A Time Out
It’s all I can do not to just drop everything and turn this into a gardening blog. Maybe a gardening blog with cookies, and cocktails? I jest. But in all seriousness, thank you all so much for your generous comments and advice about planting and gardening. I wish I had you in my back pocket at all times, but you’ve given me a lot to work with and much inspiration. In fact, today’s recipe is made with fresh herbs from the backyard! It’s been unusually warm in Seattle this week, so everything’s growing like crazy and quite thirsty. I learned a valuable lesson: if you take off on the ferry to Vashon Island on a very sunny day to visit a most lovely couple in their new home, eat the best quinoa you may have ever tasted, and forget to water your plants, you will come home to sad basil. This is, apparently, a fact. I’m learning slowly. Also a fact: playing hookie on an island is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately and how to make more space for it in the constant to-do lists of my (I assume our) daily lives. I often feel guilty if I take moments to focus on a non-work related project, but I read something recently that led me to believe taking time out of our day to chop some herbs, knead some dough, and wait for it to rise might just be what we all need more of.
Before we get to foccacia and creativity, some of you suggested that I share a few photos every now and then chronicling how things are going in the garden, and I love that idea. I think we should start small. With herbs: thyme, basil, rosemary, mint and parsley. The cilantro is hiding under the table. It may not make it.
Sam and I decided to take the day off of work on Friday because sometimes you need to do that. It was my first time on Vashon and, as is the case with many people, I became quite smitten with the sweet little downtown, the big grassy plots of land, and the small winding roads. And the best part: I forced myself not to feel guilty about taking a Friday off to do not much of anything on my to-do list. I’ve been reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer and it has me thinking about the way in which a mental break and space is so important in driving creativity and inspiration. When we work, work, work and stare at the computer waiting for inspiration to strike — it likely won’t. Or it’ll make a most slow and painfully circuitous arrival.
If you’re unfamiliar with Imagine, it’s an exploration of the science of creativity and how it’s not necessarily a gift that some have, but something we can all work at and learn. There’s that word “work” again. But hold on: many of Lehrer’s suggestions on how to work at this involve taking time to go on a long walk, learning how to daydream productively, and traveling (if your life allows it) — even just for a few hours to a nearby town.
One of my favorite lines from the book is when Lehrer says, “There is something scary about letting ourselves go. It means that we will screw up, that we will relinquish the possibility of perfection. It means that we will say things we didn’t mean to say and express feelings we can’t explain. It means that we will be onstage and not have complete control, that we won’t know what we’re going to play until we begin, until the bow is drawn across the strings. While this spontaneous method might be frightening, it’s also an extremely valuable source of creativity…the lesson about letting go is that we contain our own creativity. We are so worried about playing the wrong note or saying the wrong thing that we end up with nothing at all.” As an adamant planner and list-follower, I can attest that this is true. I think I can be my worst enemy when it comes to creativity, containing it at many junctures and corners.
There’s a certain amount of fear in moving away from the lists and the scripts. That’s where the routine and comfort lives, but also, according to Lehrer, where creativity most decidedly doesn’t live. I’m sure you can relate to laying on the beach somewhere with little agenda or walking aimlessly around your neighborhood and having idea after idea bounce around unhindered. Whether it’s new business ideas or writing topics or inspiration for how to decorate a room in your house: that’s the fruit of this letting go. And that moment when you’re laying on the beach or taking that walk, you’re literally making space for those thoughts to wander in. Imagine is all about actively taking a role in the birth of more creativity. I like this idea.
So yesterday while there were many, many things that needed tending to I woke up strangely early and decided that it was time to make this pretty spring foccacia I’d been thinking about. No computer, no emails, a sleeping Sam, a coffee maker gurgling away, and dough rising. During this time, did I come up with an idea for a new invention? Nope. But I did make some spaciousness in the morning that made the rest of the day much easier. A self-enforced time out. Allow yourself to try it this week. Rising dough optional.
