I’ve been in the slow process of cleaning out my home office this week, and yesterday I stumbled upon some notebooks containing previous year’s Summer Bucket Lists (if you may recall, I used to write sort of elaborate lists of things I wanted to learn, see or accomplish during the summer season). Scrawled throughout these pages were lines about baking sourdough bread, starting a garden for cut flowers or taking a road trip and discovering new towns in the region (or beyond). This year I don’t have such a list. The days feel more like a race to get our work done, figure out how to feed ourselves, take care of the plants in the backyard, be a good friend, be a good sister, be a good mom and a good partner. Walk to the park. Point out airplanes, trucks, buses, vans, birds and flowers with Oliver. Drink a cocktail and watch The Handmaid’s Tale with Sam at night. Buy wedding presents and shower presents. Show up.
These simple things seem to take up all of the time that perhaps I once used to spend baking more bread or taking more road trips. I remember the one summer a few years ago when I made loads of peach jam, ate it with homemade yogurt, sewed a gigantic quilt, and wrote a book proposal in my free time. That, my friends, is not this year. Instead, this summer I’m hoping to simply cook more and get outside more. Oliver has some new sandals he’s jazzed about and we bought him a sun hat with realllllllly full coverage that he tries to rip off, as if he knows it’s slightly humiliating to show up at the neighborhood park donning such a wardrobe atrocity. I got him a little mini rake to accompany his sand pail and shovel, and have big plans to head to the beach to shovel, rake and cap things off with a vanilla soft serve cone.
The one trick I always have for guaranteeing I’m cooking more is to think a lot about Future Megan — in other words, my Tonight Self or Tomorrow Self. We try to make a pot of grains on the weekend and have some fresh herbs and lemon around, and thanks to summer produce (tomatoes! corn! tomatoes again!), the rest often kind of comes together naturally, however haphazardly, which was the case with this summery salad.
In one of the classes I teach at The Pantry here in Seattle, we make a similar whole grain bowl with millet, but I received some beautiful farro and french lentils from a whole grain company in Canada that I love, Grain, and was excited to put both to work this week. The lentils are a nice touch because they make this much more of a complete meal, so we can spend a little less time thinking through the components of dinner and a little more time shoveling and raking, and stopping to wave at passing trucks.
This salad is a particular favorite when all of the ingredients are at their peak of freshness (now!), and are given space to just do their thing. A tough recipe to mess up, the one piece of advice I do have here is to try your best to be attentive while cooking the lentils so as not to overcook them — I taste them every 5-8 minutes or so to make sure they’re still nice and toothsome. As for making this salad even simpler, you can certainly use frozen corn although I will say it’s so, so good with fresh, sweet summer corn. I generally always double the dressing recipe, too, and save half for a future green salad, soba noodles or a whole grain bowl later in the week.
For the Salad:
For the Dressing:
Cook the farro: In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the farro, 2 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Simmer until farro is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 30 minutes. If there is excess liquid after the farro is done cooking, simply strain it away. Remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
Meanwhile, rinse the lentils. In a separate small saucepan, add the lentils and 1 cup water. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to low (should be a gentle simmer) and cook lentils until just tender, about 25 minutes. Strain, rinse with cold water and set aside to cool.
Cook the corn: In a large nonstick skillet, warm the olive oil and add the shallot. Cook over medium heat until just soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the corn and generous pinch of salt and increase heat to medium-high. Cook corn until it’s just beginning to brown on the edges and soften, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. In a large salad bowl, toss together the cooked farro, lentils, corn mixture, tomatoes, feta and herbs. Fold in the dressing. Serve immediately.
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.