It’s New Years Day and, in truth, I’m left a bit speechless. It’s time to formally introduce you to Whole-Grain Mornings (it’s now officially on sale and appearing in the world!), but I’ve been sitting here for what feels like hours trying to figure out exactly what to say. There’s a quote by Mozart (although some attribute it to an anonymous Zen master) that reads: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” That is how I feel after a busy whirlwind year with little real time for reflection. The year has been full of lots of work, traffic, a new lease for Marge, granola accounts, and conference calls. It’s been full of bringing a book to life, nourishing a relationship, and building a home. But it’s funny how those things don’t start to really settle in and the bigness of it all isn’t truly felt until all the traffic and email and noise just … stop. So today has been a wonderfully uneventful, quiet day. Sam and I went out for breakfast and made a list of our intentions and goals for the year while toasting my book over biscuit sandwiches and numerous cups of coffee. I can’t imagine a more fitting way to usher this lady into the world. So while, for me, the meaning has really come from the quiet — let’s talk about this very special recipe for a moment. And because we’re going to celebrate right, I’d love to give away a copy of Whole-Grain Mornings to a reader (you?) this week, too.
Out of all the recipes to share with you today, I chose what in the book is a Huckleberry Cornmeal Custard — but because of the season (and the lack of huckleberries at this very moment) is now a Blueberry Cornmeal Custard here today. In many ways, it’s highly representative of quite a few of the recipes you’ll find in the book — not shying away from a little butter and cream. While it features seasonal fruits and produce, natural sugars, and whole grains prominently, I didn’t want Whole-Grain Mornings to feel like a diet book — because it’s really not. It’s reflective of the way we eat in our household: good, real food that’s not too fussy to prepare and that you’ll find occasion to make over and over — morning or night, really.
I had a handful of recipes that I wanted to write about to introduce you to the book, but this one won out for a few reasons: it’s one of the very first things Sam made for me when we were just beginning to date, and it’s a great example of a recipe with a story and a past. If on first glance it looks familiar to you, that’s because our friend Molly wrote about a version of it a few years ago in her wonderful book, A Homemade Life. Following that, Jess and Tim both wrote about it on their blogs, and many other food writers made it in their own homes and shared it online.
My first experience of this cornmeal custard, however, took place very far from the internet or any corner of the food writing world. When Sam and I were first dating, he lived in a little bungalow a stone’s throw from Greenlake — one of my now-favorite walking spots here in Seattle. While I would often drag him around San Francisco introducing him to the newest restaurants when he’d visit my city, Sam would often cook for me when I came to visit his. He had a small arsenal of favorites: the best lentils you’ve ever tasted, banana pancakes, and this velvetty cornmeal custard. It’s one part delicate cornbread, one part tender cake, and one part custard — and somehow comes out of the oven in delicious, distinct layers with the berries rising to the top and the layer of cream happily suspended in the center. I’ll always remember watching Sam make it for the first time, oh-so-carefully pouring the cream directly into the center of the pan while instructing me that you must move slowly and not jostle it to get it just right. That particular morning we had big slices with maple syrup and mugs of coffee in the living room, eating quietly while watching the steam rise off the roofs of the houses across the street.
Sam and I dated long distance for over a year, so when I’d return home to the Bay Area, I started to recreate the cornmeal custard in my own kitchen, adding a little lemon zest on one occasion to brighten it a notch, tossing in some berries and experimenting with whole-grain flour on another. Soon I had a version that still resembled the delicious cornmeal custard that Sam made for me on that first winter morning — but now decidedly my own. When I sat down to write this book I knew I wanted to include the recipe since it’s become such a classic in our house, so I began to ask Sam questions about its source so I could properly give credit where credit is due. I mentioned that I’d seen a similar recipe from Molly’s book: did you get it from Molly? Not exactly, Sam said. So the research and emails began. It turns out that Sam used to work at a restaurant here in Seattle called Boat Street and they made a wonderful cornmeal custard at the time. I believe that’s where Sam got the recipe although it must’ve been based off of the recipe Molly ended up writing about in her book– and that appears in Marion Cunningham’s classic book, The Breakfast Book. Suffice it to say: this recipe has legs, as do most things this special.
