Hello from the other side! I realize we haven’t been back here for a few weeks, and I’m sorry for dropping into a little black hole. My cookbook deadline was Monday, so I’ve been a writing and editing machine, stepping away from the computer to occasionally clean the house like a crazy person or throw together a most random lunch or dinner. But somehow it all came together although there was something strangely anti-climactic about sending it off: In the days when you’d print out your manuscript and have to walk to the post office and seal it up carefully to send to the publisher, I imagine it would feel much more ceremonial and important –you could stroll out of the building and do a cartwheel. Or high-five a fellow customer on your way out. Instead, I was sitting in our dining room on an incredibly rainy, dark Monday afternoon unable to hit “send.” My sister Zoe told me to just close my eyes and do it. Sam gave me the thumbs up. So around 3 p.m. that’s what I did. With the click of a button, just like that: it was finished.
And then I proceeded to take the longest nap I’ve taken in six months. I don’t generally allow myself to take naps, but I made a pretty big exception and woke up feeling squarely on the other side of it all. We went out to dinner and had good wine and bowls of pasta at our favorite celebration spot. I felt teary and tired and gripped onto Sam’s arm for most of the meal, still in disbelief that I wouldn’t be waking up each morning working on book recipes. In a sense I feel like I just told you guys about the cookbook. In another sense, it feels like I’ve been working on the manuscript forever. I’m so pleased and proud of the way it has turned out, and can’t wait to share it with you.
It will be a little while though: Now that the publisher has it in their hands, it takes almost a year to make the book come to life. Right now, we’re looking at a December 2013 publish date, so this next year will be filled with lots of edits, a photo shoot, design meetings, revisions and the like. I think it’ll be a busy year but for now, I’m glad to step away into the land of eggnog, Christmas trees, strings of lights and afternoon naps.
If you’ve followed the blog for some time, you know that Sam is the web designer I hired for Marge and, after dating long-distance for a year, he is the reason I eventually moved up to Seattle from the Bay Area. Our story will be in the book as will the story of beginning and growing a small business. It looks like it will include anywhere from 60-70 whole-grain breakfast recipes, and I’ve been snapping photos of our house, neighborhood, farmers markets, and ingredients I use in the kitchen and many of those will be in the book as well. The cool thing is that the photos will actually be a collaboration in the sense that there will be many by me, but plenty of photos of the food itself will be done by an incredible local photographer (I’m not certain I’m yet allowed to say who she is, but I will as soon as I get the thumbs-up).
On Sunday we were debating what to make for breakfast and Sam asked if I’d cook something from the book. We’d both gotten used to having the recipes around all the time that he was starting to miss them as I’d been focusing much more on writing rather than recipe testing. That moment made me smile — the book’s become a part of our lives quickly, and so many of the recipes are new morning favorites. We lounged around debating which one it would be: whole-grain gingerbread, salmon crème fraîche tart, gingered grits with golden raisins, or maybe just some good leftover bread with my honeyed tangerine marmalade. So many decisions. So many recipes we’ve both come to love.
For now though, it feels good to have a little space from the book, to dip into my files of holiday recipes that I’ve been looking forward to making. This eggnog loaf actually wasn’t even on my radar until this week when my friend and fellow Kitchn writer, Emma Christensen, developed it. The second I saw her photos I knew I wanted to make it and thought I’d try doing so using whole-grain flours and natural sugar. The result? A lightly-spiced holiday loaf cake with a subtly sweet, boozy glaze that is already nominated as a must-make-again-soon this holiday season. I rarely tell you that you absolutely must make something on the blog. I figure you all decide what looks good to you, try a few recipes every now and again, and move on with your lives. But if I were to rate the recipes here from 1-10, this is a 10. It’s simple to put together with ingredients you likely already have at home (with the exception of eggnog, perhaps) and makes a wonderful afternoon snacking cake, morning sweet or after-dinner dessert with a little espresso.
The trouble I have with loaf cakes is that they often come off as heavy and dense but because this version is made with a mixture of spelt flour and whole-wheat pastry flour, it has a delightfully light, springy crumb and doesn’t feel at all overly-indulgent. If you’ve baked much from the blog, you know I have a thing for spelt flour. Remember the Rhubarb Custard Bars in the spring or the more recent Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits? I often turn to spelt flour in the kitchen because, while it’s whole-grain in composition, it behaves much like an all-purpose white flour: it has a mild flavor and produces baked goods with a tender, soft texture. Here, it helps form a loaf that’s everything a holiday cake should be: fragrant and begging to be shared.
Happy weekend to you. I’m so looking forward to lots of baking in the month ahead. Also, the lovely Melissa from The Faux Martha won the granola giveaway from the last post. Thank you all so much for commenting — I loved hearing what you were thankful for, and loved sending a box of Marge out to a blog reader. Let’s do that again soon, shall we?
The only natural cane sugar I had in the house was a coarse turbinado sugar, so I used that here and it turned out delicious. I will say that the butter and sugar don’t whip up quite as light and fluffy as they would with a finer-grain sugar and that’s why my version isn’t as tall and stately as Emma’s loaf. But I’m not so sure it’s a short coming, really. For the glaze, Emma suggests any dark booze you have: rum, bourbon or brandy. I opted for rum and folded a little into the batter itself. Last, full-fat eggnog is the best choice for this recipe as the lower-fat varieties won’t become nearly as frothy.
Adapted from: Emma Christensen’s recipe for The Kitchn
Heat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×5 loaf pan with parchment so that the extra hangs over the sides. Spray the parchment and loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the eggnog at high speed until it becomes frothy and airy, about 8 minutes. Don’t expect it to actually firm up like whipped cream as it has other ingredients (namely eggs) preventing that. Keep the frothy eggnog in the refrigerator until ready to use.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the two flours, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
Wash the bowl to your standing mixer and fit it with the paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Beat the butter at medium speed until it become creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the sugar until the mixture is is smooth and well-incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Beat in the vanilla and the rum. Scrape down the sides as needed.
Add the flour mixture into the bowl of the stand mixer, and mix on low until the ingredients just come together into a dough. Be careful not to overmix.
Using a spatula, gently fold 1/3 of the whipped eggnog into the batter. Then fold the remaining eggnog into the batter. It will feel pretty loose at first, but don’t worry: just keep gently folding and stirring, and eventually it will form a nice, pourable batter.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden-brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes, then lift the loaf out by the parchment paper and transfer it to a cooling rack. Remove the parchment.
When the loaf has cooled but is still warm to the touch, whisk together the glaze and spoon over the top of the loaf. Allow the loaf to sit until the icing is set and dry. Slice and serve. Wrap leftovers in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to three 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?)