Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we’re all really good at making excuses to leave the office early — or, simply, to “work from home.” I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I’d been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour — sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat.
The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver’s cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I’d say. Coming home I realized we didn’t have much in the fridge for lunch — but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It’s the kind of salad that’s meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn’t yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there’s always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open — a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
I originally developed this recipe for my whole grain column in Edible Seattle, and at the time was longing to work in as much color as possible to kick the mid-winter blues. Lemons help. Preserved Meyer lemons really help. We always make a few jars of preserved lemons sometime in January or February and love using them in salads, hummus, dips — so many things, really. If you’ve never made them, they’re so, so simple and after awhile you don’t need a recipe; it’s more of a method and a feel than anything. But this is a good place to start.
For this salad, I used Hayden Flour Mills’s farro which is so wonderfully nutty and chewy. If you’re not familiar with the company, they are led by a father / daughter team based in Arizona and they’re doing really amazing things with whole grains. I love their pancake mixes, purple barley and whole grain crackers — and it just so happens that Sam’s graphic design firm, Neversink, revamped their new packaging. It’s always nice when good people get to work together to make something great truly shine, and I think that’s exactly what happened with Hayden Flour Mills’ products.
I hope you had a wonderful week, and I want to thank all of you for your sweet, encouraging comments on motherhood, balancing work, and life in general. I know I’ve said it before, but I realize there are hundreds (thousands?) of online forces vying for your attention and energies, and I so appreciate you all stopping by this pocket of mine. And taking the time to leave a comment every now and again. It really means so much.
Hearty grain salads are a staple in our house, and this one hits all the right notes with slightly bitter arugula, bright lemon, creamy feta and crunchy pistachios. Like most hearty whole grain salads, this one is quite versatile, so you could certainly use a different grain if you’d like. Barley, wheat berries or even freekeh would be great. And a different hearty green or nut will also work just fine. With savory recipes, I love cooking my grains with a bit of broth in addition to water for an extra boost of flavor. And if you’re not a big feta fan, feel free to swap in goat cheese, shaved Parmesan or ricotta salata.
Add the farro, broth and water to a 2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer until farro is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 25-30 minutes. If there is excess liquid after the farro is done cooking, simply strain it away. Let farro cool, then discard bay leaves.
In a small bowl or mason jar, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, shallot and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the cooked farro, arugula, 1/4 cup pistachios, preserved lemon and chives to a large salad bowl. Toss with the dressing. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired. Fold in the feta and top with remaining 1/4 cup pistachios. Serve room temperature or refrigerate, covered, for up to 4 days (bring to room temperature before serving).
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.
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.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.