A few days ago, it snowed in Seattle. And the days leading up to it were cold with a capital C. I broke out my puffy vests and started wearing my wool hat on walks to the library. While I’ve been snatching up daffodils and tulips whenever I’m at the market, let’s just say that it’s not boating weather here yet. But it’s close. We’re on the brink and it seems everyone can sense it: Saturday afternoon the cherry blossoms popped out from every street corner and the sun was gracing the wood slats of our upstairs room. On Sunday we hiked to Wallace Falls where there were patches of unexpected snow, but there was also genuine bursts of sun and fresh pine air. Hikers were draped over rocks sharing their bagged lunches and at one point on our descent, we sat towards the side of the trail and closed our eyes, just soaking in the tentative warmth. There were dogs off leash, families snapping photos, and one lone frisbee. See? we’re on the brink.
The most recent issue of Kinfolk had a piece called “Spring Renewal,” in which Erin Propp and Travis Rogers discuss ways to renew themselves at home and get ready for spring, including drying laundry on the line, eating in season, planting a garden, visiting a neighbor, and trying a new food. I used to get a lot of satisfaction from making these sorts of lists, but then it comes to the end of the season and I ultimately end up feeling disappointed by my lack of progress, deciding to push certain things off until the next year. While it’s always wonderful to daydream, it’s good to stand firmly planted in the reality of your day-to-day life, too. And as much as I wish that ours included drying clothes on a line, it just doesn’t. So instead of mapping out specific goals and plans for the spring and summer, Sam and I have simply said we want to get outside more. See more of the region this year. Last spring and summer I was immersed in the writing of the book and was pretty diligent about not taking much time off on the weekends. But this spring is a different story. Each passing day is just a little bit longer, our lawn almost needs mowing, and I ordered my first ever batch of seeds from the Burpee catalog (radishes, carrots, snap peas, and kale!). We’re ready.
The above few photos were taken on Whidbey Island where we recently got out on a very chilly beach walk and had mussels, garlic bread and a pint of dark beer in Coupeville. We both had pretty hearty to-do lists that day and part of me really wanted to stay home, read the paper and go to the farmers’ market, but we hopped on the ferry, got some fresh air, and came back feeling all the more eager for the next outing.
In addition to weekend day trips and lofty camping and hiking plans, one thing I know for sure will help with the excitement and enthusiasm for spring (as if you needed help in that arena) is the beautiful and inspired cookbook, Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison. I get quite a few cookbooks in the mail from publishers and PR folks and many of them I end up finding new homes for, but Madison’s book has landed a spot front and center on our cookbook shelf. It’s not only beautiful (boasting photography from two of my favorite food photographers working today, Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton), but it gives you a host of new ways to prepare your favorite vegetables and a wealth of information on herbs, grains and roots that may even be new to you. Madison’s recipes are approachable and seem very do-able; nothing has 17 steps or takes a day in the kitchen to prepare.
The book really encourages giving pause — taking a moment to rethink the way you use vegetables and to get to know the relationship between them (for example, knowing that the Cabbage family includes arugula, broccoli and brussels sprouts can help a great deal when trying to brainstorm complimentary vegetables in a salad or how best to substitue an ingredient that you can’t track down). There are a handful of vegetable-focused books coming out this spring, and I have a feeling this is the one I’ll be reaching for the most.
The first recipe from this book that caught my eye was this saucy braised fennel. I’ve been roasting fennel lately, and so love the way it draws out its slightly sweet, mild anise flavor — but I’d yet to try braising it. Anyone who has cooked from Debora Madison’s cookbooks knows that her recipes hardly need tinkering with. But because I hate wasting the fennel stalks and greens, I did end up chopping them finely and folding them into the braise (Madison suggests using them as garnish, but I wanted to cook them down a bit in the braise itself). And at the last minute, I tossed in bit more garlic and a few tablespoons of capers for an extra salty little punch. I served this deliciously saucy mess of spring vegetables with a bowl of quinoa and a little soft chèvre and parsley on the side. When you find yourself sitting at home waiting for a truly warm spring day, this will surely help speed things along.
Braised Fennel Wedges with Saffron and Tomato
- Yield: Serves 4
- Prep time:10mins
- Cook time:30mins
- Total time:40mins
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?)
I like the phrase "tentative spring." I'd feel that on the East Coast--warmth of the sun on your face, snow at your feet, crocuses just peeping through. I need to take a peek at this cookbook. Sounds like a good one. (I often turn to Alice Waters' "Vegetables" for inspiration, so I'm curious to see how this one differs.)
Nicole | Eat This Poem
I'm not normally enamored with fennel, but this recipe has me intrigued! It's probably worth giving it a go. Maybe I'll make that my spring resolution.