Because I know that if you’re here reading this post, you’re going to love this book and because I’m so grateful for all of the support and enthusiasm you’ve all showed as I plugged away at it all last year, I’d love to give away a signed copy to one A Sweet Spoonful reader in the Continental US. To enter, simply leave a comment here about the breakfast you’ve been most excited about making in your own home lately. I’ll select a winner this upcoming Sunday 1/5 at 9 p.m. PST and will notify the winner via email.
**UPDATE: Kathleen Love is the lucky winner of Whole-Grain Mornings and has been contacted via email to claim her copy. Thank you so much for all of your great breakfast inspiration; you’ve inspired me to get into gear with some new recipes this season. xox**
Other Folks Writing About Whole-Grain Mornings:
Sprouted Kitchen – Pear Hazelnut Muffins
Food Loves Writing – Buckwheat Crepes with Honeyed Ricotta and Sauteed Apples
Delightful Crumb – Nutty Millet Breakfast Cookies (also featured on Good Things Grow)
Eating From the Ground Up – Banana Walnut Baked Oatmeal (also featured on Shutterbean)
A Cozy Kitchen – Rye Granola with Sour Cherries and Pistachios
Three Many Cooks – Trail Guide Nut and Seed Bars
The Faux Martha – The Very, Very Best Oatmeal
A Couple Cooks- The Best Toasted Oatmeal
Cookie + Kate – Morning Glory Oatmeal
101 Cookbooks – California Barley Bowl (also featured on Naturally Ella)
Come Out For The Book Tour! I’ll have Marge granola samples at many events and would love to sign your book! If you live in San Francisco, Portland, Vancouver or Seattle, I’d love to meet you in person (no really, please come!) For more information: Whole-Grain Mornings Book Tour.
Buy a Copy Today: Whole-Grain Mornings
In the cookbook, this recipe actually calls for huckleberries — those sweet, small cousins of blueberries that I so love to snatch up here in the fall months. If you can find huckleberries, great. If not, blueberries (or any berry, really) work beautifully. Use fresh or frozen; if you opt for frozen, use them straight out of the freezer, unthawed. If oat flour isn’t something you have at home, I’ve made this recipe with many different kinds of flours (barley, white-whole wheat, spelt) and they’ve all turned out great. We like to serve generous slices of the cornmeal custard warmed with a quick glug of maple syrup on top. Sam likes his with a little flaky salt, too.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a deep dish 10-inch pie pan. Place the buttered dish in the oven to warm while you make the batter.
In a small dish, melt the butter in the microwave on medium-high heat, careful not to let it splatter (about 45 seconds). Pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, in medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
Add the eggs to the butter and wish to combine. Add the sugar, salt, milk, buttermilk, vinegar, lemon zest and vanilla and stir well. Whisking constantly, add the flour mixture slowly and stir until the batter is smooth.
Remove the heated pan from the oven and set on a baking sheet for easy transport to and from the oven. Spoon the berries into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. Pour the batter on top of the berries. Then ever so slowly, pour the cream right into the center of the batter. Don’t stir. Carefully slide the pan into the oven, taking care not to jostle.
Bake until golden brown on top, 50-65 minutes*. Cool for at least 15 minutes to allow the custard to firm up before slicing. Serve warm with a generous drizzle of maple syrup. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days (but do rewarm them before serving!)
*Note on bake time: This recipe, more than many, seems subject to temperature and humidity. When I recently baked it on a very wet, damp day in Seattle, it took all of 65 minutes — you’re looking for the top to be golden brown and the center to be dry to the touch but still ever so jiggly if you lightly jostle the pan — it will continue to firm up as it cools.
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?)