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).
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.