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). After our knock-em-dead New Years Eve, we had plans to go to The Wandering Goose for Southern breakfast + resolution writing, a tradition we’ve kept for years. But when we woke up to a light dusting of snow, neither of us really felt like dealing with a very busy (now) toddler in a very small restaurant — nor were we quite ready to think about goals or resolutions. There was still wrapping paper to clean up and mail to open, and frankly I wanted space and time to really think through mine before sharing them this year. I remember sitting at our table last year with a six week old baby strapped to me, lightly bouncing and, with each bite of breakfast, trying not to drop black eyed peas on his head. There was a bit of a wait for our food, so we ended up sharing a piece of caramel cake and coffee first, and I proceeded to lie my way through each of my goals. And I 100% knew it at the time, too. Was I going to learn how to sew clothes for myself? Yes. Would I get better at baking bread? Absolutely. Write a new book proposal? You betcha. I remember thinking to myself that the entire exercise felt futile and what I really was going to do that year was keep this sleeping baby alive and healthy. And I did. We did. And he’s a little walking, babbling ray of sunshine that loves kiwis and bananas and biscuits and taking showers with his papa. And this year, I’m ready to start thinking about new personal and professional projects that have more to do with me — to make lists that feel genuine and exciting, not just words on paper.
This soup has turned out to be good fuel for that sort of thing — for writing thank you notes and starting the new planner my sister Zoe got me for Christmas. I saw the recipe in Bon Appetit a while back and when I recently dug it out, I discovered it was a spring minestrone with sugar snap peas and fresh peas, so obviously my version is a seasonal departure. I ended up using frozen peas and fresh zucchini instead and it feels like exactly what I want and need to be eating right now: clean, simple, and all about the ingredients themselves. Nothing over the top, festive or fancy. Just a good, wintry soup. And a clean desk to start thinking about those truthful resolutions I’m almost ready to write. Happy New Year, friends.
This soup has a few components that can be tackled separately and in advance: the soffrito works as the base and you’ll have quite a bit leftover that you can then freeze and use for soups in the future. As for the pesto, I didn’t have pistachios as the original recipe called for so I used hazelnuts instead. Like most pesto recipes, I treat it as a formula more than anything so use any nuts and greens you like here; it’ll turn out great.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
For Soup / Assembly:
To make the soffrito: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Cook onions, leeks and celery, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.
To make the pesto: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast nuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 6-8 minutes. Let cool; crush using a small sauce pan (you want a mix of sizes).
Pulse garlic, basil, parsley and 1/3 cup oil in a food processor until a coarse puree forms. Transfer to a medium bowl and mix with Parmesan, lemon zest, crushed nuts, and remaining 1/3 cup oil; season with salt and pepper.
Soup and assembly: Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high. Add the thyme and zucchini and cook until tender, about 6 -7 minutes. Add bay leaf and 1 cup soffrito and cook down until fragrant, about 2 minutes (Reserve remaining soffrito for another use; see note below).
Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add peas, kale, beans and cook until kale is wilted and peas are tender, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed. Remove and discard bay leaf.
Serve soup, topped with pesto, Parmesan and red pepper flakes.
Note on Soffrito: The base can be made 3 days ahead. Let cool, cover and refrigerate (or freeze for up to 1 month).
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 had every intention of starting a new tradition this year and hosting a cookie swap with some of our local friends, but somehow the season really got the best of me and it just hasn't happened. But! That hasn't stopped me from getting a head start on holiday baking; I posted a photo on Instagram the other day of some of my very favorite holiday cookbooks, and asked if there was a way we could all just take the whole week off to bake instead of work. Judging from the responses, it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this would be a really great idea. But back here in reality, cookie baking is relegated to later evenings or, I hope, this weekend we'll find some time to eek in a few batches (the recipe for Sam's mom's Nutmeg Logs is up next, and I'm set on making gingerbread men to take with us down to the Bay Area). Right now on our countertop, we've got a batch of these crumbly, chocolatey, whole grain shortbread that have proven to be a big hit. The ingredient list is small and simple, the technique foolproof, and I think they're a real standout in a sea of holiday cookies.
Hello from the other side! I realize we haven't been back here for a few weeks, and I'm sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I've been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you'd print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important --you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit "send." My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that's what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
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.
We've been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I've always been a morning person, so this isn't particularly challenging for me -- although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down ("gosh, aren't we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?"), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn't wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible -- and now I get it. I should've napped more. I should've listened. In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I've had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I've made up some wacky baby tunes that I'm happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.