I was peer-pressured into baking. I can't say that it's ever happened before. But recently, Jamie at Life's a Feast and Deeba at Passionate About Baking encouraged me to join them and a few other food bloggers to a "Mac Challenge": making macarons and sharing our results with each other while fielding questions via twitter. Jamie came up with the idea as it was the one thing she had shied away from for so long (macarons are notoriously difficult to make perfectly, with their long sought after "feet" on the bottom and delicate, chewy shells). I, too, tend to shy away from extremely fussy desserts. But I love the sweet, pastel-colored confections and thought I'd join in and try my hand at it. (Friday): When I got the recipe that many of the ladies were starting with first, it was in grams and I don't have a kitchen scale ("Dear Santa..."). So I found David Leibovitz's lovely recipe for chocolate macarons using volume instead and set out for greatness. My meringue looked perfect and glossy.
I love making lists. It's a sure bet that at any given moment there will be to-do lists in my jean pockets, grocery lists scrawled on napkins by the sink, or post-its with songs I want to download or books I want to check out splayed across my desk. But this one was hard. In fact, I lost sleep over it, arguing with myself about how I could include Saigon Sandwiches but not, say, Nettie's Crab Shack (which is a wonderful lunch spot in the Marina, by the way). But ultimately, I reasoned, this is my list. It's not Zagat's list, it's not my old coworker's list. It's born from my experiences and love affair with a select few places I either discovered or heard about. I got nervous positing this for many reasons: what if it changes? What if, in three months, I disagree with my rankings (yes, I'm a first child and a Capricorn--type-A and anxious)? But ultimately I decided to post such a list because people are always asking me where to go in the city, and I have a few new food blogger friends attending the upcoming BlogHer conference and thought they might appreciate some suggestions. So take them for what they are. It's not the list I'd give to the Prime Minister, but it's a 'down and dirty,' my kind of places list. If you hit them up, let me know what you think.
My Labor Day weekend had very little to do with labor, and everything to do with long days of wandering, writing, and eating. Three lethargic days showing inquisitive and delightful Anthony around the city, and time elevating my knee, cursing my clumsiness, and trying not to cry whenever the thought of not being able to run the marathon crept into my mind. On Saturday morning, I tripped and fell while running, landed directly on my knee, and it hasn't been reacting well. It doesn't really bend. I can't stand for a long period of time, so going to the grocery store or cooking hasn't sounded like much fun. A good excuse to eat out. A lot. So on Saturday morning (post-pavement encounter), Linnea, Anthony and I all piled into the car and headed over to the Dogpatch, fast becoming my new favorite neighborhood in SF. It was once the industrial center of town (if you could call it a "center" of anything), and much industry still remains. It's gritty, it's often sunny when the rest of the city isn't, there are big deserted lots, sweet hidden galleries, independent jewelers and furniture designers, and lunch windows serving out of loading docks. It's got spunk. And it's got Serpentine, a corner restaurant on 3rd, touting "honest food and classic cocktails." And a damn fine brunch.
There's something about the academic calendar. Even though I'm no longer a student and not teaching at the moment, fall brings out the 'I want new pencils' mentality in me. So with that, I've been thinking about making my favorite recipe for granola bars. Not that I have a lunch to pack. But even so...it's a nice breakfast treat with a cup of coffee, good walking-the-dog energy, and a reminder of a winter hunkered down with snowshoes in the middle of nowhere. For those of you who have munchkins in school or are, yourself, immersed in academia somehow, make these and tote them to class. I have many times (as you can see by my scribbles and revisions). I got this recipe from the nice folks at the coffee shop at the Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise, Canada. My mom and my two sisters and I went up there a few years ago after Christmas. For some reason, I have a selective memory about the trip: I remember the absolutely heinous ride up the mountain with the driver drinking out of a flask, falling asleep, and swerving into the other lane of traffic numerous times (I don't pray often, but I did that day); I remember realizing how hard cross-country skiing is...when I was miles from the hotel; I remember how much Asian tourists seem to love a good English tea service. And I remember these incredible granola bars. The snow-shoe guides created them for their own snacks, but they were so popular with people on their tours, that they started selling them in the coffee shop. My sister, Zoe, and I would make a pilgrimage downstairs in our little black ski pants, looking like we were about to take on the great outdoors when really we were about to take on The New York Times and some nutty goodness. Now you can, too.
I've been eating a lot of bananas lately. And not just for an afternoon snack, or with my cereal in the morning. No, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings, try and gag down a banana, and go back to bed for an hour. This sounds odd to most, but for someone who overdosed on the starchy fruit as a little girl, it's particularly strange and unpleasant. When I turn out my bedside light on Friday night, I can't help but dread the looming alarm and banana that await me. So what's the deal? I'm training for the Nike Women's Marathon and our coach has given us strict instructions to get some food into our bodies well before our our training runs in the morning. I'm not an early breakfast person as it is, especially not before 7:00, so this has been a challenge for me. The one thing I can seem to get down is half a banana. Thus: lots of bananas hanging around the house. And with our unusually hot weather over the past week, that means lots of overripe bananas. So every cook or baker knows: time to make banana bread. I recently finished Molly Wizenberg's beautiful memoir, A Homemade Life. In it, Wizenburg chronicles her move to Seattle, meeting her future husband through her blog Orangette, and the death of her father. It's truly a food memoir for my generation--I can't so much relate to getting a divorce and up and moving to Italy. But I can relate to small apartment kitchens, what it feels like to move to a new city without knowing anyone, and stark uncertainty about what the future holds. In addition to prose that will make you want to read very slowly with hopes the book will never end, Molly includes numerous personal and family recipes she's come to cherish over the years. Her Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Ginger caught my eye.
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