While I was sick last week, I had a lot of time to think about this space and the community here. We’re lucky, aren’t we? We’re lucky to have each other and to be able to draw inspiration from one another. Our lives from the outside might look very different, with varying professions, family lives, and geographic settings. But if you’re sitting down reading this today, I’m guessing you like to talk about food and prepare food and think about the ways in which it intersects with our daily lives, work, and relationships. I’ll be honest: there are days I question this space. Days when the week is unbelievably busy and I don’t have time to make a recipe for the blog, and I wonder what the point is anyway. There are gray days when the love for it can wane under other pressures and priorities. But then there are days when you’re sick for almost a week and have time to lay on the couch and read food blogs you usually don’t have time for. To catch up on your friend’s writings around the web, in awe that there’s such goodness out there. You people! There is so much generosity of spirit and intelligence, humor and talent, and I’m over-the-moon-happy to be a part of it all.
After coming out of the flu, I was craving a few things. I hadn’t had much of an appetite for many days but I knew I was starting to feel better when coffee sounded good once again. And then came the chocolate cravings. And they came on in a pretty fierce way. In fact, I ran over to Theo the other day to pick up cacao nibs for a new flavor of granola we’re doing for Marge and I took the liberty to stroll through the shop and sample away. Usually when you pick up a wholesale order of cacao nibs, you go straight to the back of the factory, grab your box, and get on with your way. But that day, I needed a little taste of Salted Dark Chocolate Almond and a bite of Chai Tea Milk Chocolate, and Bread and Chocolate. For those of you who have not made it to Seattle and to the Theo Chocolate factory, the tour is wonderful and you can walk through the shop attached to the factory and sample anything you’d like. I do this more often than I care to admit here.
That night, Sam was up working late and I was going through some newer cookbooks looking for inspiration. I was leafing through Nigel Slater’s Ripe which focuses largely on cooking and baking with seasonal fruits. I’ve long been a big Nigel Slater fan; the way he describes a recipe makes you feel like his kid sister — he has a charming no-nonsense approach to food. He’s not fussy, he loves simple snacking cakes (which, if you ask me, is reason enough to place him on a pretty high pedestal), and believes in putting beautiful ingredients at the forefront of each recipe. There are many, many recipes I’m looking forward to making from this book–recipes that celebrate summer’s juicy peaches, firm apricots, and soft figs. But on first glance through the book, the one recipe that called to me was an unexpected one. It wasn’t a fruit recipe at all; it was a recipe for Soft Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies. Sold.
Nigel Slater describes the cookies as incredibly soft on the inside although slightly crisp and chewy on the outside. They have loads of good dark chocolate and, of course, hazelnuts. I made them late at night and Sam has professed that they’re the best cookies I’ve ever made. So thank you, Nigel. For that. And of course we’ll get to cookies but I wanted to take a moment to share with you a few of the food blogs I’m loving lately. Each in their own way are setting out and doing something different — you know the kids in high school who had their own crazy, unique style and flaunted it with abandon and, therefore, came off as pretty darn cool? These blogs are those kids. They’re approaching food blogging differently in their own ways, and I find each to be so inspired — a true breath of fresh air. So while these cookies are baking in the oven this weekend, here is some reading for you. Some real goodness.
Domestology: Jessica’s Brooklyn-based blog is a tough one to explain because it is so different from many food blogs I read and come across. It’s centered around home life; in Jessica’s words, it speaks “to the surface of things: my love of laundry and cleaning the bathroom, roasting chickens, baking bread and cakes, and keeping a well-stocked supply of canned tomatoes…” She writes a lot on the history and culture of domesticity, highlighting old cookbooks, cooking utensils and recipes. There are posts about making your own Spoon oil, loving testaments to a dough whisk, or how to make chocolate syrup. If you’re lucky, Jessica will also highlight her hand-embroidered book covers. I love this blog. Very much. For anyone who is interested in the way in which we make a home today — and the way our grandparents used to– you will smile when you see this one in your inbox.
Aesthetic Outburst: Abbey Hendrickson and her husband bought an abandoned farmhouse in Upstate New York in 2011 and are busy renovating it. With two kids under five, this is quite the task and Abby chronicles it beautifully with posts on crafts, collecting odds and ends, working through the renovations (like the living room), or figuring out configurations for their book collection. Two realizations since reading the blog: Man do I want a chicken coop, and gosh do I like Abby’s glasses.
