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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
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.
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.