A few things about the recipe: it is from Canal House vol. 3 which boasts many pretty spring recipes (remember the watercress soup from earlier this year?). I altered the recipe a little, using a bit of whole wheat flour instead of all bread flour and adding more herbs. The result is a most satisfying bite of chewy crust, thinly sliced tart lemon, a smattering of fresh herbs, a healthy splash of olive oil, and an even healthier sprinkling of coarse salt. While I planned on having it for lunch with a green salad, we left it out on the kitchen table and both cut off little pieces throughout the day whenever we walked by.
Lemon, Herb, and Sea Salt Foccacia
- Yield: Four 8-inch rounds
- Prep time: 10 mins
- Cook time: 25 mins
- Inactive time: 2 hrs 30 mins
- Total time: 3 hrs 5 mins
Because this recipe essentially makes 4 rounds, I froze two sections of the dough to use later. If you go this route, you’ll obviously want to cut the topping quantities in half (only 1 lemon etc.) For the herbs, use whatever you like and have fresh on hand; I loved the combination of fresh thyme and rosemary although I think dill and chives could be really nice, too. And if you have a mandolin to slice the lemons, this is the best way to get them super thin.
Adapted from Canal House, vol. 3
For the dough, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a medium bowl. Stir in 1 1/4 cups water and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pulse the flour and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Add the yeast mixture and process until a rough ball forms, about 1 minute. Briefly knead dough on a floured surface until smooth. Shape dough into a ball.
Put 2 tablespoons of the oil into a large bowl. Roll dough around in the bowl until coated with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot until it has doubled in size, about two hours.
Pour a thin film of oil into each of four 8-inch round cake pans. Quarter the dough and put one piece in each pan (if you’re making two rounds as we did, only oil two pans and wrap two quarters in plastic wrap and freeze). Using your fingertips, spread dough out in each pan. The dough is elastic and will resist stretching. Let it rest for 5 minutes or so after you’ve stretched it as far as it will go. Eventually it will cooperate and fill the pan.
Preheat the oven to 450 F. Cover the pans with damp dishcloths and let the dough rest until it has swollen in the pans a little, 30-60 minutes. Uncover the pans, sprinkle the dough the your herbs.
Using your fingertips, poke dimples into the dough in each pan, then drizzle with oil so it pools into the little crevices. Arrange the thinnest rounds of lemon on top, drizzle with more oil, and sprinkle generously with sea salt.
Bake for 20-28 minutes. Drizzle with more oil when you pull it from the oven.
*You could also make in your stand mixer if you don’t have a food processor. I did the dough in my food processor and was a little worried because it was brimming almost to the top with flour but it turned out just fine. I don’t see any reason why could couldn’t just mix it up by hand the old-fashioned way, too. I’ll likely try this next time.
Healthy Comfort Food
Thai Carrot, Coconut and Cauliflower Soup
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.
Cheesy Quinoa Cauliflower Bake
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.
Stuffed Shells with Fennel and Radicchio
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.
Smoky Butternut Squash and Three Bean Chili
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.
To Talk Porridge
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?)
Sometimes your posts remind me how alike we really are! I must always remind myself to stop, slow down, and let things happen.
Marissa | Pinch and Swirl
Love your thoughts on rest and revelation - thank you for the book recommendation, I'll check it out. The foccacia looks fantastic. Speaking of island getaways, this foccacia reminds me of the bread served at The Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island (we lived in Poulsbo for 5 years). If you haven't eaten there I highly recommend it. Thanks for the lovely post!
Ah, thanks Marissa! I have not eaten there and haven't been out to Bainbridge in far too long (definitely not since I've lived here). I'll work on fixing that. Happy weekend to you!
So perfect, my dear. Going to carry this around with me all weekend.
Nicole @ Eat This Poem
Love this post! Someone recently recommended that book to me, so now I'm even more excited to read it (hopefully soon). And it must feel so great to have a little garden space! I'm sure there is so much to learn, but it sounds totally rewarding too.
