I’m sitting here in my bright, sunny 9th floor Los Angeles hotel room staring out at the Hollywood Hills, drinking odd boxed water (Ohhhh, L.A.) with room service iced coffee on the way. I should be checking out one of the many cafes I’ve been wanting to try or exploring Koreatown but instead, I felt like checking in with you (and having a real, uninterrupted moment with this iced coffee). I’m traveling this week for pure pleasure — something I haven’t done since Oliver was born — and while I have a few things on my to-do list before I meet up with friends in Venice for the weekend, the biggie is spending some quiet downtime reading, writing, brainstorming, sunning, drinking overpriced smoothies, and getting a little clarity on work and where to put my best efforts right now. To gain more spaciousness of mind, as one of my former yoga teachers would say.
On the flight here, I kept thinking about writers, bloggers and publications that are inspiring me right now, and what they’re doing that ultimately makes them special. The answer isn’t shocking: authentic voice and niche — carving out a space for yourself and communicating within that space in a genuine-to-you way. So I’d love to talk about keying into that in the places we work, commune, and play. And how to find more spaciousness in all those places. I’m sharing a fitting recipe here from Laura Wright, one of the queens of plant-based cooking and blogging, and a brilliant photographer. She has a new cookbook out that I’ve become obsessed with as each recipe is interesting and distinct without feeling off-putting, pretentious, or complicated. If you know her blog The First Mess, you know Laura has a casual and approachable voice that makes you feel as if you’re cozied up right next to her in the kitchen. You trust her, you get to know her food and style, and you come back to her site for what she does so well.
Niche and voice aren’t just important in my small world of cookbook writers and food bloggers – they’re also a big consideration in business. With my granola company, Marge, we constantly have to work to continue building our brand and making sure our customers know how we’re distinct from our competitors. You could call it positioning or staying on-brand; you could call it remaining true to yourself and your mission. They’re both getting at the same thing in the long run.
I bring this up now because I find myself in a unique and fortunate position with Marge Granola where it runs pretty well without me actively overseeing operations. So I’m starting to flirt with the idea of another cookbook and ways in which I can grow and nourish this space here with you. And with that being said, I have a favor to ask: I’d love to hear about what you most like about this space and why you come back. Is it for the whole grain baking recipes? Are you interested in weeknight dinner ideas? Do you enjoy the writing? Do you actually read the writing or tend to skip on through to the recipe? I’d so appreciate it if you took a moment to let me know in the comments here.
The few instances over the years when I’ve tried to tailor my blog content to what I thought I should be doing or what might get the most traffic were the precise moments when the blog felt farthest from me. And of course, like most things in life, what’s the point if it doesn’t feel exciting and juicy and … like you?
While a few years ago there were certainly more complex baking recipes, lately I’m much more drawn to healthy, doable weeknight dinners, it seems. Largely because we’ve got a kiddo to feed and get to bed and it’s nice when Sam and I can sit down to eat before 9 pm. Imagine that! I’d also love to show you around our home more, introduce you to some of Sam’s famous-to-us cocktails, maybe do a few entertaining or travel posts. So as I sit here and brainstorm future creative endeavors, I’d genuinely love to hear what you’re most excited about and interested in — why you keep coming back here. And please know that I’m so honored and humbled that you do.
Quick recipe note: I remained pretty true to Laura’s recipe here with the exception of using a few more olives (I have a Lebanese husband; what can I say?). Laura calls for 1/2 cup olives and I added 2 additional tablespoons.
I took a small liberty with Laura’s recipe in serving our pasta with grated Parmesan cheese, but obviously leave it out if you’d like the recipe to remain vegan. Any spaghetti or linguine pasta will be great here — I used a brown rice pasta that we’ve been into these days. Leftovers are great for lunch the next day.
Very slightly adapted from The First Mess Cookbook
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the diced eggplant with a generous sprinkle of sea salt. Let the eggplant sit for 10 minutes to release some of its water. Pour the salted eggplant into a colandar and rinse with fresh water. Dry the eggplant pieces as thoroughly as you can with a kitchen towel, and then lay them on the prepared baking sheet.
Toss the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the salt and pepper. Spread the eggplant out into a single layer. Slide the baking sheet into the oven, and roast until the eggplant is tender and has browned slightly, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
In a large deep skillet or pot, heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, stir and saute for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the chili flakes and oregano, and stir. Add the tomatoes and vegetable stock to the skillet, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce for 30 minutes .
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Drop the basil leaves into the tomato sauce and submerge the leaves. Cover the sauce and let it continue to cook for 10 more minutes.
Remove the basil leaves from the sauce, and season it with salt and pepper. Add the roasted eggplant and chopped olives to the sauce, and stir to distribute. Carefully toss the cooked pasta into the sauce. After the noodles are coated in sauce, sprinkle the chopped basil on top. Serve hot.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.