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.
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.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.