It’s taken me a few weeks to come back down to earth after all of your generous comments on my last post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for taking time out of your busy schedules to let me know what’s resonating with you on the site and what you’d love to see more of! I carefully considered each and every one. I have to admit, paralysis set in quickly as I felt the need to really hit this post out of the park (wayyyyy, wayyyy out) after all of those nice word, but then I made a failed dessert recipe and the stomach flu descended upon our house, and I thought it might do to relax for a minute and talk about greener pastures in the form of my recent trip to Los Angeles. For those of you who follow along on Instagram, you probably read about this trip: it was a long girls weekend, but with a twist. You know how sometimes when you travel with a big group (or even a small group), you inevitably end up doing some things you’re not particularly excited about? Maybe you get dragged along to a dinner you didn’t want to go to, or a sports game that doesn’t excite you? Well, the majority of women that gathered in LA are moms of young kids and a weekend away is precious and rare, so it was particularly important that we all got to do what we were most excited about – our getaway’s semi-official name had been You Do You. We all chipped in and rented a house and came together for a shared dinner but beyond that, the hope was that we’d all do exactly what inspires us and lights us up as individuals. No guilt, no hard feelings, no wondering if someone would rather be somewhere else. Just straight up, gloriously selfish time doing exactly what we all needed to do for ourselves. I’ll show you around mine.
Now I feel like I should preface this post by saying that this is far from a traditional travel guide as one of my main goals in LA was to really decompress, read, sleep in, and drink my coffee while it’s still hot. (You parents of smaller people out there know what I’m talking about. It’s the little things.) I wasn’t as concerned with seeing grand sights, landmarks or museums on this visit. I should also say that I extended my weekend to have a few nights by myself, so I’ll backup and start there.
I flew into LA Wednesday evening and stayed at The Line Hotel in Koreatown before meeting up with our group at the house we rented in Venice. The Line was great: not as trendy as The Ace (which has made me feel old in the last few years); great views of the Hollywood Hills, and really fun, inventive food. I ended up ordering room service noodles and a Negroni and going to bed early (I’ve had much worse nights), and woke the next morning ready to explore.
The first order of business was to head downtown to check out Eggslut, which I’d heard had legendary egg sandwiches. What I hadn’t heard about were the lines at Eggslut, so while the sandwich itself was mighty fine indeed, I’m not entirely sure I’d do it again. But the sun was out and Eggslut’s located inside Grand Central Market, which is a really cool open-air food hall with all kinds of treats, good coffee, fancy juice, baked goods, chocolate — you name it. So it was a nice mini introduction to some of LA’s popular food spots.
That afternoon, I headed to Wii spa, a great Korean spa that specializes in those brutal naked body scrubs (have you heard of these?!) and great shiatsu massage. If you find yourself with a free afternoon in downtown LA and are into things like humbling naked body scrubs, I can’t recommend it enough. Even if you’re not, they have a really relaxing rooftop deck that feels more like a fancy hotel, and a lot of breezy common spaces where you can lounge and unwind. So I went and soaked and scrubbed and walked back to the hotel to get ready to meet up with my friends Ashley, who’d flown in early as well, and Nicole for dinner at local spot, Escala. Nicole has a really special book that just came out and a son just about Oliver’s age, so we all chatted about writing and creativity and motherhood and ate marginal kale salad and kimchi mac and cheese. After dinner, Ashley and I hobbled back to the hotel, both in incredibly ill-advised footwear.
The next morning, I headed to Sqirl for some of that famed ricotta toast and jam. While I know it’s become a bit of an LA breakfast cliche of sorts, I really respect what Jessica Koslow is doing there and have long loved her laid back, vegetable / grain-heavy approach to food. I ordered one of those dreamy toasts (soft, fragrant brioche under a pillowy, luscious layer of ricotta and jam!) and a seasonal special of braised chickpeas and greens with harissa and poached eggs. Oh, and it came with long toast. Yes, apparently they literally mean long toast (as you can see in the photo below). While I’ve never been a real fan of eating out solo, I made a point to take my time and not worry if someone else looked like they needed my table. I tried to stay off of my phone, pulled out my journal, and just really appreciated that famous-for-a-reason toast. Good God.
