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.
This past week, there was a day when you could’ve found me sitting in the middle of our bed with many a cookbook and magazine strewn about trying to plan out recipes to make and freeze before the baby arrives (do you have any favorites? I’d honestly love to know; I’m feeling overwhelmed)! As it stands now, in our house when dinnertime rolls around, we do a lot of the ‘what do you feel like?’ ‘I don’t know, what do you feel like?” and by the time we’ve successfully answered that question one of us is off to the grocery store and we’re lucky if we’re eating by 8:30 p.m. I’m well aware that this isn’t ideal or sustainable with a brand new baby, so I want to be sure we’re pretty well stocked to avoid the scenario.
In addition to meal planning, the closet in our guest room has little piles of items with family member’s names on them, leading Sam to draw the conclusion that I’ve surely lost my mind. But it turns out that when you’re expecting a November baby, it’s possible you may start worrying about Christmas gifts in October. I just know that it will be the absolute last thing we’re going to want to be bothered with, and I want to make sure we have this safe little bubble to linger in without to-do lists or grocery lists or Christmas concerns. So while we’ve both been working hard to get things taken care of at work so we can step away next month, it’s these little things I didn’t anticipate that would be keeping me up at night.
And that actually brings me to this cranberry cornbread, a recipe I was testing out to possibly make for Thanksgiving this year. It’s from Maria Speck’s newest book, Simply Ancient Grains, a cookbook I’ve been looking at longingly since it arrived months ago but haven’t yet had a chance to cook from. While we’ve never met in person, I think of Maria as my whole grain sister in crime: her first book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, is truly an invaluable resource if you’re looking for new and interesting ways to work whole grains into each meal of the day. Not surprisingly then, her newest book is just as much of a keeper — this time around, Maria focuses on making whole grains accessible to home cooks with lots of time saving and do-ahead tips.
I made a few very small tweaks to Maria’s recipe that I’ll note here: she calls for 1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt and I used 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt instead. In addition, her recipe uses fresh or frozen cranberries as well as dried cranberries, but I decided to forego the dried cranberries and use all frozen instead. If you’d like to try both, Maria recommends 3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries and 1/3 cup dried cranberries.
So while I realize the closet of your guest room may not be peppered with Christmas gifts and hopefully no one has found you sitting in the middle of your bed virtually in tears over chili recipes, I think you’re going to be happy to have this cornbread around the house. At the very least, it has a way of turning a not-so-productive day into something notable. Also, we froze half of it for when the baby arrives. And for that, Maria, my future self thanks you.
Maria calls for fine-ground cornmeal in her recipe, but I used medium-ground and it turned out just fine. I find the sweetness of this cornbread super subtle (and perfect), but if you know yourself and think you’d like a little more sweetness, Maria recommends increasing the amount of honey to 2/3 cup instead.
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Simply Ancient Grains
Position a rack in the center of the oven and place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet on it. Preheat the oven to 450F for at least 15 minutes. Remove 2 tablespoons of the measured cornmeal and add it to a small bowl.
Whisk together the remaining cornmeal, the spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center. In a medium bowl, lightly whisk the eggs to blend. Gently whisk in the buttermilk, followed by the oil, honey and zest until smooth. Add the egg mixture to the center of the flour mixture, and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Don’t overmix; the batter should look a little lumpy.
Add the cranberries to the small bowl of reserved cornmeal and toss to coat — this prevents the fruit from sinking to the bottom. Gently fold into the batter.
Using thick oven mitts, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Add the butter (it will sizzle and brown for great flavor) and tilt it carefully to coat the bottom and the sides of the pan. Scrape the batter into the hot skillet. Decrease the oven temperature to 400 F. Bake until the edges of the cornbread turn golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve warm or room temperature.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.