It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
This past week was one in which I found out that one of my good friends is pregnant with her first child, and another friend and her partner just bought a new home and moved to Oakland. A friend across town had thrown out her back and another was just returning from a long trip, exhausted and jet-lagged. It was time to bake a little something. Something that was equal parts celebration (a baby!) and 'take it easy.' Something with ingredients I had on hand and that I wouldn't have to rush around to shop and prep for. Something like Harvest Apple Coffee Cake.
I went to hear Gabrielle Hamilton speak in downtown San Francisco Friday night. Now there's a lot one can say about her book Blood, Bones and Butter -- about what's in the book and about what's so clearly not in the book. About her difficult personal life, family dynamics, and road to becoming a chef. But what I'm always intrigued with when it comes to Hamilton are her thoughts on work and accepting, in a fierce and even deliberate manner, what it is you want to do. Regardless of what critics may have said, this is why I kind of dig her.
I received a note in the mail recently. Addressed to me, obviously, but in my own handwriting. A strange sense of familiarity struck as I stared at it, trying to figure out when exactly I'd addressed it. In Boston? In San Francisco? Maybe it was a mistake, a card I'd meant to send to someone else but accidentally sent back to myself (stranger things have happened). I stared at the envelope turning it over and over in my hands--still nothing. I opened it to find a single card with my name printed at the top.
It's undeniably September, but I'm going to refrain from writing that kind of a post. On evening runs, it's getting darker just a touch earlier and, like clock-work, summer is kicking into swing full-force in the Bay Area. We're good for Indian summers and we're also known for forgetting they happen each and every year. We all walk around shocked that it's hot in September when it's always hot in September. So while I'm excited for all that fall brings, let's look back at summer for just a second and then talk about cake, shall we?
There are some things you don't question or plan for. They're the things that just happen, that unfold throughout the day or week or month. The things we don't always document or discuss because they don't really seem important enough, but that -- all the same -- so often bring us together in one way or another. Patterns or obsessions or phases. Late-night online shoe shopping. Permission to nap at odd hours. Spontaneous cell-phone photo exchanges. Maybe you can relate. Maybe lately you've been doing something similar. As you do. As we do.
Weeks ago, as Sam and I were leaving my mom's cabin to head back to our respective cities, we stumbled upon something pretty great. Something unexpected, largely because most little towns in Vermont aren't necessarily known for wood-fired bakeries serving Intellegentsia coffee, perfectly flaky croissants and traditional cannelés. All of that and one of the lovelier open kitchens I've ever laid eyes upon.
Two weeks ago while Sam was visiting, we threw a small dinner party. I think it was his idea, actually. I'd yet to have a get-together in my new-ish Oakland apartment and the thought of the two of us spending an afternoon cooking for a room full of my friends was pretty darn nice.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.
What I'm about to tell you doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's one of those rare things that happens to you and that's so much bigger than you -- it's difficult to put it into words. And the reason I have waited to tell you is because I haven't really known the right way to go about it. But this space has always been as much about my life as it is about food, and if we never talked about any of this I probably wouldn't blog again for a very, very long time. Because this is, now, my focus. My attention, my daydreams, my real dreams, my heart, and a glimpse into the future. This is it. Meet Sam.
I'm not at all a New Years person. I was trying to think about a memorable New Years that I've had and I actually can't recall a one. Oh wait, I take that back. I do remember one New Years in college that involved a bathtub and a really bad taxi ride. But that's another story altogether. I'm also not the kind of person who has any desire to get all anxious about making plans, really good plans, better plans than any year before. It just seems like a lot of work. I had a boss once who would ride her bike up this great peak in Boulder, CO and spend the day alone. Just hanging and thinking and setting intentions for the year ahead. This is much more my style than expensive prix fixe meals or hotel parties. So while I didn't ride up any major peaks today, I did bake a pie. A simple lemon pie -- so simple, in fact, that the Shakers used to make this very same recipe well over a hundred years ago. It's bright in citrus flavor with a rich, buttery crust that will make you smile. You do want to use Meyer lemons if you can get your hands on them. They're not at all bitter and make for a truly magical pie. You deserve no less on New Years Day.
Well here we are: Thanksgiving week. I had a grand post planned for you today but I've come down with my annual 'could you come at a worse time?' cold, so it'll have to wait. Instead, we have something relatively short but sweet and perfect for those of you looking for a quick breakfast treat to whip up on Thanksgiving morning. These scones are from the Flour cookbook. You've heard me go on and on about Flour so I'll spare you today. But the book is genius. Put it on your Christmas list. Pronto.
