When you have an eight month old baby, making social plans can be hard. Especially in the evenings. When I was pregnant, I read Bringing up Bebe and one of the big premises of the book is how the French feel strongly that babies and children can fit into your lives and that you shouldn’t have to change and alter everything to accommodate them. I remember reading the book and thinking: YES! Life will be just as it was, except we’ll have a small baby in tow. Obviously a few things would likely be different, but I didn’t want to change our routines, change the way we cooked or approached time off together, or see our friends any less.
Well of course I’m the fool. Or at the very least, I’m not as French as I thought I was. Today, we very much schedule things around Oliver’s nap schedule and bedtime, but thankfully we have a lot of other friends with kids who get it. Friends who make homemade cookies, own ice cream businesses, and have really great taste in music. Friends who host the kind of occasion that warrants homemade hot fudge sauce and eating dessert first. Last weekend Kasey and Matt had us over to their house for a little neighborhood ice cream social. They have twins and a toddler, and our friends Ashley and Gabe came with their three kids. Sam showed up fashionably late with Oliver (ahhh, the nap schedule). I figured the kids would all be eager to make sundaes right away, but there was cornhole and wrestling, crawling and scooting — and all manner of more important things to tend to first. Oliver took his sweet time eating some carrots and practiced crawling (so close! Yet so far!), and I tried not to stress out too much about the fact that we forgot his sunscreen. He’s acquired some little sandal tan lines on his feet and I have to think that a base tan on a baby is probably not a great thing. Kasey invited Lauren from Seattle-based Sweet Lo’s Ice Cream, and we were all over-the-moon that she was able to make it. If you’ve been around this space for long or know me personally, you know I have some impassioned opinions about cool treats. And if you’re in Seattle and you haven’t yet tried Lauren’s crazy good, small batch ice cream, you’re really missing out. I’m addicted to the Oatmeal Cookie and am a recent fan of the Mint Oreo. Her vanilla is so classic and clean and delicious, and her strawberry is summer, summer, summer. Also, she delivers to your house. Best (most dangerous) news of the season.
With ice cream squared away, we needed toppings. Ashley brought some of her addictive Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies and her new savory salty sprinkles (coming soon!). Kasey picked up cones and rainbow sprinkles. I threw some Marge Hazelnut Cacao Nib Granola in my bag and whipped up a batch of this no-fuss hot fudge sauce. I set out to make the hot fudge sauce for selfish reasons, really. I found myself a little disappointed with so many of the homemade recipes I’ve been stumbling upon. Either they have corn syrup or loads of sugar or they call for a candy thermometer. I wanted a simpler hot fudge recipe without all those things; it’s summer and things should feel easy.
So instead of corn syrup I used brown rice syrup which has a much more subtle sweetness; I used a little brown sugar, too, and a generous handful of dark chocolate. I cooked it down on the stovetop but give pretty clear directions here for how to tackle it without a candy thermometer. And extra bonus: it can be pulled together during one of Oliver’s naps — because let’s be honest: I’m not sure how the French do it (what am I missing?!), but nap time is the only time we get any real cooking or baking done.
This past week, we’ve all been texting and lamenting the fact that afternoon ice cream parties aren’t a reality of everyday life — and I suppose if they were, they wouldn’t feel nearly as special. Next week, we’re hoping to bring some of that spirit over to our place and have more friends over to hang out in the backyard, sprinkler dodging and wondering how it is that August is now firmly at our front stoop.
Because it doesn’t have any stablizers (what helps give the storebought stuff its perfect texture), this hot fudge becomes quite firm in the refrigerator and a bit on the thin side when heated too vigorously. So I think leaving it out at room temperature for a few hours or lightly warming it is really the way to go for a smooth, spoonable hot fudge with a deep, dark chocolate flavor.
In a medium heavy duty saucepan, combine the cream, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, and cocoa powder. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid clumping or burning.
Stir in the dark chocolate until fully melted. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping sides until bubbling vigorously, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and salt.
Strain sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl. Continue whisking until smooth. You want the consistency to be thick but pourable (but keep in mind it will thicken as it cools). Let cool to room temperature.
You can make this sauce up to 2 weeks in advance: simply store in the refrigerator, covered. Warm before serving. To reheat, microwave for 30-40 seconds until it’s pourable but still thick. Alternatively, warm in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring often and adding 1-2 teaspoons of water if needed to thin.
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.