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!
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.