Come July you can (too) often find me at the nursery stocking up on plants, cursing myself for not getting out into the yard sooner. Last year I texted my mom a photo of all the annuals I bought in late July and she gently reminded me they’d probably die in six weeks. This year, I was determined to get started before our July 4th barbecue and, true to form, managed to wait until the last minute. But here we are — with new annuals and a whole evergreen shade-loving situation under our rhododendron tree. Even chives and parsley. Oliver’s obsessed with watering the plants, but does so with such gusto (and crushing force) that Sam and I usually take turns after he goes to bed in the evening — preferably, if things are really going our way, with a cold beer and black bean burger in hand. I drove by our hardware store on the way to work this morning and the sign out front said something about enjoying the halcyon days of summer. And I thought to myself, we are in them, aren’t we? A funny thing can happen when you live in Seattle: many believe the unofficial start of summer is July 5 as June can be pretty cloudy and even quite cool. So you hold your breath and wait until the days are clear and even hot and for some reason even then it takes a sign outside the local hardware store to remind you that yes, here we are. Those halcyon days are now.
In years past, we’d flown to my mom’s Adirondack cabin for the 4th of July, but with my youngest sister getting married in September, we decided to hold off and take a longer trip in early fall instead. On our own for the 4th it was, so out came the index cards and late night cookbook-hunting: these two ex-vegetarians were going to host their first July 4th barbecue, complete with toddlers yielding watering cans, aging annuals, and friends near and far. I made Samin’s tomato panzanella salad and a grilled corn salad, Greek potato salad and watermelon acqu fresca from The Modern Potluck. Sam made homemade barbecue sauce and marinade and we had grilled spicy sausages, chicken and herbed skirt steak. There were fresh cherries and watermelon, cocktails and cold rosé, and large slices of coconut cream pie around the fire pit later that night. Also, I didn’t take a single food photo or document the table, the music, the beautiful lights overhead or the over-too-soon fire at our feet. Or anything, for that matter.
The inspiration tank is low when it comes to social media lately and the result seems to be much less documentation of our meals or routines at home. I’m not sure how much of that is just the natural course of things with an active toddler hanging off of me at all hours of the day or perhaps more of a change of the tide, so to speak, but I really hope to find some light and excitement in that again and get back to a place where it feels natural and purposeful to share a bit more about the unfolding of our days. That being said, the unexpected result of this quieter season is a true settling into these halcyon days of summer, as our poetically inclined Ace Hardware reminds us. With fewer thoughts of staging a meal so it looks pretty for Instagram or getting out the camera at a restaurant with friends, the days feel less fragmented and planned — they’re unfolding as they should, without niggling thoughts about getting the right shot or what the appropriate hashtag should be. Like all of us I’m sure, I feel like summer is whizzing by, but at the same time I feel very firmly and deeply seated in it. There’s nowhere else to be, no other story to try to tell and the days are oh so long.
As for cooking, I always feel like I get a little of my mojo back in the summer: it’s just so easy with all of the beautiful, vibrant tomatoes and sweet summer corn. And while I loved our barbecue over the fourth, we were ready to have a few lighter meals this past week so I mixed up these smoky black bean burgers with a super creamy, herby Green Goddess sauce. They’re easy to pull together and feed a crowd, and while they don’t hold up terribly well on the grill we always eat them outside either on the front stoop, people watching, or in the backyard marveling how very very light it is at 9:30 pm.
Thanks to sweet potato, quinoa and black beans, these smoky vegetarian burgers are packed with nutrition and come together quickly. Like many homemade veggie burgers, they don’t behave famously on the grill, so I pan fry them and handle them gently; they’re supposed to be soft in texture. In terms of logistics, the burgers must chill for at least two hours, so plan for that when mapping out your day. You’ll have leftovers of this creamy, super herby Green Goddess sauce and we use it as a veggie dip, sandwich spread, or dressing for pasta salads.
Green Goddess Sauce (Makes about 1 cup):
Black Bean Quinoa Burgers:
Make the Green Goddess Dressing: Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until smooth and creamy, about 45 seconds. Taste and add additional pinch (or two) of salt, if you’d like.
Make the Black Bean Burgers: In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil until shimmering and add the onion. Sauté until fragrant and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Stir every few minutes to avoid sticking.
Reduce the heat and add the garlic. Stir well and cook for another 1 minute.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the onion mixture along with the beans, sweet potatoes, cilantro, Worcestershire sauce, salt, paprika, chile powder, cumin and cayenne pepper. Pulse to form a thick, chunky puree. Spoon mixture out into a large bowl, fold in the quinoa and flour, and stir to combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate mixture for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days
When you’re ready to cook the burgers, lightly oil your hands and divide the mixture into equal portions. Shape each into patties about 1-inch thick.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat and set patties into skillet (you’ll likely only be able to cook 3-4 at a time, depending on size of your skillet). Cook on each side for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add a little more oil to the pan if the burgers begin to stick. Serve with lettuce, avocado and Green Goddess Sauce.
Planning Ahead: Cooked or un-cooked, the burgers will keep well for up to 3 days covered in the refrigerator, or you can freeze the un-cooked burgers in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Cooked burgers can be done in advance and reheated in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes.
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.