Our bocce team is no longer in last place. I think we're second to last-- but still, let's celebrate the small victories. Chocolate seems to help. We definitely play a little better. I noticed this when I made Katherine Hepburn's brownies a few weeks back--so last week, I decided to test Amanda Hesser's recipe for her mom's Chocolate Dump-it Cake (found in Cooking for Mr. Latte), a birthday staple in the Hesser household. I was intrigued because you make the cake all in one saucepan and I hadn't tried sour cream frosting before. Hesser claims, "For the icing, you melt Nestlé's semisweet-chocolate chips and swirl them together with sour cream. It sounds as if it's straight from the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but it tastes as if it's straight from Payard. Everyone loves it." She wasn't kidding--the icing was remarkable. It's substantial (unlike occasionally whimpy buttercream), smooth, and has a creamy chocolate depth.
I've always said in an alternate life I'd like to be a baker. And seeing that I'm only 30, I keep telling myself it's really not too late to make that happen in this life. So when I saw an ad for cooperative bakers at a pizza and sweet shop I'd heard of, I immediately signed up for the orientation. In their materials, they discuss how they train you as a baker for 4 months before the shop opens (and pay you a fair wage during this time). It seemed like a no-brainer: I'm currently freelancing and not making much money, and someone would pay me while they taught me how to make morning buns and thin pizzas? Sign me up. I received an email about the orientation, informing me it would be 3 hours and I was required to stay for the whole thing. Yikes. But hey, it was kismet. This was the answer to my "alternate life" dilemma. At the orientation, I learned all about collectives (as Arizmendi is a collective based on the Cheese Board in Berkeley) and communal decision making. I started to get a little nervous. I have a strong, domineering personality. But hey, I wanted to learn how to make kookie brittle and chocolate chunk cookies for the masses.
I never wanted to go in the first place. The dogs needed to be fed, it was getting late, and we'd had a long day canoeing on the river. I wanted to go home and grill burgers, make a big salad with the tomatoes and wax beans from the garden, and pour a glass of Pinot. Instead I was sneaking into the county fair through the back gates (not my idea), talking vodka and morning ice cream with an alcoholic contractor, sitting with horse owners by their stalls hearing all about steroids (for the horses) and Oxycontin and Valium (for them). I also learned about the best way to steal a bike, and how to avoid real estate taxes. I was anxious, a little judgemental, and couldn't wait to get out of there. And then we started walking down the aisles of fair food. It was a bit aimless at first, probably how some women walk through jewelry stores, staring at the diamonds they can't have. Ogling. That's how we were: paralyzed in admiration, as if we'd never known such a thing as fried clams, turkey legs, or waffle cone sundaes existed. No longer was I wondering if the corn was GMO (obviously) or cursing myself for leaving my purse in the car. Instead, I was making important decisions: kennel corn or blueberry pie a la mode? Corn dog or tri-tip sandwich?
You know where to find Grains of Paradise (or even what they are) and smoked paprika. You love beets, fatty fish, and biscotti. You use the word "tangle" to describe salads, judge people for their restaurant choices, and hate doing dishes in the morning. You are Amanda Hesser--or, at least, share some of her endearing, neurotic traits. A food writer for The New York Times, Hesser's writing is luminous, visual, and snappy. Good food writing literally picks you up and draws you into a tactile world in which you're literally sitting at a country table alone at dusk, at a busy wedding banquet, or on the floor of a bare apartment listening to an ambulance drive by. In short, you're not at home holding a book thinking about laundry or work deadlines. With Hesser, I was transported to a summer afternoon in Maine or her back balcony in Brooklyn Heights. I read "Cooking For Mr. Latte" in a day and a half; I lay in bed drinking it all in, mentally cataloging all of the recipes I'd try and becoming immersed in the back story of dating Mr. Latte (later we learn, Tad), eventually getting married, moving to Brooklyn, and coming to terms with family/friends/changing relationships. Essentially: the pedestrian elements of daily life that we all experience. Yet most of us don't draw it out in such a sensuous, affable way.
I would be a horrible game show contestant. In fact, I'd last all of five minutes. It's not one of my strengths to come up with answers to anything quickly. I often know the answer but it takes me a second to conjure them up...Recently as I was sitting in a Food Writing class, the instructor asked us to write about our first food memory. Now I wasn't shocked that I couldn't think of anything right off the top of my head. But five minutes went by. Ten minutes. Still nothing. Not only could I not think of my earliest memory, I couldn't think of a single memory. So I kind of made one up for class, but couldn't stop thinking about food memories after class: my parents fed me. I was sure of that. So why couldn't I remember any landmark meals or dishes? Well ever since the Food Writing class, I've been thinking about these food memories a lot...and thank god, a few have surfaced. I thought I'd record them here so I can fetch them when memory should fail me further down the line, as it surely will: -Mom's custard. I believe it came from The Silver Palette cookbook. It was super simple: eggs, milk, and sugar. Mom used to make it late at night (for the next day, I guess) and often after she'd gotten out of the bath so there were wafts of Nivea lotion and sweet milk trickling out of the kitchen. I loved how the custard formed a skin on the top. It was my favorite part. The most basic, simple, satisfying dessert.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.
Two Saturdays ago, we hopped in the car and drove up to Bow, WA to pick blueberries. I envisioned coming home with a huge bucket and having that wonderful seasonal quandary: what to do with all of these berries?! Instead, we came home with a pound and a half: It turns out that picking berries in the hot August sun with an active baby is a slow endeavor -- and it's possible I kept snacking on our loot. When we got home (after blueberry ice cream sandwiches and a stop at the OshKosh B'Gosh outlet for some baby suspenders) I knew exactly what we'd do with our "haul:" fresh blueberry ice cream. And hopefully, if we had a few leftover, pancakes the next morning.
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