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!
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.