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.
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.