Yay, Nicole! I loved it -- Sam found the larger pieces of fennel to be, well, large. But if you like fennel, you'll love them that way if you're on the fence, you can just slice them up a bit before serving. I have an inkling you may like it, too. Happy early spring!
I am so jealous of all you special folks who get an advance copy of this book. Deborah Madison is possibly one of my all-time favorites for recipes, everything...and Vegetable Literacy looks so beautiful! This sounds amazing (but I am a fennel bulb addict, so, possibly biased...)
Hope you're well, Megan, and staying sane in the cookbook madness! ---S
I like your simple goal. I think we're much more likely to make changes when we don't put so many demands on ourselves but instead just one or two requests (not demands!) that are easy to reach. And what a good goal yours is! Additionally, I cannot wait to get my hands on this book! The braised fennel looks fantastic.
I hope that this can be a summer dish too and that you will make it
in Lake George or some other equally delectable vegetable dish.
Absolutely, Aunt V. We'll have to have you bring the vegetables so as to avoid Walmart produce!
Lisa the Gourmet Wog
Oh I love fresh fennel, absolutely gorgeous braised in a beautiful dish like this one. Delicous
i have been salivating over my copy, as well, ever since it arrived a week or so ago. so many things bookmarked, from egg salad to soups, and yes, this fennel all but shouted out of the page.
good for you for getting out there in the cold chilly. hard, especially on those windswept beaches. but always worth it in the end.
Ellie@Fit for the Soul
Wowwww that saucy fennel dish looks so amazing! It almost resembles one of my favorite dishes I order at Italian or fusion-y Mexican restaurants--like the saffron broth with shell fish and noodles. This book sounds really neat because sometimes I find myself wondering, "hmmm what spice would go with this vegetable?" :)
I can't wait to pick up a copy of the book, and the braised fennel looks amazing. Kind of crazy that you were just on Whidbey Island given the recent landslide...
such a cute pic of sam! love the goal. so nice to be outside. I live super close to the ocean and every time I go for a walk there, I don't know why I don't do it everyday. It fills me up. I'm loving the book too :)
Lovely post and equally lovely dish! ...Susan
I was just speaking with someone about this book, and they highly recommend it. I will have to seek it out ...
We feel the same as you do, and I wish you lived closer. Decisions have been put into place to take advantage of our area more this year by jumping in the car and doing impromptu camping trips. Last year we talked about it during our one trip, and were disappointed when winter rolled around. Refreshing to be taken by the hand into the great outdoors often ....
I completely agree with everything here. I used to make lists of goals and such but frankly, they sort of interfered with the now. Sometimes (most times) life's worth living without a list. Love these photos and this recipe seems to be the perfect thing for the brink of Spring. xo
I tired this recipe, added organic chickpeas and it was sooo good. thank you i will be back to your blog!!!
Looking at these pictures made me miss Ruby Beach, Sam, you, and being able to go to a market like the one by your house. This recipe sounds really good. I think I'll give it a try with brown rice!
I'm a big fan of Marge and am making this dish as we speak. I think you may have left the capers out of the instructions. I'm guessing they are added when you add the tomato paste.
Hi, Stacey! Thanks so much for the note and for alerting me to the caper omission ... fixed it now! Hope you enjoyed the recipe; it's high time we made it again around here. Enjoy your week, Megan
Yay! I love fennel! But even more I love Whidbey Island. If you ever get the chance, spend the night and walk out onto Baby Island when the tide is low...it's an experience of a lifetime! :)
Oh! Thanks so much for the tip, Victoria. I'll remember that for next time we're there. Enjoy your weekend, ~m
This was amazing! My 3 year old loved it too. I found your blog through 101 Cookbooks and I can already see I will be here a lot!
I'm so, so glad you enjoyed the recipe and stumbled upon the site. Enjoy your week! ~m
Found this recipe and your site through 101 Cookbooks, and boy am I glad! I made this for dinner tonight with some chickpeas added in, served over quinoa with rotis and mint sauce. Thanks for a delicious recipe.
Wow, that sounds killer! Love the idea of tossing in some chickpeas and quinoa for a real, complete meal. So happy you enjoyed the recipe and that you're enjoying the site. All best, ~m
I made this last night & it was my first time cooking with fennel bulbs! Delicious! It's funny how much the anise taste/smell of the raw fennel mellows out once it's braised. Really lovely, will be making this again. I served it just as you suggested, with quinoa & a bit of goat cheese & parsley on top.
Oh awesome, Kris! I'm so glad you enjoyed the recipe. I did, too -- reminds me I really need to make it again. Enjoy the rest of your week + thank you for the comment. ~mg
Omg. Just recently went vgean (being from Texas lol). This was AMAZING!!
YAY! So glad to hear it!