Eat This Poem: is one lovely blog. How about Orange Cinnamon and Oat Pancakes inspired by Joanne Harris’ Five Quarters of an Orange? Or a Lentil Stew with Chestnuts inspired by a Jane Hirshfield poem? Eat This Poem is a collection of recipes inspired by poetry — and sometimes, a little prose. Before starting this blog, writer Nicole Gulotta penned the food blog, Cooking After Five, for almost four years. While she loved writing and photographing recipes, she’d gone to school for her MFA in poetry and that side of her life began to want more attention. She says, “It became clear this was the right time to begin a new project that combines two of my lifelong passions.” So this is a food blog like no other. It will make you look at a recipe in a whole new way. In this big, wide space that we call the Internet, there is so much potential for new-ness and this is an example of someone staking her small claim.
Remedial Eating: Oh, Molly Hays. Your refrigerator dies? Instead of cursing your day and going out to buy a burrito, you make meringues so your eggs don’t go bad. And include photos of your kids, and the marshmallow clouds that afternoon. You write an Ode to Spring with such tactile photos that we all feel as though we’re in your backyard with you; then you give us creative recipes like Lemon Parsley Sprinkle. A lot of food blogs announce that they discuss food through the lens of life — they use food as a way to talk about other things. Molly’s blog actually does this. You feel, really and truly, as if you’ve been asked inside her home for a cup of tea with her little ones and the controlled chaos that is their home life. Her blog entries are substantial and there’s always a little something I take away with me. It’s actual reading. I hope Molly writes a book someday; I’ll be first in line to buy it.
The Yellow House: began as a blog that chronicled life in a big yellow house in Washington, D.C. Sarah has since moved to rural Virginia where, she says, there are better stars. Her blog is as sweet as ever, with posts on decidedly unfussy cooking, eating, entertaining, and gardening. Like What to Eat on an Early Spring Evening or a Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake for a Cold Winter Day. There are some food blogs that are quite styled — and styled beautifully and I love them for this. Sarah’s blog, however, feels downright real. Her photos strike me as a glimpse into how it actually looks at her kitchen table when she sits down to eat a baked potato on a windy evening. This is refreshing.
Paper and Salt: is very new-to-me (and relatively new, period). It exists in the same literary realm as Eat This Poem, focusing on recreating and rein terpreting “the dishes that iconic authors discuss in their letters, diaries, essays, and fiction.” As many of you know, I used to teach college-level writing and high school English so a food blog that blends recipes with an author’s life story is a pretty cool thing, indeed. You’ll find Sylvia Plath and Lemon Pudding Cakes and Walt Whitman and Cranberry Coffee Cake. You’ll learn about recipes from certain periods, how they were written, and what ingredients they favored. You’ll learn about writers who were hoarders and what they loved to eat for breakfast. This is stuff I, for one, want to read more about.
Now it’s time for cookies. I made a few small changes to the original recipe, adding more chunky hazelnuts and a little more salt than the recipe called for. It’s written with directions for self-rising flour, so I rewrote the ingredient list to account for the fact that we don’t much use that here in the States. Slater also calls for muscovado sugar and I used white cane sugar because that’s what we had around. I wouldn’t make them any other way.
If You’re Looking For More Chocolate Inspiration:
Before deciding on these chocolate cookies, I had flirted with making a batch of Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies — a simple, very grown-up chocolate cookie. Then, of course, there’s always my go-to brownie recipe, the Deluxe Brownie. These are those brownies, the in-your-back-pocket brownie recipe you want to keep close at all times. And the cookies that made Marge (almost) famous, my Homemade Oreos. These were a winner at the farmers market. I couldn’t make enough. So there you have it. More goodness to surround yourself. Happy reading and baking — oh, and happy May!
Adapted from: Ripe by Nigel Slater
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Cut the chocolate into pieces (unless you’ve already got feves or smaller pieces on hand, obviously) and put them into a small heatproof glass bowl. Place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water, with the bottom of the bowl not quite touching the water. Allow the chocolate to melt, stirring occasionally.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer until smooth and creamy. Break the eggs into a small bowl and whisk them just enough to break them up. Add the eggs and vanilla to the butter and sugar, beating constantly. Scrape down the bowl if necessary and continue mixing. Add the melted chocolate slowly.
Toast the hazelnuts in a shallow pan until golden and fragrant. Allow them to cool. Grind the nuts coarsely to the texture of chunky gravel, then remove half of them and continue grinding the other half until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt and both textures of nuts to the mixture. Mix only until combined.
Place large heaping tablespoons of the mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Leave about 1-inch in between each cookie –they don’t spread too terribly much. Bake for 10 minutes after which time the cookies should still feel soft and just a touch gooey in the center. They will firm up completely as they cool. As soon as they’re cool enough to move without breaking, transfer to a wire cooling rack. If kept airtight at room temperature, cookies will be good for at least 3 day
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?)