be great with some creamy goat cheese and if you’re looking to amp up the protein, you could always fold in a few handfuls of your favorite beans or marinated tofu. And remember you’ll have leftover pickled onions, so be sure to save them for future sandwiches and salads. Once you get used to having them around, they make for a most beloved condiment.
For the Pickled Onions:
For the Salad:
Place onion in a small bowl. Bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to ensure they’re mixed well. Pour over onion slices and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain but reserve the pickling liquid. Roughly chop the onions and set aside.
Bring quinoa, 3 cups of water and a generous pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and reduce the heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and spread into large salad bowl to cool.
Place both ears of corn in a large pot of boiling water. Allow the water in the pot to come back to a boil, cover, and cook on low for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Remove from pot and set on a dry, clean surface to cool. Once cool enough to handle, slice the corn off the cob by balancing a flat end of the cob on a cutting board and using a downward cutting motion with a nice, sharp knife. This should yield about 1 1/2 cups corn kernels for the salad.
In a large salad bowl, toss together corn, tomatoes, arugula, 1 cup chopped onions (use more if you’d like), basil and chives. Add olive oil and 3 tablespoons of the reserved pickling liquid. Fold in quinoa and stir well. Season with salt and pepper and more pickling liquid if you’d like.
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.