We have a pile of flip-flops that rest by the back door all summer long, and I always know a change of season is on its way when the shoe clutter moves upstairs. The light in the dining room is different now – more golden and muted and shadowy and a few jackets have made their way out onto the coat rack. The farmers markets here are still bursting with late summer produce but we’re now talking holiday plans and thinking about ‘last hurrah’ backyard gatherings. In the kitchen we’re still eating a lot of tomatoes and eggplant, but I’ve started to make more oatmeal and polenta and have big plans for a batch of applesauce. But first, I want to share this colorful farro salad with apples, fresh herbs and Parmesan with you. It feels comforting and hearty yet still pulls off fresh and bright thanks to the abundance of chopped herbs — perfect for these weeks of slow yet steady change and signs of things to come. Fall has long been my favorite season but this year it feels even more special as it marks the season of Oliver’s birth. I remember turning inward last fall — feeling very grounded and centered, focusing on the big life change that was to come any day. I’d taken some time off from work, so I did a lot of cooking to stock the freezer and took vigorous walks around our neighborhood. I saw friends and read books. In retrospect I should’ve napped more.
As the summer ticked on and as I got bigger and bigger, things still felt very distant and theoretical — I’d told myself that it wasn’t really go-time until we saw leaves changing. And it hit me one day while walking around Greenlake and noticing little sprinkles of orange flitting across the trees: our baby was on his way. Those of you who’ve been readers for awhile may remember that I also felt sad. I was lucky to have a positive and healthy pregnancy and felt really strong throughout. I’d come to know when our baby was most awake, when he’d kick; I’d talk to him and sing to him. I knew which yoga poses made him go crazy, so I started to avoid those for fear he was being over jostled. We didn’t know the sex of the baby until Oliver was born, so there was also this great anticipation; it was all a very rich period of waiting and as excited as I was to meet our baby, I’d also become quite comfortable.
The sadness set in around Halloween as I started to mourn the loss of getting to feel and know this tiny baby growing inside of me. Little did I know, of course, that those moments would only be amplified when we actually got to meet Oliver and hold and rock him. Learn what soothed him and, eventually, what makes him smile and laugh. When I stare out our bedroom window now and notice the light changing, and feel my way around apple recipes once again — I can’t help but think back to all that uncertainty, anticipation, fogginess and clarity that I felt in those days right before he was born. Seasons are short, sure, and even years feel short sometimes. But then I look down and marvel at this active, suspender-wearing, swing-loving little boy blazing around the hardwood floors of the house and think about how at this time last year we hadn’t even met. And how lucky I am, now, to be able to reach down, grab him and toss him into the air.
Last week I received a box of SweeTango apples in the mail from Stemilt Orchards here in Washington, and fell in love with the sweet flavor (if you like Honeycrisp, you’ll love these) and firm, crisp texture. I set out to create a hearty grain salad that had big flavors and textures: honeyed apples, salty Parmesan, toasty pecans, a bit of lemon and lots of herbs from the garden. I cooked down the farro in a mixture of cider and water, which adds an extra punch of apple flavor (but if you’d prefer, you can certainly cook it in all water; I’ve made it both ways and it’s delicious regardless). It’s makes a great workday lunch and, I imagine, would make a very fine holiday side dish (or, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: ‘any kind of night’ side dish).
A quick note on sourcing apples: For WA state readers, you can find SweeTango apples in Seattle at Safeway, Fred Meyer and QFC and in Spokane at Rosauers and Yokes. If you’re unable to get your hands on SweeTango apples, any crisp, sweet apple would work great here (Honeycrisp would be my second choice).
This salad is best served room temperature, so if you end up cooking the farro ahead of time and refrigerating it, just be sure to take it out and set it on the counter for a good hour or so before pulling it together. Also, when you go to shop for ingredients, just know that most farro you’re likely to see will be pearled or semi-pearled, a process that removes some of the bran for quicker cooking. Whole grain farro, on the other hand, can take 30-40 minutes longer to cook, so just be aware of which you’ve purchased and adjust the cook time as needed.
For the Dressing:
For the Salad:
In a medium saucepan, bring farro, apple cider, salt, and 2 cups water to a hearty simmer. Reduce heat and cover, cooking until farro is tender yet still chewy and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 25-30 minutes. If there is excess liquid after the farro is done cooking, simply strain it away. Let farro cool off the heat (room temperature or slightly warm is ideal for this salad).
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add apples and pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until apples begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add honey and continue cooking, until apples turn golden and become fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile make the dressing: whisk together the lemon juice, honey, shallot, olive oil and salt. Set aside.
In a large salad bowl, toss together the cooked and cooled farro, honeyed apples, chives, parsley, basil, and chopped pecans. Pour the dressing on top of the salad and fold to incorporate. Top with grated Parmesan. The salad is best served room temperature, but will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.
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.