It’s the first sunny day in Seattle in a very long time and I’m sitting here at my sewing desk in our walk-in closet on the second story of our house eating a big salad and staring out the window, flirting with the idea of forgetting work altogether and drinking kombucha in the park. But at the same time, I’ve been getting some emails from you all asking for cookbook recommendations and realizing it’s been a long time since I’ve done a ‘Favorites’ type post. So, with spring cookbook season in full effect, today is the day! It was tough to choose just five, but ultimately the books that stay right on top of my desk and that I continue to bookmark, read and refer back to are the ones I know will be in heavy rotation. Maybe you’ll find something new to inspire your spring cooking?
Eat This Poem by Nicole Gulotta
I met Nicole for the first time a few months ago when I was in Los Angeles, but we’ve known each other for a few years thanks to this lovely and weird thing we call the internet. Our boys are roughly the same age, and Nicole has a great blog, Eat This Poem, that I immediately connected with as it was more literary than most food blogs, and would always include a poem or one of her great City Guides. So when I heard that Nicole was writing a book by the same name, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Eat This Poem is split into sections that feel reminiscent of seasons in life, with titles like “Growth,” “On What Lingers” and “Gathering,” each grounded in relevant poems and recipes.
Not only does Nicole reference other writers in the book, she’s a beautiful writer herself. You know how most recipes have a few lines introducing the dish and letting you know how it came to be, or noting any special ingredients or techniques? These headnotes are actually really difficult to write because they can become monotonous and there’s often so much to relay in a very short amount of time. But in reading Nicole’s book, I was struck with how brilliantly and seemingly effortlessly she introduces each recipe. For her Warm Vanilla Pear Crumble, she notes, “I made this crumble for a dinner party one December. It was two weeks before Christmas and our friends announced they were having a second baby. As I whipped the cream, I heard their daughter running after our dog in the living room; Andrew held our newborn son, Henry; and “O Holy Night” played from a speaker. These are the days.” Now that is a headnote! I not only want to make this crumble, but I feel a part of this moment. And that’s what Nicole is so good at: inviting us into the moments in her life — and even more, inviting us to make our own.
One Part Plant by Jessica Murnane
After being diagnosed with endometriosis, Jessica Murnane decided to try a plant-based diet as a last ditch effort to feel better. Little by little her symptoms disappeared, so she set out on a mission to get people excited about eating just one plant-based meal a day. This cookbook is a killer collection of many of her recipes, and contains a lot of great tips and starter-info on, say, Creating a Plant-Based Pantry and how to fit OPP (One Part Plant) into your week in a realistic way. Sure you’re going to find some chia (have we ever talked about my aversion to chia?), but you’re also going to see a lot of real, simple food and doable recipes with very manageable ingredient lists. I’m particularly excited about the Chocolate Chunk Cookies everyone’s talking about, the Quinoa Taco Salad and the Chilaquiles with Cilantro Cream. And I’d be remiss not to mention that Jessica has one of my favorite podcasts, One Part Podcast, where she interviews super interesting (usually health-minded) guests each week about topics ranging from kundalini yoga and getting more sleep to meditation or asking for what you want. It’s a great one if you happen to spend more time in the car than you’d like (hand raised).
Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman
I eagerly awaited the arrival of this book and it far exceeded my expectations. Before diving in, I think the subtitle is worth mentioning: “A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.” Sarah, girl, my ears are open. Right now, with a toddler in the house, getting a reasonable, homemade dinner on the table that everyone can eat is our biggest challenge and I know it’s one many of you share (toddler or not). That dinner game is rough and 6 pm rolls in quick somedays (err, most days). We give Oliver tortellini or turkey hot dogs for more meals than I care to admit because we just don’t have our act together many nights to get anything else on the table. It’s all too easy to fall into the tortellini rut and, just like adults, kids get tired of the same old / same old, too. So I’ve really fallen for Sarah’s forgiving approach to encouraging families to tackle some meals in advance, breaking out the slow cooker, and extending ingredients for the next night’s dinner.
In this really beautiful book, there are 40 seasonal meals and 100 recipes and a lot of tips and tricks that have worked for Sarah’s family. But I suppose there are many family cookbooks out there with lots of tips and tricks, so what makes Feeding a Family stand out? First, it’s beautifully photographed and doesn’t feel overly-casseroled or dumbed down, which I often find is the case in many cookbooks written for families. There aren’t as many truly beautiful and inspiring family cookbooks that get you excited to try new recipes for yourselves and your kids — food that everyone just may want to eat. And for a family like ours that really likes good food and the act of cooking, this feels huge. I can tell this is a book we’re going to use often, so it was tough to pull out a few recipes, but so far I’ve bookmarked the Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken, Skillet Spinach Pie and Rhubarb Sundaes, and am hoping to make at least one this weekend.
Dishing up the Dirt by Andrea Bemis
While I know many of you may have known of Andrea’s blog for some time, I learned of her book (and her gorgeous Instagram account) first, and had the chance to go see her in person in Seattle this past week. Andrea and her husband run a farm in Parkdale, Oregon where they grow and sell vegetables to restaurants, farmers markets and their CSA customers. While I know that farming and homesteading are reeeally trendy right now, Andrea and Tyler are the real deal: they’re really doing it all. And not only are they doing the farming, but Andrea writes and photographs recipes for their CSA members to educate and inspire them in how to use their weekly produce box. Not sure what to do with your turnips? They’ve got your back. As for the book, Andrea’s laidback cooking style is immediately evident: she encourages “detours,” and her recipes have a very gentle approach of making you feel like you’re in good hands but also that this isn’t brain surgery: a dash of lemon juice or olive oil is just fine. The first thing I noticed in the book is the Sauce chapter, which I think is so smart in a veggie-forward cookbook because if you’ve got a few sauces in the refrigerator, meals can come together quite easily. There’s a Miso Harissa and a Garlic Cashew Herb Sauce I can’t wait to try. Beyond sauces, the book is organized seasonally, which makes a lot of sense. I had such a hard time deciding where to begin, I told myself to just open to page 1 of Spring and get going. So there you’ll find Honey-Roasted Strawberry Muffins: I made them yesterday morning and we all had one as a late morning snack, and later in the evening after Oliver was in bed I had another with a big spoonful of leftover whipped cream. I’ll share them here very soon.
Green Kitchen at Home by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl
You may know Luise and David from their popular vegetarian blog, Green Kitchen Stories, and while they have other cookbooks, this one is heavily bookmarked because of its focus on actual weeknight (or weekday) cooking: simple(r) recipes that can be tackled reasonably on an average Wednesday (with a little planning ahead). There’s very little fuss, and I love the focus on shortcuts (canned beans are ok, people) and batch recipes that can double as building block for more meals throughout the week. In the introduction, David notes,”This book is filled with the recipes that we actually make most often in our own kitchen. Our true favorites,” and I think that comes across throughout the pages. These feel like real life, weekly recipes I’m excited to try. The Fridge Favorites chapter is a great Basics section, with recipes including tomato sauce, flatbreads, lentils, and quinoa in case you need a good primer. And further into the book I fell for the Buckwheat, Banana and Chocolate Bread; Middle Eastern Sweet Potato Wraps; and those really pretty and intriguing Rainbow Flatbreads.
For those of you who live in the Seattle area, I’ll be chatting with Nicole Gulotta about her book, Eat This Poem, next Friday May 12 at Booklarder from 6:30-8pm. The event is free (although Booklarder requests that you RSVP), and I’d so love to see you all there!
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.