Most of the recipes I feature on the site are things I’ve bookmarked and planned out — I don’t often just whip something up on a whim, take a photo, and blog about it. Until this week. Don’t get me wrong. I had a recipe planned for you (and it’ll appear next week instead. And it’s quite wonderful). But this week has brought about some bumps in the road and unexpected surprises. If you could call them that.Here in California, most of our dried cranberries have been recalled due to some situation in the processing factory. And I use dried cranberries in the granola I make for Marge. So this week my delivery guy decided to drop off seven pounds of fresh cranberries instead of dried, figuring, I’m guessing, What the heck? She can dry them out! Well the delivery man resides in San Francisco and my bakery’s in Oakland and the two are far enough away that driving back over the bridge to return seven pounds of cranberries just doesn’t make logical sense. So I stared at them for awhile. And put them in the refrigerator. And drove home.
I was so looking forward to a gym class that night, and knew I could figure out what to do with the cranberries in the morning. This particular class is a very un-Megan class in a way because a) I usually hate gym classes and b) there’s weight-lifting involved. But we do lots of sit-ups and weird squats and it wipes me out in a way that running and yoga just don’t. The teacher plays loud, sometimes-raunchy rap and it’s a darn fine escape from the world of baking, farmers markets, and writing. I arrived a second or two late that night to find a middle-aged woman in a very 1988 leotard explaining how she’d be filling in for our regular teacher and would be doing a conditioning class for the body, spirit, and soul. She also explained that she didn’t have any music so perhaps it could be meditative.
No raunchy rap! No groan-inducing sit-ups! It was frankly too late to tip-toe out of class and I just couldn’t bring myself to do so anyway. I gathered my foam mat along with the rest of the class and followed the substitute’s lead doing numerous sets of leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills. And about twenty minutes into the class something funny happened. My mind just went to a completely different place. A place where I had time to think about what to buy/make people for Christmas, what to do for health insurance for 2012, and when I might make it up to Eureka next.
I actually forgot about the odd leg lifts and shoulder shrugs and arm windmills and noticeable lack of raunchy rap and had a very real hour of head-clearing. An hour without books or the newspaper or email or Instagram or the phone. Just with my own thoughts. At the end of the class I thanked the teacher for one of the best classes I’ve had in months. She looked confused, probably thinking I was being sarcastic as a few people in the class had actually left half-way through. No really, this was just what I needed, I assured her.
When you’re delivered the wrong product one week, you figure out a way to make do. When you realize the gym class you looked forward to all day is going to be taught by an ex-Jazzercise enthusiast and will likely be the worst exercise class you’ve ever attended, you go with it. Because what else are you going to do? There are unanticipated surprises in those kinks. Initially reluctant surprises, but inevitably wonderful ones, too.
In an essay/book review she wrote for the New York Times on happiness, writer Amy Bloom notes, “To hold happiness is to hold the understanding that the world passes away from us, that the petals fall and the beloved dies. No amount of mockery, no amount of fashionable scowling will keep any of us from knowing and savoring the pleasure of the sun on our faces or save us from the adult understanding that it cannot last forever.” And that’s why we have to drink it all in during the holiday season. Go with the flow. Go with the planned parties and grocery lists but also all of the meandering surprises. There are tarts to make, cookies to plan for, plane tickets to buy, snowflakes to make, loved ones to kiss, lights to string, sisters to snuggle. We only get it for these next few weeks — so let the savoring begin.
Now I think you’d agree: I’m generally not very demanding of you. We usually chat about what’s going on in my life and and then write about a recipe I baked or cooked recently. But there are a few recipes that I really feel I must say to you: Make This Now. This is one of them. I felt that way with with Kim Boyce’s cookies and with the Rustic Fig and Almond Cream Galettes. And with a good handful of recipes on this site, actually. Things that I make over and over again in my own kitchen. And I genuinely feel that way about this tart.
The filling isn’t as light as a custard but is a very close cousin. It’s flecked with vanilla and lightly scented with meyer lemon zest and nestled right into a toasty hazelnut crust. After cooling, the whole thing is topped with softened and lightly sweetened cranberries. While I made this for myself on a normal old Wednesday, this is dinner party- worthy, for sure. Yes, even holiday dinner party-worthy. So I hope you’ll let yourself follow a few unexpected paths this holiday season. If for no other reason than to make a cranberry tart that arrives in your in-box unexpectedly on a Thursday morning in early-ish December.
There are perfect marriages in food as in life, and I’ve always found cranberries and hazelnuts to be such a marriage. For this tart, I used a hazelnut crust I’ve been experimenting with in the bakery and a simple old-fashioned filling that’s reminiscent of an early-American pie recipe I do in the spring with citrus. To revamp it for the holiday season, I used a vanilla bean and fresh cranberries instead. I think you’ll find it’s wonderful served with a dollop of whipped cream, but it’s perfect as is, too.
For the Crust:
For the Filling:
Make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch square tart pan with removable bottom. In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts by pulsing on/off for about 30 seconds until they’re a smooth medium-grind. They shouldn’t be too chunky but don’t go so far as to turn them into a paste either. Add the flour, sugar, and salt into the food processor and give them a quick pulse so they’re all blended together.
Add the butter and cut into the dry ingredients with an on/off pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk and 1 tablespoon ice water and blend until moist clumps form (don’t allow dough to form ball). If your mixture is still too dry, add another tablespoon of ice water. Press dough into bottom and up the sides of prepared pan. The crust should be about 1/4-inch thick. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. After crust has chilled, bake until barely golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Make the filling:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the vanilla bean and scraped-out seeds. Cook over medium- heat until the butter starts to turn golden brown and smells toasty or nutty, about 4-5 minutes. You just successfully made brown butter! Remove from the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1 cup of the sugar and the lemon zest. Slowly pour the brown butter into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time so as to not allow your eggs to cook. Whisk in the flour and salt. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden and set (not jiggly in the center). Transfer to a rack to cool, about 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar with the cranberries and water. Bring to a simmer over medium-heat and cook until the cranberries just begin to pop and the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Pour the cranberries into a bowl and refrigerate until cool, roughly 1 hour.
Drain the cranberries using a slotted spoon or a fine sieve and arrange them on top of the tart (the cranberry liquid will be discarded). Cut the tart into wedges and serve.
Note: This tart can be kept room temperature overnight and refrigerated up to two days.
Healthy Comfort Food
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.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)