Seattle is great for little get a ways, especially ones that involve ferry rides! They're like scenic cruises that punctuate both sides of a getaway. My favorite ferry trip is to Bainbridge island mostly because everything I want when I go there is walking distance from the ferry so I can leave the car at home. Walk up Olympic Drive SE and hang a left onto Winslow way and you will pass the Eagle Harbor Bookstore, Hitchcock, and Restaurant Marche. Simple pleasures/problems :)
Hey, thanks Ryan! Great tips for Bainbridge, and happy to hear you can leave the car (gets expensive with the car!) I haven't been to Bainbridge in a few years so I need to check it out again. And thanks for the gardening hurrah. We're getting there. Going to get wood tomorrow for the raised beds, and if it's nice this weekend, that's the plan. Hope you're easing back into work o.k. ~m
Shanna | FoodLovesWriting.com
Love, love, love this post. Needed it. I too have been thinking a lot about creativity (just had Imagine recommended to me on Facebook a few days ago BTW) and about what fuels it and where it comes from, and I think there is definitely something to the idea that we need to unplug and let loose to really feel that creativity come alive. Good thoughts.
Thanks, Shanna. And I saw you're on Goodreads now, too. I haven't updated my account in far too long, but excited to follow along and see what you're reading this summer. xox, m
I absolutely love the idea of a self imposed time out- I think we'd all be happier/calmer if we made space for that in our lives. And that bread looks delicious.
Such a lovely post. I do have a question: I don't have cake pans, but I have two 8-inch stone wear dishes that are about the same size and depth as a round cake pan. I also have a cast iron skillet that is about 10 inches. Do you think I could make this using those dishes or the skillet? Or are metal cake pans a must here?
Hi Sara: Yes and yes to both of your questions. I'd never used cake pans for foccacia and truthfully as long as your dough is staying put when you stretch it out, you could do them on baking sheets and I think they should behave. But since you have cast-iron and stone wear dishes (oven safe, yes?) I'd use your 8-inch guys to begin. Good luck (and good question!)
"“There is something scary about letting ourselves go...."...Imagine has been sitting in my kindle for weeks now and it's as if I'm almost scared to read it, scared to start the process, scared to let myself go! Thank you for this post, I'm going to start it tonight. Have you read the Artist's way? it sounds somewhat familiar in the importance of giving yourself space and time for new thoughts (morning pages and artists dates).
I started a window sill garden recently too. Those herbs need a lot of love and water...especially the basil, it really does get 'sad'.
Beautiful focaccia - will definitely try that soon, would be great for a picnic. And aren't quiet, spacious, moments in the kitchen so refreshing?
Ohhh no, I haven't read The Artist's Way, Talley, but I will absolutely check it out. I've started to go a little crazy reserving things at the library, so why not add that to my lengthy stack? Yes, the herbs definitely do need a lot of water; it makes me nervous to plan any weekend trips. I think you'll like the foccacia -- it really is perfect for those unhindered kitchen moments. Hope you have a great weekend, and thank you for the book recommendation. ~m
Fantastic! Thank you so much for your reply, Megan. I can't wait to try this out.
The book sounds really interesting, I will try to check it out soon. Thanks for sharing.
I heartily endorse taking days off 'just because' - especially when there are islands involved. Looking forward to trying this soon!
I had lemon on a pizza (with goat cheese) for the first time two weeks ago. It was delicous. Beautiful photos as usual. Cheers!
i absolutely adore the shot with the lemon slices! you found your magic hour. YAY.
Ahh, thanks Tracy. Yes, you've shown me the way of the pretty cutting board. I'll never look back!
the stuff you are learning is SO important. the world is so set on performing, being perfect that sometimes we forget that we are perfect as is and can add to that along the way. we forget to give ourselves credit for being brave[ as in relationships ].constantly evolving. even Einstein came up with his most fantastic ideas in his dreams .and with the advances in technology, we are geared to a quick fix, instant results.thankfully, real cooking [ and growing things] isn't instant so we have more of an opportunity to observe, grow , be inspired and enjoy.thank you for your openess, it's a pleasure to read.
