Early last week brought longer days than usual, a bit of a commute downtown, parking garages, to-go coffees and take-out lunches. It brought a complete lack of yoga, a few more glasses of wine in the evenings, and immense difficulty sleeping. All of this thanks to the photo shoot for my cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings. I entered into the week nervous and apprehensive: what if for some reason the recipes don’t look photo-worthy? What if the many personalities on set (photographer, food stylist, Ten Speed art director, myself) don’t all mesh? What will be on the cover? What if, what if, what if. It turned out all those worries were for naught and I really could’ve slept a bit more, and perhaps had one fewer glass of wine.
The photo shoot was in downtown Seattle at Clare Barboza’s light-drenched studio. I was matched up with Clare months ago, and couldn’t feel more lucky. She gets my aesthetic — we talked about food styling and keeping everything very loose and spare with a soft, neutral color palette. I brought many of my own dishes and linens from home and Clare was happy to use them (although, as you can see, she’s really not lacking in amazing props). The cookbook itself is going to be highly visual with all of the plated/styled shots by Clare and a number of other photos by me. They’ll be of our Seattle life, our house, garden, and farmer’s market. At first, I was concerned that the images would feel disjointed and wondered why I’d agreed on structuring the book in such a way. But now, when I look at all of the images together, it’s a seamless fit — I can’t wait to show you!
Julie Hopper is Clare’s incredible food stylist and she made my recipes look stunning (for those of you who don’t know, the food stylist prepares all of the recipes and helps style them for the photo). I actually don’t quite know what she did to the tops of my Pear Muffins, but they were perfectly domed with just the right amount of nuts scattered in every little nook and cranny. Julie was a joy to work with, has an enviable collection of sweet aprons and stylish boots, and a calm disposition as she set out using her medical tweezers to move little bits of thyme around a plate. She’d often call me over to the kitchen to ask how I felt about the way something looked or ask questions about whole-grain cook times. In this way, the three-day shoot felt more collaborative than I could’ve ever hoped and, at least for me, celebratory. I left each evening smiling big.
During the shoot itself, there was a lot of downtime while the recipes were prepped and while Clare and Julie set up the initial shots. There was email-checking, tea-making, clementine-snacking, and a lot of general gawking. There were so many surreal moments like the one above where a recipe I worked on for months was being seriously discussed by two smart, talented, professional women and we were all weighing in on angles, the perfect amount of crumbs and messiness, and whether or not it was a cover candidate. Betsy, the art director from Ten Speed, would take each finished photo and plunk it into a working PDF; seeing the photos side by side in the order in which they’d appear in the book was pretty incredible — equal parts validation and relief. After all that worry, it was really all coming together.
The toughest part of the shoot was the debate over the cover image. Weeks before we all met, my editor and I talked about potential recipes for the cover and flagged them — so during our shoot, we all knew which recipes were cover candidates and they were given lots of extra attention in terms of spacing, where we could fit the type, and what would be the perfect crop. I have a breakfast cobbler recipe that I think we worked on for over 3 hours — and it didn’t end up getting approved. So there are ups and downs: moments when everyone in the room is jazzed about a potentially beautiful cover but it turns out that the publisher doesn’t think it’s a good fit. Or vise versa. We’re still working out what will be on the cover. In the meantime, I’ve decided to go back to yoga and real life has crept back in. As it usually does. I made 100 pounds of Marge granola yesterday morning and shipped out boxes to 8 different states. I’ve got deadlines and dinner plans and a hike on the calendar this Saturday. So life goes on.
For those of you who are regular readers, you know that the book is coming out this December, 2013. It’s a seasonal cookbook focusing on a fresh new approach to breakfasts featuring many of my favorite whole-grains. One of the things I’m most excited about is the organization (which my friend Shauna helped me think through): you know how what we eat for breakfast on, say, a busy Wednesday usually looks quite different from what we eat on a lazy Sunday? I wanted to recognize those differences and allow this book to be not just a pretty cookbook, but a refreshingly useful one as well. So each season is split up into sections representative of the different kinds of mornings we all have; you’ll be able to flip to a recipe that speaks to the way you want to do breakfast on any given day.
I have to admit: I’ve been cooking from the cookbook a great deal ever since I turned it in. Sam’s started to put in requests. We’re enjoying living with the recipes and really letting them settle into our household. I’m even finding myself tweak and adapt them further which is to be expected, I suppose. I truly can’t wait to share it with you later this year and to see which recipes you allow to settle into your own household.
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?)