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.
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.