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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.