I was pleasantly surprised last week when I came home to find a review copy of Vegan Yum Yum: Decadent (But Doable) Animal-Free Recipes For Entertaining and Everyday on my doorstep. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Lauren Ulm's (or "Lolo's") blog, you're missing out. As most of you know, I'm no longer a vegetarian and I'm far from vegan--but I've book-marked numerous recipes that I can't wait to try. The book is written clearly and intuitively with stunning photography. Lolo took all of the photos from the book herself: have you seen her post on digital food photography? If you're at all curious about food staging, lighting, lenses and the like, it's been an invaluable resource for me. In her book (and on her blog) Vegan Yum Yum, you truly feel like Lolo is sitting at the counter with you, peeling carrots, and hollering out directions. The recipes are all very accessible and casually written. From baking donuts to lightly frying samosas or caramelizing leeks, her encouraging 'give it a whirl' voice guides you through each recipe. So yesterday as I was tying up some odds and ends at my desk (bills, bills, and more bills), I started flipping through her lovely book to see if there was something relatively quick to whip up for lunch. I stumbled across the recipe for Pepita Fettuccine with Spinach and Cranberries. The dish is simple with vibrant colors and interesting textures. Even better? Lolo wrote the recipe for one person and I had all of the ingredients. Sold.
This is my favorite soup recipe. Ever. I discovered it in Vegetarian Times when I was a vegetarian and living in Boulder, CO (fitting, I know). But more than anything, this soup reminds me of snowy afternoons in Boston. A whole pot would feed me for a good five days. As a graduate student, I'd stock up on bread, butter, greens, coffee and milk, plenty of tea, and a chocolate bar and I could hibernate for quite some time. The smell of the fennel seeds cooking in olive oil brings me right back to my pink-tiled Brookline kitchen. I'd sit at the bay windows, looking out at elderly Russian women in vibrant silk scarves pushing their shopping carts back from the corner grocery store, and college kids with backpacks and arms of books racing to catch the bus. I'll always equate the smell of this soup with that light-filled pink kitchen, fallen leaves whipping by the windows, and the fading Eastern afternoon light.
My blogging friend Kelsey, over at The Naptime Chef, was in town recently for the BlogHer Food 09 Conference. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it, but we compared notes on where she ate in the city (and I'll tell you, she got around). Now if you haven't been to The Naptime Chef, what are you waiting for? Kelsey designs her posts and recipes to fit into a busy mom's schedule--and into the hour that is generally reserved for afternoon napping. While I don't have little ones myself, who doesn't appreciate a quick recipe? What I did not know was that before her daughter was born, Kelsey worked with Rizzoli and Florence Fabricant and members of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to produce the beautiful Park Avenue Potluck Cookbook. After returning home from San Francisco, Kelsey invited me to take part in a virtual dinner party she is "hosting" with other food bloggers and writers to celebrate the release of Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations, the follow-up to the Park Avenue Potluck. The release is especially timely as the cookbook details recipes, entertaining ideas, party planning tips and personal anecdotes from New York's most celebrated hostesses. Perfect for the holiday season. The best part? A portion of the sales of the book will benefit the Society's work with patient care, research, and educational programs. So I hopped on board, determined to support such an important cookbook. Kelsey asked me to "bring" the Cornmeal Batter Cakes featured in the book, a versatile dish that would be great as a mini appetizer (cut with little cookie cutters), as a side dish with salmon or a vegetarian entree like ratatouille, or even as breakfast! As I told Kelsey when I wrote to her about the recipe, I ended up making the cakes one evening when I was home alone. I topped them with a little sour cream and chopped chives and had them with a big bowl of tomato soup. Perfect light fall dinner.
Many of you know that I'm training for the Nike Women's Marathon this Sunday. And most of you know that currently, what I do for "work" is write about food. Now thankfully, those two things have been a really nice pair. It's been working out just fine. Eat, run, eat some more, write a little. But I've been advised that after Sunday, I may have to cut back on my generally ravenous appetite. I'll worry about that later...for now, here's a visual chronicle of a food writer's week. And not just any food writer, but one with a penchant for sweets, and cookies in particular. There's a great new lunch pop-up in the Tenderloin called American Box. Remember the lunch boxes you had as a kid? Well they're doing them for adults. This is a warm oatmeal raisin cookie fresh out of the bag. I will add that right before I got to take a bite of this cookie, I was pulled over for having an expired registration. My grown-up lunch box cost me about $117. How is it that I've never, ever been to Mitchell's? I had a fantastic meal at The Front Porch with Craig and Linnea last week for a piece I'm doing on Soul Food in the city. We were cruising around the neighborhood, walking off our fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, when we stumbled upon Mitchell's. I'm much more of a chocolate ice cream kind of girl, but their fruit flavors are pretty incredible. The young coconut and cantaloupe were flying out the door.
It's raining, it's before 8:00 a.m., and I'm eating cookies for breakfast. But these aren't just any cookies: they're made without egg, so they're almost more like pumpkin drop biscuits. They're amazing with hot coffee and the latest episode of Dexter. I got back from Jean's memorial last night and have given myself this day to hunker down a little, do some laundry, nap, hang out with the dogs, read, watch movies...whatever. Since my folks moved to the Bay Area when I left for college, I don't go back to my hometown for holidays--or for much, really. So going back to Eureka is always odd. Sometimes I feel nostalgic walking around the quaint downtown, getting a bagel at Los Bagels, or going to the park. But this trip was, obviously, a different one filled with days that seemed to go on forever, family friends I haven't seen in fifteen years, and new friends from Boston that Jean loved dearly (and I can see why). So it was mentally exhausting for many reasons. And today I'm just laying low. I do have a few people coming over to potentially purchase my Vespa (cross your fingers!), but other than that, this could be a stay-in-your-pj's kind of day. And these are the perfect laying low cookies.
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