One year ago today we were sitting at Elliot Bay Book Company, my chest feeling immensely tight, awaiting word from our broker about an offer we put on a house. In a very competitive market, it turned out that we were the tenth offer; I knew ours wasn’t the highest and that chances were slim. We’d spent a lot of time on a letter to the buyer and were just crossing our fingers that they might be the kind of people who would read such a letter and even like to envision a new family making a home there. But I also knew that money talks, and they’d likely choose the highest offer. During the reception for the book event, as I stood nervously sipping sparkling water, a text came through from our broker that they’d accepted our offer. The house was ours. I burst into tears and grabbed onto Sam and tried really, really hard not to take any of the attention away from our friend’s lovely book. But THE HOUSE. We got THE HOUSE!
In many ways, a year can go by so quickly. Every time the first of the month rolls around I always find myself thinking, where does the time go? (Or more like: It’s time to pay our mortgage again?!) But in other ways, so much happens in a year. I’m sitting here now inside that very same house we’d talked and dreamed about, with the baby that we still referred to as Sprout and had yet to meet, now napping upstairs. And there are two nice men out back helping us with a small brick patio. Last summer I told myself that pregnant ladies can’t do everything and the yard just lost the fight: neither of us had time to do much back there and we let it go. But this summer I’m determined to spend lots of time outside, eating cold noodle salads, reading a page or two of a book if Oliver lets me, and maybe even learning to sort-of use a grill.
In the past year, we’ve done some minor work on the house to make it feel lighter and softer and more like us; it’s a 1930’s brick Tudor so the rooms are quite small and tight and they were originally painted really dark, rather gothic colors. So we painted many of the rooms using grays and light blues and whites, put in some new fixtures, and are currently working with a company I love to bring about a few new touches in the dining room which I’m excited to tell you about in a few months.
And maybe by the time the sun decides to really show up in earnest, we’ll have some new grass sprouting in the backyard and a table big enough to sit some of our favorite people. But for now, I’ll settle for cold noodle salads inside and this past weekend, I doubled this recipe so I’ll have it for lunch every. single. day. It’s that good: light and refreshing, with asparagus at the height of its season, little ribbons of carrot, toasted sesame seeds and citrus-drenched tofu. It’s one of those salads that’s actually better the second day (if you can wait) and is best served room temperature or cold (I prefer cold).
I had the opportunity to partner with Albertsons and Safeway to create this noodle recipe, and was eager to try a handful of their Signature line of ingredients in the testing process. I was looking for an interesting way to brighten up baked tofu that didn’t rely on the typical peanut, tahini or Sriacha shuffle I usually do, so I opted for big citrusy flavor instead thanks to the Signature SELECT Seville marmalade and a healthy splash of orange juice. Those flavors are balanced with Signature Kitchens soy sauce, ginger, garlic and honey. It is perfect picnic food, but has also proved to be great lunch fuel at my desk this week, while staring out the window dreaming about the sunny days to come. I hope you’re all having a great week.
I use soba noodles for this salad although you can certainly use a rice or chow mein noodle if you’d prefer. And as with many simple noodle salads, this is quite adaptable so if you’d prefer using broccoli or another seasonal vegetable instead of the asparagus, go right ahead. And last, the marinade for the tofu and the dressing for the noodles both rely on a handful of the same ingredients, so keep them close at hand.
For the Tofu Marinade:
For the Noodles:
Prepare the Tofu: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, whisk together the marmalade, orange juice, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, ginger and garlic.
Unwrap the tofu, blot with a few paper towels to remove excess moisture, and cut into 1-inch cubes. Arrange the tofu in an even layer in a 9×13 baking pan and pour the marinade on top. Stir to coat the tofu. Place the pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove, stir well, then bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until tofu is golden brown. Spoon the saucy tofu out of the pan and into a small bowl; set aside.
Prepare the Salad: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain the noodles and place them in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil, and blanch the asparagus for 90 seconds, or until bright green and tender. Immediately strain and rinse with cold water.
In a small bowl, make the dressing: whisk together the orange juice, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, marmalade, shallot and salt. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, toss the noodles with the asparagus, carrots, cilantro, green onion, ½ the amount of sesame seeds and red pepper flakes (if using). Gently fold in the tofu (along with the leftover marinade) and dressing. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve room temperature (or cold), topped with the remaining toasted sesame seeds.
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.