Last week at my favorite yoga class, the instructor started talking about the concept of Remembering Forward. It'd been a long tough class and my mind was wandering over to latte land, but as I half listened, the concept grabbed me. It goes something like this: Imagine one year from today. So it'd be November 17, 2011. Now imagine one area in your life that you want to work on or make a change in. This could be your relationship, a friendship, work. Anything. Think about one specific change that you'd like to see happen in that area, and then you turn to a friend or your partner and you play the 'Remembering Forward' game. You're now in November 2011 and that change you wanted to see happen? It did. Your dialogue with your friend or partner makes it come alive. For example, when I was listening to the instructor talk about the concept I started running through what mine would look like:
I carved a pumpkin at my Dad's house on Halloween night. Yes, trick-or-treaters were arriving as we were slicing away. Better late than never. And pumpkin. I heard some ladies talking at the gym this week that they were "all pumpkin-ed out" (this was after the debate concerning the appropriate time to start applying to get your daughter into summer equestrian camp. Apparently it's quite competitive. These women are losing sleep over this). I've actually started to turn down my ipod at the gym; the conversations I overhear are serious fodder for future writing projects. You couldn't make this stuff up. But back to pumpkin. I, for one, am not all "pumpkin-ed out." In fact, this is the first time I've broken out the pumpkin this fall, and I'm sensing a trend here. I missed the boat on the sour cherries in late summer and never got around to canning tomatoes. And man the peaches were good this year in California--should've made jam. But enough with the "should haves." I'm not letting pumpkin slip through my grip. And I'm sharing these lightly spiced, super moist fall muffins with you today. Better late than never.
Mary Oliver is a wise woman. I'd love to have tea with her someday. Or take a really long walk. Apparently she loves birds and I could pretend that I really loved birds for that one afternoon (I hate birds). But in all seriousness, she's one fine poet and has given me great perspective on living life to the fullest and coming to terms with death. I came across one of her poems last week and have been rereading it almost daily ever since. It's a good one. I want to share it with you and then we're going to talk light, fluffy cupcakes and salted caramel. Deal?
As you're reading this, I'm probably in my little Volkswagon driving five hours North to visit Jean. Remember Jean? She's my dear friend who, exactly one year ago, was hit by a car and killed while crossing the street in Brooklyn. I remember what I was wearing and doing and feeling the second I heard the news. I'll never forget that sleepless night--looking back, I know I was completely in shock and the realization would only slowly sink in. Still today, every single time I drive across the Golden Gate Bridge I think of Jean. I'm not really sure why except maybe because of how much she loved the city and how she wanted to move here someday, have a family and settle down.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one:
Today we've got cookies and sisters on our hands. You may remember me talking about Zoe, my youngest sister, and the weekend she graduated. But I'm not sure that I've talked a whole lot about Rachael. She's the middle sister in our family and loves to cook and eat as much as I do (see proof below). Actually, she's a far better cook than I am. She's one of those intuitive kitchen people who just wings it without a recipe. Confidently. And it all turns out just fine. There's another area where Rachael and I differ in the kitchen: she's a planner, menu-writer, and list maker. Now, don't get me wrong: I love a good list. But I'm not the kind of person who maps out what I'll prepare and eat for the week, makes a shopping list, and lets that list dictate what I buy at the grocery store.
It's been awhile since I've written a 'sigh, I'm alone' post. And god, I thank you for sticking with me through those. In one sense it feels like just yesterday and in another it feels like it's been a decade. And I haven't written about it much because most days I'm doing pretty darn well. I have great friends, an amazingly supportive family, exciting writing jobs popping up left and right, and interests and passions that keep me busier than I'd like to be. But to have just a moment together here--a little bout of honesty--it sucks eating alone. I haven't gotten over this part of being single. I hate it. And as you can probably tell by now, I'm a big fan of eating. So we have a little problem on our hands.
I picked up the most recent issue of Time Magazine to find Jonathan Franzen on the cover. I'm a big fan of Franzen and think what he does in depicting ordinary folks living ordinary lives is nothing short of genius. If you're looking for intricate plots and ax murderers, you won't find them with Franzen. But you will find average couples sitting around the breakfast table all out of milk, listening to lawnmowers in the distance and wondering why it is they got married in the first place. The good stuff. The real stuff. So while the article made me interested to read his new book Freedom, I was most struck by the way in which Franzen works--his process, his routine, his desk.
