We just got home from a long trip back East to visit both sides of our family and to see my youngest sister Zoe get married in a breezy outdoor ceremony in Vergennes, Vermont. We were gone almost three weeks total, which, towards the end started to feel like a really long time; I couldn’t help but wonder if the leaves were turning on the tree across the street from our house or daydream about all the mail we’d have waiting for us (I’m a real fan girl of good and even quite marginal mail days). From the Adirondack mountains and Burlington, Vermont to New Brunswick, New Jersey, we were in planes, boats and cars on this trip and pretty far removed from our typical routines. And while I’m getting a lot better about going with the flow and letting unstructured days unfold as they will, having access to a few staples in the kitchen always makes me feel a bit more settled wherever we are.
We started by visiting my dad at his cabin in the Adirondacks. I’d asked ahead of time for them to stock up on avocados and eggs and my sister picked up some killer farmstand bread on her drive from Central New York, so we made toast fit for kings most mornings while listening to the rain patter away insistently on the roof. Oliver sat on the porch pointing out every passing boat (and there were many), and I spent a lot of time by the big fireplace fantasizing about reading novels in lieu of toddler tending. Real talk.
From my Dad’s place, we headed to the wedding (which I hope to talk more about here soon!) and from there, back to my mom’s in Burlington, where we spent a number of days eating wood-fired bagels and local cheese, visiting Shelburne Farms, cooking a little, taking walks downtown and daydreaming about being in college again. My mom lives within walking distance to a great coop, so we stocked up on basics like coffee, sweet potatoes (which I like to roast for Oliver each week), little grape tomatoes, more avocados and black beans. We’d been buying Dr. Praeger’s hash browns at home for quick, easy breakfast bowls and I was able to track them down as well (simple ingredients; no creepy stuff), so we upgraded our morning toast and made breakfast bowls fit for kings.
I’ve long been a fan of chilaquiles for breakfast and these bowls have that vibe, only with fresh tomatoes and pickled-onions, and hash browns instead of chips. It’s a protein-packed morning meal and what I’ve recently taken to calling Happy Food — meals that just make you feel really good.
That being said, I know breakfast can be a challenge, especially in this Back to School period many of us find ourselves in. Even without school age kiddos (or any kiddos at all), actually cooking anything on a weekday morning can feel unrealistic. So these could definitely be reserved for a weekend affair or if you’re organized, make the pickled onions and cook down the beans ahead of time and really, you’re just frying an egg and heating up your hash browns at that point. I can handle that, even far away from my own kitchen. Have fun with these; adapt as you will to make them work for your people. Because bowls for breakfast, I tell you: Happy Food.
In an effort to save time here, I used a store bought salsa verde but you could certainly make yours homemade if you prefer. I didn’t include instructions for cooking your eggs as I’ve done these bowls with everything from soft boiled to fried to scrambled and they’re delicious with each — so feel free to cook your egg exactly how you like it (or leave it out altogether). The bowls are best eaten right after you prepare them, but you could certainly prep most of the components (beans, sliced tomatoes, pickled onions) in advance so you’re simply throwing in a few hash browns and frying an egg in the morning.
For the Quick-Pickled Onions: (makes about 1/4 cup)
For the Bowls:
Make the quick-pickled onions: In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar and salt. Add onion and ensure the slices are all covered by the liquid. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the bowls: Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place hash browns on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes until browned. Carefully flip and bake an additional 4-5 minutes until browned on the second side.
MeanwhiIe, in a medium skillet over medium heat warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the beans, salt, cumin and paprika and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if you’d like. Fold in the cilantro and set aside.
Assemble each bowl by arranging two hashbrowns, a scoop of beans, spoonful of tomatoes, pickled onions, and avocado slices. Top with fried egg. Repeat with second bowl. Top with salsa verde and a few spoonfuls of queso fresca. Enjoy 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.