People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn’t heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I’d start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we’d never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we’d likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it’s true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear — and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don’t get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He’s obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he’d keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word “trash” and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet — his teacher mentioned he’d had it on most of the day and really, really didn’t want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn’t want it any other way. But, man it’s also exhausting.
Pair this general tiredness with a legitimate change in the weather this week in Seattle and we’ve been spending most evenings at home, and more weekend time hunkering down, too. I’ve spent more money than I care to admit on Cinderella pumpkins for our stoop and Sam has been doing some actual, real-life meal planning on the weekends (we’ve been cooking a lot from Melissa Clark’s book, Dinner: Changing the Game, which is great, approachable, and surprisingly…doable). I remember before we had Oliver I found meal planning really depressing: what if I don’t feel like fish tacos on Wednesday?! But right here, in this season, it doesn’t as much matter what you feel like for dinner, it matters that it happens at all in the first place. And it’s happening, and for that we feel victorious.
A few days ago when we didn’t have much planned for dinner, I was craving a really creamy and slightly spicy soup so I jotted down what I hoped would be a thai-spiced carrot soup but amped up a bit. I added cauliflower and ginger, a little lemongrass and a generous hit of red curry paste. I kept stirring it and tasting it and yelling up to Sam to get down here and Try. This. Soup. No exaggeration, this is the best soup I’ve ever made. It will be in heavy, heavy rotation this fall and is a great one to swap in if / when you tire of squash or pumpkin.
Whereas some pureed soups can still be a bit on the chunky or thick side, this soup is luxuriously smooth, even velvetty. The ingredient list and method is relatively straightforward and simple (leave out the jalapeño if you’d like — I’ve made it with and without, and it’s delicious both ways), and it freezes beautifully. Just the sort of thing I’ve needed around all week to fuel our post-dinner dance parties, laps around the downstairs part of the house with all manner of kitchen tools, and Oliver’s new favorite game, “Touch” (running from one end of the living room to the other, smacking the wall on each side and screaming “Touch”). Oh, and basement bike riding (him) while avoiding dangerous power tools (me, frantically). Wild, carrot soup-fueled times over here, I tell you. I’m doing my best to find humor and magic amidst the tiredness; there’s a lot of both. And in general trying not to look ahead in anticipation of the next season or blip to come, but sitting right down inside of this one. It feels like a good spot to be in and, in truth, one I’d looked forward to for so long.
A velvetty, smooth and creamy carrot and cauliflower soup with Thai flavors and vibrant toppings. I like my soup a little spicier, and often add up to 3 tablespoons of curry paste, so taste and adjust your seasoning and level of spice as desired. Similarly, if you really crave heat, feel free to throw another jalapeno in there (and also feel free to go totally without – it’s just as good).
In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook down for 5-6 minutes, or until it’s soft and translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, jalapeno, and lemongrass and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
Stir in the curry paste. Add the carrots, cauliflower, broth, coconut milk and salt and stir well. Bring the soup to a slow boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 35-40 minutes, or until the carrots and cauliflower are tender.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly (so you’ll have an easier time blending it). Using an immersion blender (or high speed blender), puree the soup in batches until smooth. Taste and season with additional salt and curry paste, if desired. Serve warm with suggested toppings. Soup will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freezes well, too.
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.