I have this theory that it’s bad luck to talk about something until you’re pretty darn sure it’s going to happen. When I applied to graduate schools back East, I sent an application to Harvard. I didn’t tell a soul. I actually remember walking it out to the mailbox and sending it off on its own, as if the secret might contaminate my other mail somehow. The reason? I didn’t see the point in getting everyone excited about the chance I may go to Harvard if I didn’t end up getting in (and, for the record, I didn’t). These past few months have brought about a little bit of quiet sneakiness in their own way. For a while now, Sam and I have known I’d be moving to Seattle. I started telling a select few friends but was cautious to talk too much about it — I wasn’t sure exactly when we’d find a house or what it would look like or if we’d even like the same houses. I wanted to be very sure before sharing the big news with you, but now I can’t wait to tell you: Sam and I found a very sweet craftsman house on a quiet little block with a big tree in front, a huge basement, and a backyard. And I can’t stop thinking about it.
Something funny happens when you sign a lease with someone. With a quick pen stroke, you begin to turn your individual stories into more of a “we.” I think there’s a delayed sense of this with long-distance relationships because you each have your distinct city, your group of friends, your favorite market, your running route. It’s wonderful to share all of those things with the other person when they visit but at the end of the day, they’re still yours. Until now. There have been a lot of we’s and our’s over the past few days. Sam bought us a few new cookbooks for Christmas so we can begin cooking from them together. And I hear him talking on the phone with family or friends about our new breakfast nook or what we might want to do with the paint. I like that.
I booked a whole week visit to Seattle thinking it would take us much longer to find someplace we both liked. Because we snatched up a house so quickly, we had quite a few days to, well, not look at houses. Sam got some work done, I got some writing done, we walked around Discovery Park with Keena, split a burger at Skillet, shared a pizza at Delancey, strolled Ballard Avenue, meandered around the Arboretum, and had a Mexican breakfast with Tea.
We bought loose-leaf tea at Dandelion, saw The Artist with Molly and The Tree of Life on video from Scarecrow. I ran around Greenlake quite a few times and practiced the fine art of layering (we don’t do this in the Bay Area. At least not this year). And the rest of the time? We joked that this was the week where we showed each other what we could cook or bake. I made Sam my favorite chocolate chip cookies. He made me cream scones and banana pancakes. I made a carrot ginger soup a bit like this one. Sam made a kale gratin followed up the next night with a proper pasta carbonara. I made skillet chicken and roast potatoes our last night together. He made a boozy hot chocolate. It went something like that. All week long. It involved quite a few little trips to the grocery store and some notable dish-washing. It also gave us some time to talk about all of the things we want to do with the new house (paint! new blinds! basement workshop!)
So amidst all of this excitement, there remains lots and lots of packing (remember when I said I wouldn’t do this again?!), a little anxiety, and sadness to leave my dear friends and my mom and dad who live right across the bridge. I’m bad with goodbyes. Many people have asked what will become of Marge. The quick answer is that I’ll continue producing granola up in Seattle and nothing will really change in that way. I’ll ship granola down to the shops in the Bay Area that carry Marge and work to grow the business in Seattle. As for the farmers markets? I’m going to take some time off and really reevaluate what I want Marge to look like in Seattle. Perhaps a little pie shop. Perhaps hold off on that while I focus on other projects, and while Sam and I focus on other projects together. I just don’t quite know right this second. But I’ll tell you when I do. Promise.
From the very beginning of our relationship, there have been so many unknowns. And Sam’s always been the one to encourage me to just go with it. Ride it out. And I have faith that that will continue to be true in this new step. One thing I do know quite a bit about is chocolate. And custard-y desserts.
I thought this was an appropriate recipe to share with you today after thinking about one of the more enjoyable things we ate all week that we didn’t make ourselves: the Dark Chocolate Pudding with Sea Salt that we shared at Skillet on a drizzly Saturday night in Capital Hill. The pudding was thick and chocolatey rather than light and fluffy. You could’ve stood a spoon up in it — creamy and toothsome, it actually reminded me much more of a rich pot de crème than a traditional chocolate pudding.
The night before I left to return to Oakland, Sam took a detour to drive by the new house. I wasn’t paying attention until we turned down our new street and I recognized it right away. It sits a bit taller than the rest. It’s this lovely shade of evergreen and has a big, brick chimney. We just sat parked outside for a short bit, both grinning ear to ear — a grin quite similar to the one I have as I sit at my kitchen table with a little cup of chocolate pot de crème writing to you now.
For this recipe, I was aiming for thick and decadent yet super creamy. I increased the amount of chocolate that most pot de crème require and added a dash of espresso powder to deepen the dark cocoa flavor. The combination of creamy dark chocolate, almond, salt and cocoa nibs makes this a rather irresistible dessert, indeed. And quite simple, too.
Adapted from: Martha Stewart
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Bring half-and-half barely to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until chocolate and sugar dissolve into the mixture. Let stand 2 minutes.
In a medium bowl, stir together egg yolk, vanilla, almond extract, espresso powder and salt. Gradually stir the half-and-half mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking as you combine the two. To make for a smooth custard, pour the chocolate mixture through a fine sieve into a glass measuring cup. This should yield 8 ounces (1 cup).
Place 2 oven-proof cups or ramekins in a shallow roasting pan, and divide chocolate mixture among them. Pour hot water into the pan so it reaches halfway up the sides of the cups.
Bake until custards are almost set in centers, about 30 minutes (custards will firm as they cool). Carefully remove cups from hot-water bath and let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
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?)