Thanksgiving is here, my friends. I know this isn't new news--if you're anything like me, you've been making and revising lists, running errands, and having a drink as soon as it's socially acceptable to do so. For the past few days, I've been house/dog/teenage sitting at my Dad's house. And Lincoln, their sweet chocolate lab, was a rescue dog so he doesn't love being alone. For some, this would be a burden. But I've used this as an excuse to hunker down and do some writing, go on long Lincoln walks, take some photos around the neighborhood, and make hot spiked cider in the evening while lounging on the couch catching up with back issues of The New Yorker.
Last weekend my dad and I flew up to Seattle to visit my sister Rachael. I love Seattle for many reasons-one of which is the food. There were a few spots I'd been wanting to try, so we made the most of our time and hit up Serious Pie, the Chai House, Lark, Macrina Bakery, The Harbour Public House on Bainbridge Island and a few other spots for treats and coffee. I wish I could show you some pictures, but I stupidly forgot my camera. Suffice it to say, it was brisk and rainy (Seattle never disappoints when I visit) but utterly beautiful in a stark, fall kind of way. Rachael lives in Ballard in a sweet little green house on a wide, leafy street. Oh, and she has a fig tree. Her house is right across the street from this little blue craftsman bungalow that I fell in love with last time I saw it. A few days before my visit last week, Rachael called to tell me if was for sale and that we should check it out the second I landed. It was my Dad's first time visiting , so as we cruised him around Ballard and noticed the "For Sale" sign had been taken down. My little blue house sold so quickly! Now it's not that I was really looking to move this second, but every time I come to Seattle I marvel at how great it is. Yes, we have quaint, distinct neighborhoods in San Francisco and we also have fantastic food. But I love the way the weather and the outdoors is interwoven into the fabric and culture of the city, how casual it is, and how much more you get for your money in Seattle. There's a quality of life that you can obtain with much, much less. But for now-the flights are cheap, so I'll settle on visiting.
While I generally like to keep the writing I do on my blog and the writing I do elsewhere separate, I have been wanting to feature more travel-related food writing on A Sweet Spoonful so I'm carrying this one over. I wrote this piece for Bay Area Bites this week. If you live in the Bay Area or ever plan to visit, Boonville is still a bit off-the-beaten track and absolutely worth checking out. I'd driven through Boonville with my Dad and my sisters once, all too briefly en route to Mendocino. We stopped at the Boonville General Store for a sandwich and sat outside admiring the coolness of the little stretch of road and the delightfully slow pace of life. All along Hwy 128 there were orchards, farm stands, hidden hiking trails, and--of course--vineyards. I vowed to come back and do some exploring. It did take me a good three years, but I returned last Friday for a one-day getaway with a dear friend, good wine, and great food. I’d actually wanted to make a weekend of it, stay at the Boonville Hotel and wile away a few days--but reality precludes such leisure at the moment, so we set out early and packed in as much as we could. A two hour (ish) drive, a stop at Flying Goat Coffee in Santa Rosa for a little extra fuel, and we found ourselves in Anderson Valley (115 miles N of San Francisco on Hwy 128) right around lunchtime on a quiet, sunny fall day. Not only were we delighted by what we found, we both vowed to come back soon--and to stay just a bit longer. The Boonville General Store Lunch at the Boonville General Store Right across from the Boonville Hotel sits this friendly, bustling café. Don’t let the name fool you. While they do have great provisions for picnics or treats to take home, it’s more a spot for creative, organic meals than it is a place to pick up a gallon of milk. They have cheeses, olives, amazing baked goods, jams, and pestos to grab-and-go for the road. But the idea is to take some time and eat there, either at one of the rustic indoor tables or on the breezy outdoor patio. For lunch, we shared one of the house pizzas and a sandwich of the day.
Well, food blogging has brought about many firsts. I look at food differently, often thinking about how to plate it and how to capture the light just perfectly in a photo. I read recipes differently, always pausing to think about adapting them to my own interests and taste. And last but not least, I look at dishes and linens much, much differently. Even if I'm eating alone and in a rush, I still always set a place for myself. There's something depressing about standing in front of the TV or perching on the edge of a chair at the counter. I always put out a nice place mat and silverware, and there are usually flowers on the table. The aesthetics of a room, table, and a place setting is important if you think about eating as a sensory experience and not just a habit or necessity. Now I'm not talking fine china and stemware with each meal. I'm just saying the presentation of food matters. So I've been very aware of dishes, napkins, linens, and antique silverware lately. And during the past week, Heath Ceramics has come into my radar. I was having coffee and a macaron at Cibo in Sausalito and noticed their beautiful dishware. After a little investigation, I realized it was Heath, and I'd just read how Chez Panisse uses Heath Ceramics for their dishes and serving ware. I promptly hopped online and discovered they've been around since 1948 and, low and behold, the U.S. factory is in my backyard. I knew what I had to do: the next morning I woke up and headed over to investigate. And that's when I found the plate.
Although it's one of my favorites, I haven't had a piece of pumpkin pie yet this fall. Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did have a few bites of a piece from Mission Pie but that doesn't really count. I seem to have a tendency to over-do it with pumpkin pie and get a little tired of it before Thanksgiving. So I wait, thinking of other ways to use pumpkin. I was leafing through my recipe binder the other night and stumbled across this recipe for Pumpkin Semolina Cake. Semolina flour is available in most supermarkets, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding it. It's often used to make homemade pasta and pizza dough because it has a higher gluten percentage, making pasta stretch easily rather than breaking apart. While Italians use it for pastas, it's traditionally used in Greece, North Africa and the Middle East to make crumbly baked goods. Because of the high egg content in this recipe, the cake is almost pudding-like with a large, moist crumb (thanks to the semolina flour). I'd never baked a cake in a water bath before, although I'd heard of people doing so with cheesecakes. It turns out, it's a common practice with delicate foods and egg-based desserts (of which this is one) because it allows them to cook at a lower, even temperature. This cake is best served warm with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. And I think it's especially nice served with cinnamon or mint tea. It should tide me over until Thanksgiving when I'll savor my first real piece of pumpkin pie. However, I loved this cake so much that--dare I say--it could even be a nice substitute.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
One year ago today we were sitting at Elliot Bay Book Company, my chest feeling immensely tight, awaiting word from our broker about an offer we put on a house. In a very competitive market, it turned out that we were the tenth offer; I knew ours wasn't the highest and that chances were slim. We'd spent a lot of time on a letter to the buyer and were just crossing our fingers that they might be the kind of people who would read such a letter and even like to envision a new family making a home there. But I also knew that money talks, and they'd likely choose the highest offer. During the reception for the book event, as I stood nervously sipping sparkling water, a text came through from our broker that they'd accepted our offer. The house was ours. I burst into tears and grabbed onto Sam and tried really, really hard not to take any of the attention away from our friend's lovely book. But THE HOUSE. We got THE HOUSE! In many ways, a year can go by so quickly. Every time the first of the month rolls around I always find myself thinking, where does the time go? (Or more like: It's time to pay our mortgage again?!) But in other ways, so much happens in a year. I'm sitting here now inside that very same house we'd talked and dreamed about, with the baby that we still referred to as Sprout and had yet to meet, now napping upstairs. And there are two nice men out back helping us with a small brick patio. Last summer I told myself that pregnant ladies can't do everything and the yard just lost the fight: neither of us had time to do much back there and we let it go. But this summer I'm determined to spend lots of time outside, eating cold noodle salads, reading a page or two of a book if Oliver lets me, and maybe even learning to sort-of use a grill.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.
A recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Custard and a giveaway of Megan Gordon's cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings