On January 1, my sisters and mom texted our family chain asking what my word of the year would be. I’d loosely seen people talking about this idea online — the practice of choosing just one word to help guide your intentions and actions — but I hadn’t given it much thought. Didn’t really plan to, in fact; wasn’t even sure I found it that compelling, except… I knew immediately what my word was: pause. I recall in years past scheming up long, ambitious lists of things I wanted to tackle. But this year? No such list. Not that I don’t intend to do some tackling; I just want to carefully consider what those things might be.
A few of you may have seen my Instagram post last week in which I mentioned a book I’m reading, Designing Your Life. I’m generally a bit skeptical of books like this, but this one resonated as it talked about approaching your life as if it’s a problem to solve, much like designers approach a project — breaking it down first and then building it back up. If you’re feeling a bit stuck with work or fulfilling personal goals, I highly recommend it. I got to the exercise section of the book where authors Dave Evans and Bill Burnett encourage you to think about your life as a dashboard comprised of Health, Work, Play and Love. They have a visual that looks like the gas gauge in your car and ask you to shade the extent to which you feel each is full and satisfied. Work and Love are pretty self explanatory; Health is the physical but also the spiritual and emotional, and Play is something “just for the joy of it.”
I stopped cold when I came to that explanation. Something just for the joy of it! Imagine that! While I dutifully sat shading in my work gauge all the way full and my love gauge pretty darn full, I paused and realized my Play gauge was virtually empty. Well, that’s unsettling. My mom reminded me that sitting on the floor and reading to Oliver or chasing him around the house making lion noises fit squarely into my Play meter, which is certainly true. But most other things I could think of to possibly plunk into Play (yoga, hikes) had another end goal in mind (fitness, head-clearing); if I was honest with myself, they weren’t just for the joy of it.
So on this Monday afternoon, a bright wintry day when the snow is gleaming off the Olympics and there’s promise of leftover birthday cake at home, I’m reminding myself about my word this year. The word I didn’t really set out to choose, but that, as woo woo as it sounds, I think chose me.
Something I did explicitly choose? These beet burgers. They’re all about working a little less and playing more, perhaps in ways you wouldn’t guess. First, the recipe makes 8-10 burgers and the leftovers are great for easy, simple lunches, so you won’t have to spend too much mental energy on meal planning. In our house lately, we have to think about feeding ourselves but also our toddler, so now I really only gravitate to recipes that Oliver can eat as well — that way, I’m not spending all of my time in the kitchen or staying up at night to try to prep things for him to eat the next day. Because that’s making the Work gauge overflow at this point. Less of that. More sitting on the floor eating leftover beet burgers with our hands. Just for the joy of it.
Cook’s Notes: These beet burgers don’t have bread crumbs or any flour to help bind them, relying solely on egg, so they are quite delicate and a bit crumbly. I’ve made them a few times and find that an extra egg helps hold them together so while Luisa calls for just one, I’ve added an extra one to the recipe below. Make them on the smaller side to avoid any chance they’ll fall apart on you, and when flipping them, do so with care. I didn’t mind the slightly crumbly texture — we just slid them right into a bun and everyone was quite happy.
Another note: I happened to be out of green lentils, so I used red lentils and they turned out great. Personally, I find it a little onerous to cook up such a small amount of lentils and rice, so I made a proper pot of each and saved what I didn’t use to make grain bowls or fold into soups or salads throughout the week. Last, do know that grating the beets is a bit messy – I use a box grater and grate them directly onto a cutting board we don’t care about. Enjoy!
I love serving these vibrant burgers nestled into a seedy bun with sliced avocado, a few greens, and an easy herbed yogurt sauce (rough “recipe” below). You could really take these burgers to the next level with sauteed mushrooms and melted cheese, but as Luisa mentions, you can also eat them more like latkes or falafel. The burger mix itself can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator, and the cooked burgers stay good for up to four days, covered and refrigerated.
Recipe barely adapted from Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen
For the Burgers:
For the Herbed Yogurt Sauce:
Slice the onion to a thickness of 1/4 inch. In a medium skillet, saute the onions in the oil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, until they start to darken and caramelize. Reduce the heat slightly and add the beets along with the garlic, walnuts, raisins, and paprika, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Allow the mixture to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a food processor and pulse several times until chunky (you still want it a little chunky here). Scrape the mixture into a large bowl and fold in the lentils, salt and pepper.
Replace the food processor (no need to rinse it!), add the rice and eggs, and pulse to form a coarse puree. Scrape the rice mixture into the bowl with the onion-lentil mixture and mix well.
Lightly oil your hands and divide the dough into 8 -10 portions just under 1-inch thick.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat the bottom. Place the burgers in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Very gently flip the burgers and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the burgers have a firm, brown crust.
Meanwhile in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, herbs and salt. Serve burgers with your favorite accompaniments – I love sliced avocado, a few greens and a generous spread of yogurt sauce.
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.