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.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
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).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.