It’s been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I’d planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting “Pies for Dinner” cover, and I started to think about how long it’s been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I’m often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it’s a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I’d say that this savory tart is right up there.
The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it’s so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I’ve used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you’re looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.
Speaking of my cookbook, I’ve been getting quite a few questions lately about writing a second book and I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself but I’m also trying to honor the resolutions I made at the beginning of the year to just have a few dedicated months of quiet time without shaking things up on the work front. I’m almost done with my first quilt (I’m hand sewing the back right now, and it’s coming together pretty darn well if I do say so myself) and just learned how to use my new sewing machine this week. I’ve managed to weasel myself into a book club that I’m really excited about, and have been starting to push myself in running distances again. So yes, while I’m definitely thinking about what book 2 will hold and have started to make lists and draft ideas, I’m trying to take some time to not push, push, push too quickly as well.
In fact, I just finished a book that talks about that constant push, push, push forward that so many of us do (whether it’s in regards to work or family or personal goals) called A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit. This little book of essays is the first I’ve read of Solnit’s, and I ended up doing a lot of underlining and note-taking; there’s some good stuff in here. The sections I was most struck by were in “The Blue of Distance” when Solnit describes that longing for the future that we all tend to actively do or experience at some point. She uses mountains in the distance as a metaphor, describing “the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away … the color of where you can never go … the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in.”
It’s the inverse of “wherever you go, there you are”: However far you go, the distance (and its allure) is still…distant. As soon as I’d written a book, I discovered I was 0% of my way through Book 2, and then there are the dreams of buying a house or eventually starting a family with Sam. And so forth, and then a few more still.
To this Solnit notes, “For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints to the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs. Something is always far away.”
If you’re like me, you often can’t stop yourself from running out to one horizon or other, trying to reach it by making these fantastic lists of the things you want to achieve and putting them in their right order. There’s an allure to the blue, a call toward that horizon that’s actually pretty hard not to heed. I’ll probably be bad at ignoring it tomorrow, I’m sure that I’ll spend much of next week running like Kip Keino out to some horizon or other, but today I’ve somehow managed to be pretty happy to look out at it all from inside my own windows, to put out of mind (for now) the Next Big Thing that I can already hear calling, and just appreciate as it is, and where it is, that singularly beautiful blue (with, yes, a little bit of Seattle grey).
There will be time to strike out again for those faint shapes on the horizon, but this afternoon is going to be given to hand-stitching the back of a quilt, drinking homemade hot chocolate, and taking just a minute to talk about how delicious this tart was. It’s something worth going back to.
Minor note: As written in my cookbook, I pre-bake this crust for 15 minutes before adding the filling but when I made it this time around I forgot and it was completely fine, so I’ve removed that step from the recipe below. Now, an even easier tart!
Regarding the whole wheat flour in this tart, you can use virtually any flour you have at home. I often use spelt flour, but I’ve used everything from barley flour to white-whole wheat flour with great success; this is a very, very forgiving recipe.
From: Whole Grain Mornings
Butter a 9-inch tart pan with 1-inch sides and a removable bottom. Using a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse together the cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal (alternatively, you can use a pastry blender or your fingers to work the butter into the dry ingredients). Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time and pulse until the dough starts to look like wet, clumpy sand. It’s ready if a small piece holds together when pressed between your fingers. If it still seems too crumbly, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Turn the dough out into a large bowl and mix in the millet using a fork. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and up the sides of the prepared pan. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. In a small sauté pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and sauté the shallots until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
In a bowl, whisk together the milk, crème fraîche, eggs, capers, dill, salt and pepper. Spoon the shallot mixture in an even layer on the bottom of the crust; arrange the salmon across the top evenly. Pour the custard mixture on top.
Bake until the top is golden brown and the filling is set, about 30-35 minutes. Let cool 15-20 minutes. Unmold the tart onto a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 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?)