I am officially on maternity leave and it feels stranger than I’d imagined. I thought it’d be all about catching up on novels, leisurely baking and maybe sewing a little something for Sprout. Going on lots of walks with friends and out to lunch. The reality is that most people are working during the week and can’t just sneak away for lunch dates, and sitting around the house aimlessly reading seems to make me antsy. Instead, I find myself deciding that certain tasks have immense and immediate purpose (when they never seemed to before): repotting our house plants, researching new insurance plans, and planning a new product line for Marge for 2016.
In the midst of all of this though, I’ve found some time to catch up on Netflix movies (any recommendations?), went out to Lebanese food with Sam, and finally made it to a cafe on Capital Hill I’ve been wanting to try for quite some time. It’s gotten a bit chilly in Seattle this week so I’ve been making lots of cider and chai in the afternoons for an energy boost, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a shortage of soup-making or baking — which brings me to these not-too-sweet, protein-packed blondies that I’ve taken quite a liking to.
This blondie recipe is from Tara Desmond’s wonderful cookbook, Fully Belly: Good Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy, which has been a great resource while I’ve been pregnant (in addition to actual recipes, there’s valuable nutritional information and tips on alleviating common pregnancy symptoms, along with stories from real women). In truth, it’s a keeper even if you’re not pregnant — Tara’s approach to food is similar to mine: she tries to minimize too much sugar, experiments with whole grain flours in her baked goods, and goes heavy on the protein and seasonal fruits and produce. I made her Beef Stew a few nights ago to freeze for the baby and then figured it was only fitting to balance that endeavor with something sweet.
These blondies turned out a little cakier than I’d expected which led me to the conclusion that they seemed most suitable for breakfast as well as dessert (I’m easily swayed on this count). If you like a super dense, sweet blondie, these may not be your favorites. But I love how they’re really packed with roasted almonds and bits of good chocolate, and how they have a good hit of protein from the almond butter, almond meal and actual nuts. They’re a great little snacking bar — which I’m really appreciating as I spend more and more time at home. I ended up slicing and freezing half of these for when the baby comes and we’ve not-so-slowly enjoyed the remainders.
For those of you who wrote in with tips for recipes to make ahead and freeze for baby: thank you! They were so helpful, and I still have a few bookmarked. So far, we’ve stocked the freezer with Tara’s aforementioned beef stew, Heidi’s delicious farro soup (you guys must make this!), a simple butternut squash soup, Italian braised pork, shredded beef for tacos, a bunch of pre-cooked whole grains like quinoa and farro, and rye brownies from my last post (as well as a few of these blondies). I think it’s safe to say that we will not starve.
Tara calls for white chocolate in these blondies, but I opted to use dark 70% chopped chocolate instead — certainly use whichever you prefer. And if you don’t have almond meal or almond flour at home, you can pulverize raw almonds in a food processor until they reach a coarse flour-like texture; just be careful not to overprocess or you’ll have almond butter. I used a little more salt, and vanilla extract instead of almond extract (which the recipe calls for) simply because it’s what I had on hand.
Loosely adapted from: Full Belly
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with a square piece of parchment paper, tucking in the corners so that the paper is flat against the bottom and up the sides.
Put the almond butter, butter, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat at medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth, about 3 additional minutes.
In a medium mixing bowl. whisk together the whole wheat pastry flour, almond flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Sprinkle one third of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix for about 20 seconds. Repeat this twice with the remaining dry ingredients. Add the chopped chocolate and almonds, folding them in completely.
Scrape the thick batter into the parchment-lined baking dish and press it out evenly and into the corners. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops and sides are light brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Take care not to overbake, which will dry them out. Let the blondies rest in the baking dish for at least 10 minutes before lifting them out. Let cool completely before slicing into large or small squares / bars (whichever you prefer).
Store in an airtight container or wrap tightly in plastic or parchment paper for up to 5 days.
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.