After we cleaned the kitchen and put away all the platters, I made myself a cup of tea and thought about what could be done differently. This Thanksgiving was our first year actually cooking and hosting and honestly, for two longtime ex-vegetarians, preparing a turkey feels like a pretty major task. The week before, we had family in town for Oliver’s first birthday party and between baking cupcakes, ordering helium balloons and thinking through a simple brunch menu for close to 50 people, I felt pretty spent as far as entertaining was concerned. So Sam took on all things turkey, and I made my cranberry sauce and pie Wednesday night. A good compromise. And yet, it still felt like a lot for some reason and I found myself pacing around the house throughout the day, deliberately staying out of the kitchen and wondering at what point in adulthood things feel more natural (if not actually seamless) when it comes to entertaining during the holidays.
I think for a lot of us, the holiday season can be more of a source of stress than we’d like to admit. Or I’ll just speak for myself. There’s this short window of time that I so look forward to all year: we string lights outside the house, and spend more time indoors cooking and listening to records. We have a mulled wine party that always guarantees steamy windows and tipsy friends, and I bake things I’d usually consider too decadent or time-consuming. But along with that comes the flip side: the pressure to find gifts for friends and family, get our holiday card done, manage a handful of social obligations, hit important holiday sales goals at Marge, purchase plane tickets, and on and on. All of those things take up a good chunk of the next month, but they’re rarely the things I remember nor are they the things I necessarily look forward to when I think about the holidays. So instead of pacing around for the next month feeling much like I did on Thanksgiving day, I want to take a step back.
There are a few ways that I’ve decided to force myself to pause this season, and I thought I’d share them here in case you need a self-enforced break, too. First off, I’ve been carrying Rescue Remedy Drops around in my bag and keeping a bottle next to our loose teas for those moments when things start feeling like a little too much. If you haven’t heard of Rescue, they’ve been around for a looooong time and make a variety of products, but I like the homeopathic drops the best for minor, everyday stress relief (and they don’t cost a fortune, which is a bonus this time of year). I just put a few drops in my tea or water (or coconut milk eggnog, as is the case here) and forge on.
I know some of you may already use meditation apps and I’m a little late to the party here, but I’ve fallen pretty hard for Headspace, and have been trying to remember to sit still once a day, close my eyes, and focus on my breath. A lot of the meditation advice I’ve heard encourages you to find a quiet, peaceful corner in the house and aim to start your day with uninterrupted time before things kick into gear — and I think that’s why I was pushing back against practicing for awhile: like most parents, I don’t have control over when my day starts and I certainly don’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed and heading to my quiet, solitary meditation pillow. But I’ve tweaked things a bit and generally find time in the late afternoon to sit quietly, resetting my day and recalibrating things for the evening ahead.
Another little thing I’m finding helpful in managing everyday stress is trying really hard to work in exercise or walks with friends whenever I can. Living in Seattle you get used to dark days. It’s not as rainy as many people think but the winter is dark. So waiting until the weather is pleasant to head outdoors is something you have to let go. I remember when I first moved here, I thought it was so odd that people walked in the rain without umbrellas, completely unphased. Similarly, friends would meet up after work — in the dark — to get in a lap around the lake.
In addition to battling the diminishing light with walks and fresh air, I’ve also been trying to create more light: usually we string twinkly lights on the outside of the house for the holiday season, and this year we decided to bring them inside as well — I have a few strung in the dining room and I’m working on the mantle today. Deep breaths, walks, the light: All little things, really, but together I’m hoping they help make me feel more equipped to prioritize what’s most important this holiday season. As for this recipe: it seemed fitting to share something I’ve been making lately that is meant to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately. Eggnog isn’t really something you take a few quick swigs of on your way out the door: it’s meant to be savored and shared — so let’s. While I like real eggnog, I’ve long wanted to develop a coconut milk version because I love coconut milk and like to control the sweetness of my eggnog (some of the store bought stuff is so, so sweet). As a trifecta of stress relief, I’ve been sipping this lately with a few drops of Rescue Remedy (you can add it to hot or cold beverages) while sitting on the couch under our twinkling mantle lights. I’m not getting anywhere with that holiday card yet, but I am feeling a little slower, more intentional, and more deliberate with the days so far. I hope you are, too.
I wanted this dairy-free eggnog to be naturally sweetened (but not too sweet) and to taste much like traditional eggnog, so there’s a nice balance between coconut sugar and maple syrup and a generous hand with the nutmeg. I love coconut sugar because it’s unrefined and has a slightly dark, caramelly flavor profile, which feels just right here. It’s best served cold right out of the fridge and is pretty decadent, so a little goes a long ways.
Bring coconut milk to a simmer in a medium pot over medium-high heat. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, coconut sugar, salt, maple syrup and vanilla until smooth.
Gradually whisk the hot coconut milk into the egg mixture, streaming it in slowly as you go so as not to cook the eggs. Pour the mixture back in the pot and cook over medium heat until thick, stirring to avoid burning, about 2-3 minutes.
Pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve placed over a large bowl. Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours and up to overnight. To serve, pour into your favorite cups and grate nutmeg on top.
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.