After strolling the neighborhood a bit, I drove over to Venice to meet up with a few friends and get settled in our house for the weekend. While I wasn’t the slightest bit hungry, we were all excited to check out Rose Cafe and had a little time to kill before check in, so we shared a few small things and started brainstorming for the weekend ahead. I realize there are a million kale salads out there in the universe, but the one at Rose Cafe — with pickled golden raisins, mint, thinly sliced onions, lots of bread crumbs and Parmesan — is special. I’d return for that salad, those beautiful baked goods, and that airy expansive space any day.
Throughout the afternoon, ladies started trickling in from the airport and Julie, our fearless leader, arranged to have all kinds of snacks and wine and fizzy water ready for everyone at the house. That evening was the only real solid dinner plan we had as a group all weekend, and it was a good one: Gjelina. We seem to have really scored with a long table out on the patio where there was a warm breeze and lots of wine and friends new and old (I’d only met five of the ten women before that weekend). One end of the table just kept ordering food that made it’s way down to our end — from wood-fired pizzas to roasted cauliflower and warm date cake, it was a memorable meal to kick off what would be a great time together.
The next morning was where You Do You really came into its own. A few ladies took off on a long run, others stayed by the pool or walked downtown, and my new friend Azurae and I decided to check out a yoga class at Love Yoga. I feel like I could write a whole blog post on how incredibly, fascinating-ly LA our yoga class was, but I’ll instead just say that while it wouldn’t be my home studio if I lived in LA, it always feels good to move and breathe (how’s that for diplomatic?).
After yoga, we stopped at the much-talked about and sometimes-mocked Moonjuice for a pricey green juice (I couldn’t help myself; I had to see what all the fuss was about), after which, deciding that balance is always important and now very much called for, we cruised over to Gjusta for a flaky croissant. I could’ve spent two hours at Gjusta just people-watching, and ogling all the baked goods and crusty breads and bagels and smoked fish and pickled things and interesting cookies and brownies made with flours I’m excited about. Those of you who recommended it were right: it’s an LA must.
While we’d all hoped and hoped for some hot LA sun (Seattleites are a desperate lot this time of year), the weather had – so far – been pretty mild and, occasionally, even a bit chilly. But when we walked out of Gjusta the clouds parted and we booked it home to sit by the pool for a good couple of hours. You Do You was in full effect at this point, ladies wandering in and out throughout the afternoon. I ended up sneaking away to cruise Abbot Kinney Boulevard by myself for a bit where I stumbled into some great shops (Burro and Huset were a few favorites) and treated myself to a late lunch at The Butcher’s Daughter which was my favorite casual meal in LA. The food is imaginative, interesting and solid (I had a Cauliflower “grits” dish I want to recreate for the blog) and the space is just beautiful. Go if you have the chance!
That night, we got casual Mexican food and picked up pints of ice cream from Jeni’s (my first time at an actual scoop shop!) to take back to the house. The weekend was coming to a close, and we all started talking flight logistics and household chores to get everything in order before we headed out. I watched an incredible episode of Chef’s Table on Jeong Kwan (thank you, Ashley!) on the plane home, finished my book, and let the weekend settle in. I was impressed that You Do You went off without a hitch: everyone respected each others’ space and we all encouraged one another to check out things that interested us. There was no guilt or pretense or expectation. While I can’t say that I’ve ever been a ‘girls weekend kinda girl’, I think there’s something about having Oliver that’s changed me a little: it’s nice to get away with ladies who share the desire to … get away. That’s it. And who respect what a big and fortunate and sacred thing that is.
In a recent post on Cup of Jo, Danielle Aceino was interviewed about her beauty routine, but several lines in particular – an aside, almost – really hit home: “Let yourself be inspired by yourself and be alive to who you are. Our unedited self is gorgeous and profound; it guides everything else.” I tucked this in my pocket in Los Angeles and carried it around with me. When I felt slightly uncomfortable at the table dining alone or unsure what I should do with a chunk of time in between more structured activities, I’d remind myself to just sit and listen for a minute. Hang with myself. Get to know myself as a person again — without a little one tugging at my jeans or business emails awaiting replies. And I don’t think you need a sunny city or a You Do You escape to do that. I think sometimes it takes a lot of deliberate effort to get there and becomes really difficult when our daily routines feel constraining, but one thing I took home with me: a solo meal out by yourself or a long walk to nowhere in particular is a mighty fine start.
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.