It’s the first sunny day in Seattle in a very long time and I’m sitting here at my sewing desk in our walk-in closet on the second story of our house eating a big salad and staring out the window, flirting with the idea of forgetting work altogether and drinking kombucha in the park. But at the same time, I’ve been getting some emails from you all asking for cookbook recommendations and realizing it’s been a long time since I’ve done a ‘Favorites’ type post. So, with spring cookbook season in full effect, today is the day! It was tough to choose just five, but ultimately the books that stay right on top of my desk and that I continue to bookmark, read and refer back to are the ones I know will be in heavy rotation. Maybe you’ll find something new to inspire your spring cooking?
Eat This Poem by Nicole Gulotta
I met Nicole for the first time a few months ago when I was in Los Angeles, but we’ve known each other for a few years thanks to this lovely and weird thing we call the internet. Our boys are roughly the same age, and Nicole has a great blog, Eat This Poem, that I immediately connected with as it was more literary than most food blogs, and would always include a poem or one of her great City Guides. So when I heard that Nicole was writing a book by the same name, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Eat This Poem is split into sections that feel reminiscent of seasons in life, with titles like “Growth,” “On What Lingers” and “Gathering,” each grounded in relevant poems and recipes.
Not only does Nicole reference other writers in the book, she’s a beautiful writer herself. You know how most recipes have a few lines introducing the dish and letting you know how it came to be, or noting any special ingredients or techniques? These headnotes are actually really difficult to write because they can become monotonous and there’s often so much to relay in a very short amount of time. But in reading Nicole’s book, I was struck with how brilliantly and seemingly effortlessly she introduces each recipe. For her Warm Vanilla Pear Crumble, she notes, “I made this crumble for a dinner party one December. It was two weeks before Christmas and our friends announced they were having a second baby. As I whipped the cream, I heard their daughter running after our dog in the living room; Andrew held our newborn son, Henry; and “O Holy Night” played from a speaker. These are the days.” Now that is a headnote! I not only want to make this crumble, but I feel a part of this moment. And that’s what Nicole is so good at: inviting us into the moments in her life — and even more, inviting us to make our own.
One Part Plant by Jessica Murnane
After being diagnosed with endometriosis, Jessica Murnane decided to try a plant-based diet as a last ditch effort to feel better. Little by little her symptoms disappeared, so she set out on a mission to get people excited about eating just one plant-based meal a day. This cookbook is a killer collection of many of her recipes, and contains a lot of great tips and starter-info on, say, Creating a Plant-Based Pantry and how to fit OPP (One Part Plant) into your week in a realistic way. Sure you’re going to find some chia (have we ever talked about my aversion to chia?), but you’re also going to see a lot of real, simple food and doable recipes with very manageable ingredient lists. I’m particularly excited about the Chocolate Chunk Cookies everyone’s talking about, the Quinoa Taco Salad and the Chilaquiles with Cilantro Cream. And I’d be remiss not to mention that Jessica has one of my favorite podcasts, One Part Podcast, where she interviews super interesting (usually health-minded) guests each week about topics ranging from kundalini yoga and getting more sleep to meditation or asking for what you want. It’s a great one if you happen to spend more time in the car than you’d like (hand raised).
Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman
I eagerly awaited the arrival of this book and it far exceeded my expectations. Before diving in, I think the subtitle is worth mentioning: “A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.” Sarah, girl, my ears are open. Right now, with a toddler in the house, getting a reasonable, homemade dinner on the table that everyone can eat is our biggest challenge and I know it’s one many of you share (toddler or not). That dinner game is rough and 6 pm rolls in quick somedays (err, most days). We give Oliver tortellini or turkey hot dogs for more meals than I care to admit because we just don’t have our act together many nights to get anything else on the table. It’s all too easy to fall into the tortellini rut and, just like adults, kids get tired of the same old / same old, too. So I’ve really fallen for Sarah’s forgiving approach to encouraging families to tackle some meals in advance, breaking out the slow cooker, and extending ingredients for the next night’s dinner.
In this really beautiful book, there are 40 seasonal meals and 100 recipes and a lot of tips and tricks that have worked for Sarah’s family. But I suppose there are many family cookbooks out there with lots of tips and tricks, so what makes Feeding a Family stand out? First, it’s beautifully photographed and doesn’t feel overly-casseroled or dumbed down, which I often find is the case in many cookbooks written for families. There aren’t as many truly beautiful and inspiring family cookbooks that get you excited to try new recipes for yourselves and your kids — food that everyone just may want to eat. And for a family like ours that really likes good food and the act of cooking, this feels huge. I can tell this is a book we’re going to use often, so it was tough to pull out a few recipes, but so far I’ve bookmarked the Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken, Skillet Spinach Pie and Rhubarb Sundaes, and am hoping to make at least one this weekend.
Dishing up the Dirt by Andrea Bemis
While I know many of you may have known of Andrea’s blog for some time, I learned of her book (and her gorgeous Instagram account) first, and had the chance to go see her in person in Seattle this past week. Andrea and her husband run a farm in Parkdale, Oregon where they grow and sell vegetables to restaurants, farmers markets and their CSA customers. While I know that farming and homesteading are reeeally trendy right now, Andrea and Tyler are the real deal: they’re really doing it all. And not only are they doing the farming, but Andrea writes and photographs recipes for their CSA members to educate and inspire them in how to use their weekly produce box. Not sure what to do with your turnips? They’ve got your back. As for the book, Andrea’s laidback cooking style is immediately evident: she encourages “detours,” and her recipes have a very gentle approach of making you feel like you’re in good hands but also that this isn’t brain surgery: a dash of lemon juice or olive oil is just fine. The first thing I noticed in the book is the Sauce chapter, which I think is so smart in a veggie-forward cookbook because if you’ve got a few sauces in the refrigerator, meals can come together quite easily. There’s a Miso Harissa and a Garlic Cashew Herb Sauce I can’t wait to try. Beyond sauces, the book is organized seasonally, which makes a lot of sense. I had such a hard time deciding where to begin, I told myself to just open to page 1 of Spring and get going. So there you’ll find Honey-Roasted Strawberry Muffins: I made them yesterday morning and we all had one as a late morning snack, and later in the evening after Oliver was in bed I had another with a big spoonful of leftover whipped cream. I’ll share them here very soon.
Green Kitchen at Home by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl
You may know Luise and David from their popular vegetarian blog, Green Kitchen Stories, and while they have other cookbooks, this one is heavily bookmarked because of its focus on actual weeknight (or weekday) cooking: simple(r) recipes that can be tackled reasonably on an average Wednesday (with a little planning ahead). There’s very little fuss, and I love the focus on shortcuts (canned beans are ok, people) and batch recipes that can double as building block for more meals throughout the week. In the introduction, David notes,”This book is filled with the recipes that we actually make most often in our own kitchen. Our true favorites,” and I think that comes across throughout the pages. These feel like real life, weekly recipes I’m excited to try. The Fridge Favorites chapter is a great Basics section, with recipes including tomato sauce, flatbreads, lentils, and quinoa in case you need a good primer. And further into the book I fell for the Buckwheat, Banana and Chocolate Bread; Middle Eastern Sweet Potato Wraps; and those really pretty and intriguing Rainbow Flatbreads.
For those of you who live in the Seattle area, I’ll be chatting with Nicole Gulotta about her book, Eat This Poem, next Friday May 12 at Booklarder from 6:30-8pm. The event is free (although Booklarder requests that you RSVP), and I’d so love to see you all there!
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?)