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.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.