Thanks so much for your comment, Heidi. I think you're right. Whenever I take a little break, deliberate or not, I find myself coming up with exciting, creative ideas. Sitting at the computer? Not so much. Lucky for us, it's getting to be that time of the year where the sun beckons and it's harder and harder to just sit in front of a computer! Hope you have a wonderful weekend, ~m
I endorse the idea of a day off entirely, especially if it means coming to visit us. That day was magic for us: all that talking, sitting in the sunshine, dreaming up big ideas and bouncing them off each other. So the cookies weren't that good (I didn't like that recipe I adapted -- not enough flour in the ratio) but the conversation was wonderful. Danny and I are still buzzing with ideas from it. So I'd call that a very productive day indeed!
Gorgeous pictures. I love the thin slices of lemon on top of your focaccia - lovely contrast of colours, flavours and textures.
Paula @ Vintage Kitchen
Baking your own bread with herbs from your own garden is a double feeling of joy and accomplishment!
The creative bug gets so active when we go off our everyday-road! And you managed, again, to write about it so clearly... thanks for a great post.
Oh thanks so much, Paula. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you so much for taking the time to leave a sweet comment. Hope you're having a great weekend ~m
Thank you, that was nice!
Loved your post! I am reluctantly finishing the last of 3 books your Mom sent me by Roger Rosenblatt. The first was " Unless It Moves the Human Heart", then "Making Toast" and finally "Kayak Morning". She knew that I would like them and she was right! My goal of a weekly story has tested the boundaries of my creativity. However, just as you have experienced, a time out in the flower beds or a trip to the Amish garden center always plants a seed.
Tv Food and Drink
Wow! What a great recipe! Thanks for sharing. Looks so sophisticated but doesn't seem that hard to make happen.
lovely herbs! unsolicited advice: your basil will be SO much happier if you re-pot it in a seriously gigantic pot. the problem with basil is that the roots go wild and end up in a snarled knot underneath the soil if they don't have enough room to grow. and when this happens, your basil stems will turn brown and woody because the water supply is being choked off. woody basil = dead basil = sad gardener. it happened to me a few years ago, but when I started using a pot MUCH larger than I thought I needed, I had lovely, happy basil all season!
Thanks, Jenny! I had absolutely no idea...I'll pick up a few larger pots this week (I think for mint this would be good, too???)
IMAGINE is on my must-read list . . . glad to hear that you are enjoying it! The focciacia looks fantastic, and I must admit to being jealous of your herb collection!
yes! mint as well! I also recommend doing your best to untangle the roots when you re-pot the basil. (i.e. don't just plop the giant clod of dirt from the small pot into the big pot.) you'll want to get those roots breathing a bit before the plants go into their new home. (although you obviously don't want to interfere with the plants' root systems so much that you traumatize the little things.) just use your best judgment--I'm sure they will be fine!
Awesome, Jenny. Thank you for the untangling tip. We're having a good spell of rain right now, and looking to continue all week, so my big gardening plans are on hold for a few days, but hopefully this weekend! Your comments are hugely valuable -- happy Monday. ~m
Make sure you keep your mint in a separate pot from other plants/herbs - it's a creeper and will totally take over any spot it's put in if it starts to thrive. I had a whiskey barrel of herbs outside my front door at one of my last apartments. It was so convenient to be able to just open the door and snip some herbs for dinner, but the mint started to choke out some of the other things I had planted. My two favorites to have on hand were thyme and lemon verbena!
Thanks so much for the tip, Sara. Yes my dad told me the same thing: mint takes over everything! So it's definitely in its own home out there. Looking forward to summer mojitos!
Allison | bunandbiscuit.com
I totally agree with you about the value of taking the time to enjoy the process of things like rising dough. It is during these times that we can notice the little, simple things that really count.
Lovely remainder that sometimes it is okay to take a day off from our hectic lives.
I do believe I need to get hold of a copy of this book.
And what a fine way to spend a day.
Would totally love to hear more about your garden! So I wouldn't mind if it turned into a cookie-garden blog. (I would miss the other things, so you would have to do twice the work!) Haha. Thank you for a lovely post. Have a great day!