The last time we were camping on Orcas Island, I was almost 7 months pregnant and we shared a shaded campsite with two other couples and their kids. I made banana bread and recall hoarding it from the kids (and, really, everyone); Sam and I snuck into town for strong lattes early in the mornings, spent a lot of time down by the lake and on easy ambling hikes, and took turns cooking over the fire each night for dinner. As is so often the case with camping, the days felt eternally long in that loose, listless way that only summer can gift us, and we came home with flip-flop tan lines and dusty hair.
Last week we took Oliver on his first camping trip to Moran State Park which was, as you can imagine, quite different. On the ferry coming home, while chasing Oliver through rows of tourists and travelers, we decided that you almost need to reframe and even rename activities that you once did before having a kid. I see a lot of friends who become quite disappointed and resigned — even depressed — that the things they once used to love doing are now a thing of the past. Hiking? Give me eight years. Camping or international traveling? See you in 2022. The list goes on.
And it’s true: it’s a lot of work and planning and the truth is that summer never gifts you those drawn-out quiet, listless days when you’re camping with a small person. It just doesn’t. And hiking? On our last trip a few weekends ago, I ended up carrying Oliver most of the way up to the waterfall (although we actually never made it to the waterfall) after he refused to sit in his baby backpack. So we manage expectations. We don’t bring novels to the beach, we don’t think through the elaborate camp meals we once used to make, we eat more PB & J sandwiches than we ever thought we would, and we fill our flasks with pre-mixed cocktails.
Our first night of camp, Oliver decided he was none too keen on sleeping in the Great Outdoors, or at least, on going to sleep. In fact, he straight up Freaked (this is our family’s very technical sleep term, signaling to one another that Shit Is Bad) so fully and completely that you could hear our camp neighbors sighing, getting out of their tents, whispering amongst each other. Flashlights clicked on. More sighing. At home, while we would’ve let Oliver cry for a bit and tire himself out, it felt disrespectful to keep the rest of the campground up, so Sam and O. hopped in the car and drove around the island, podcasting away, until it was clear the backseat passenger was sleeping soundly enough to transfer to his own private tent. This became the nightly routine: the menfolk would leave at dusk and I’d keep the fire stoked, get the tents ready, sneak squares of dark chocolate meant for s’mores and dip into my book awaiting their return.
After what felt like a full night of me holding my breath, hoping we wouldn’t rouse our camp neighbors yet again, daybreak came — as it’s known to do — and over bacon and eggs, we talked about the day ahead. While we have so many memories on Orcas (Mount Constitution hikes, wood-fired pizza at Hogstone, oysters from Buck Bay), having a young child is funny because on one hand you’re excited to introduce them to all the things you used to do and, on the other, you know you can’t hike Mount Constitution or have any sort of a sane or restful meal at Hogstone. As I’ve said before, you rejigger. The things you used to do may not apply.
So we didn’t plan or schedule much in the way of activities, and instead found ourselves down by the beach more often than not, trying to teach Oliver how to build a moat and share ice cream cones. Our child became obsessed with water fountains, made a baby friend from LA, and took what must have been hundreds of trips down the slide at the park playground. Back at camp, dinner wasn’t something we stressed over: I’d spent a lot of time planning our meals so evenings could be easy. There was a spicy turkey chili and quinoa one night; vegetarian tacos the next; and on our last night we grilled sausages and corn over the open fire, and pulled together this triple tomato and feta salad, the MVP of summer 2017.
A version of this salad made an appearance at our Fourth of July get-together: I’d made Samin Nosrat’s Summer Panzanella from her incredible book and, try as I might, I just don’t get panzanella salads. No matter how you roll the dice, you’re always left with really soggy bread. But the one thing that I was struck with was Samin’s perfectly-balanced tomato vinaigrette. At first it came off as a bit fussy (you have to grate a very ripe tomato and whisk it into the dressing), but it turns out grating a tomato is no big deal, and we’ve been keeping the dressing on hand to drizzle over sliced, ripe summer tomatoes for weeks now. It’s also a great dip for crusty bread and I imagine it’d make an all star appearance in a pasta or whole grain salad.For our camping trip, I made a batch of the vinaigrette at home and we just kept it in the cooler, pulling it out on our last night to generously pour over heirloom tomatoes with big spoonfuls of feta. It felt fancy even though it was all quite simple and we each had seconds, silently gearing up for what could possibly be a long night ahead.
The next morning, we cooked the rest of our bacon, made some strong coffee and started to pack up. I ruffled around in my bag to find enough quarters to use the camp showers and Oliver dutifully pointed out every truck and motorcycle he could spot on the road below. We headed into town to share baked eggs and a brownie at Rose’s before catching the ferry back home, stopping only to run around the rocky beach in Eastsound, where Oliver lugged driftwood from the shore and pushed it into the water with genuine gusto. I snapped a few photos of him by the shore grinning, stood up, and thought I might as well lug a piece to the water, too. I can’t say that I’d ever done that before.
With Samin’s tomato vinaigrette, grape tomatoes and cubed heirlooms, this salad boasts tomatoes three ways. That being said, keeping it simple and drizzling the vinaigrette over sliced heirlooms with a sprinkle of flaky salt is still summer at its best. Here you’ll have leftover dressing; it keeps for a good four days and makes a great dip for crusty bread. This salad is best served room temperature the day its made, and if you want to really do it justice enjoy it right away.
Tomato Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup):
For the Dressing:
In a small bowl or jar, let the shallot sit in the vinegars for 15 minutes to macerate.
Halve the tomato crosswise. Grate on the largest hold of a box grater and discard the skin. You should be left with about 1/2 cup grated tomato. Add it to the shallot. Add the basil, oil, and a generous pinch of salt. Smash the garlic against the counter with the palm of your hand and add to the dressing. Shake or stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt or acid as needed. Let sit for about 10 minutes, and remove garlic before using.
For the Salad:
In a large bowl, combine the heirloom tomatoes, grape tomatoes and fold in 1/3 cup dressing. Top with feta and chives and a sprinkle of flaky salt. 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.