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.
When I’m traveling, generally the last thing I want to be bothered with are recipes. Vacation should feel a bit more effortless and haphazard and not as structured or delineated. And fruit crisp is one of the things I feel confident just kind of throwing together: I can eyeball the amount of fruit, add a few tablespoons sugar and a bit of cornstarch or flour. Maybe lemon juice if we’ve got it. And then I work some butter into a blend of flour, oats and brown sugar until it starts coming together in clumps and bake it until the fruit starts bubbling up through the crisp layer in vibrant, jammy hues. This year though, I thought it would be useful to actually get my recipe down in writing — so I’d always have it at the ready to glance at should I forget or should you want to make a pan in your own kitchen or while traveling and cozying up in someone else’s.
The version you see here is one that will be repeated in a week or so in a small, funky kitchen in upstate New York. It’s a whole grain fruit crisp with a bit less sugar than other recipes you’ll see floating around the internet — and I add a generous handful of chopped toasted nuts for added crunch. If you’re a fruit crisp purist, perhaps you won’t be into that but I’d encourage you to try it before knocking it. This recipe can be made with any fruit you’d like: summer berries are obviously great but apples, pears or stone fruit work beautifully, too. This version is a Raspberry Rhubarb crisp, and was a bit on the tart side (which I loved) with plenty of that buttery, toasty crisp topping that I swear I could eat all on its own.
I ended up bringing this one to our book club a few weeks ago. Not only had I not read the book this time around, but I actually didn’t even know what book we were to read. I told myself next month I’ll do better and even had a delusional moment thinking how much reading I could get done on the plane (I know, I know). But the nice thing is that when you show up somewhere clutching a warm fruit crisp, it doesn’t really matter. I hope the simplicity and adaptability of this recipe encourages you to show up somewhere clutching one, too.
While this recipe will work with any fruit, it’s worth saying something about sugar. The formula below was perfect for my Raspberry Rhubarb crisp, but for my tastes it was a touch on the sweet side when I made this with all strawberries the week before. I would say if you use a naturally very sweet fruit like strawberries or stone fruits, I would probably go down to 2 tablespoons of sugar in the filling. Of course, if you like a slightly sweeter, jammier filling keep it just as is. As for the flour, I’ve tried this recipe with 100% whole wheat flour, barley and oat flour and all-purpose flour and it’s great each time. I think you could use any flour you’re excited about and likely have good results. Like most simple, humble desserts, spend a little time to make it your own. Then you’ll want to keep it in heavy rotation this season; I know we will.
For the Filling:
For the Topping:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
In a medium bowl, toss together the fruit, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch. Set aside.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, nuts, brown sugar and salt. Working with your fingertips, blend in the small cubes of butter until no dry spots remain; some of the butter will be fully incorporated while some will be in pea-size clumps.
Butter a 2-quart baking dish, scrape in fruit filling, and scatter topping on top. Avoid the temptation to press the topping into the fruit crisp — it should be sitting there loosely as that’ll help it clump when it bakes. Bake for 35-50 min, depending on the fruit you’re using. You want the top to brown evenly and, just as importantly, you want to see the juices from the fruit bubbling up through the crisp topping in places.
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.