In a recent post, I mentioned that I'd just gone up to my family's Tahoe cabin for a few days with my dad. I mentioned ice cream and lounging by the lake. What I didn't mention is the grand renovation that's taken place this past year making our humble, rather tiny cabin into something a bit less humble and much less tiny. When I really think about it, our Tahoe cabin is the one stable house in my life. My folks are divorced and live in different houses than the one I grew up in, and if you've been around the blog for any period of time, you know I'm a serial mover. So the Tahoe cabin is it. It's where I've been coming at least twice a year since I was two years old. Same little town, same street. During the renovation this year, my dad just kept saying how I wouldn't believe it--how much different it was. I'd overheard conversations about reclaimed barnwood and tile, about a courtyard breezeway and flat screen TV's. So when I drove up, I'll be honest: I expected to be a little sad. I braced myself to put on a big happy face for my dad and thought of all the ways I could tell him how great it was. I figured I'd miss our funky little cabin and all its quirks. After a record breaking personal best of 3 hours and 15 minutes, I pulled up, parked, and saw a totally new house. The funny thing? I wasn't at all sad or nostalgic or disappointed. Don't get me wrong: it was different. But it was great, too. The sleeping loft was still there, the windows looking out onto the lake were still the center of the house, and the stools at the kitchen counter--all there. It just got a face life. A fancy face lift.
So my blog's birthday came and went. I was never the type of person to bake my blog a cake (although I think it's awesome that some of you do) but I have to say, I was surprised when I realized the other day that it's been just over a year since I started. How'd that happen? Birthdays are cool for a few reasons. First and most importantly, cake. Second, cards and family and friends and a check from your grandma. If you're a member of my family and you happen to be home at the time, you get to wear the beat up, pink glittery birthday crown. That thing's been around the block. Let me tell you. But the other cool think I notice as I get older is the element of reflection when birthdays roll around--thinking about the past year and how you want the next year to pan out. I began A Sweet Spoonful never having published a piece of writing but always wanting to. I started it late one night on a complete whim figuring at least it was one place where I'd see my work in print. Now, one year later, I'd call myself a writer. I started out with small local publications, peeing my pants with each acceptance letter and now you can occasionally find me in national rags and, if you flew Frontier this winter, you saw me in your trusty in-flight magazine. I talked about fried chicken and grits and all my friends who read it had a good chuckle.
Do you ever play the 'if only' game with yourself? It goes something like this: "if only I had a Mini Cooper, I'd be happy" or "if only I'd studied harder, I would've gotten into a better college" or "If only I had a bigger apartment, everything would be fine." Of course you do. We all do. My 'if only' game is kind of more like a neurosis and an obsession rather than a fun hypothetical consideration. The earliest I remember it showing its ugly face? 5th grade. All of my friends brought those packaged pies from the grocery store -- the ones filled with bright yellow lemon filling, gooey chocolate pudding, or glowing fake cherry. My mom packed me carrots, hard boiled eggs, and healthy sandwiches. I was convinced my life would be better if I had pies in my lunch. I'd be happier, certainly. I remember eying those pies on a daily basis and wondering what the hell was wrong with my family. If only.
We had a bit of a heat wave in the Bay Area this past weekend. Saturday, in particular. There's nothing like coming off of a long flight from China and having your typically foggy city greet you with blazes. I mean really, there was no easing into summer. But it's no problem. I've gotten my cotton skirts out of storage and plan on wearing them all summer long. That and flip-flops and high ponytails. There will be iced coffee in the mornings and lots of leg-dangling in my mom's pool. What is a problem, however, is even thinking about turning on the oven to bake during the summer. But I've found a solution. Its name is slump. Do you know slumps? If not, you should. I'll introduce you.
For those of you who follow me on twitter, you've probably gathered that I'm a huge Kim Boyce fan--I really haven't been this excited and inspired by a cookbook in a long time. Perhaps ever. I had the opportunity to meet Kim last week at Omnivore Books and hear her take on the different whole grain flours she uses in Good to the Grain and how each affects the flavor and texture of her recipes. If you want a more detailed review of her book, I wrote a short piece for Bay Area Bites last week, so feel free to read more there.
When I graduated from college, I didn’t want to go to all the ceremonies. I felt above it all. Don’t get me wrong--I was glad that I'd finished, but I went to a school the size of my entire hometown, and felt I’d just be lost in the crowd during graduation. But my mom talked to me about the importance of ceremony in your life—milestones deserve their moment. And she’s right. Ceremony and a little pomp and circumstance sort of force you to reflect on your accomplishments. Otherwise, something as big as a college graduation or a wedding would be just another day that, eventually, you wouldn’t remember apart from the rest. You need finality, you need reflection, and you need to share and celebrate accomplishments with others.
TEsting to see if this works and maybe it will and maybe it wont'.
I recently got The September Issue from Netflix--the documentary about Vogue editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour. It was fascinating on many levels but the thing that struck me the most was how unhappy she seemed. We all know how immensely driven and talented she is, but when she spoke of what her other siblings do for a living and what they think of her work, her eyes would gloss over and she'd become distant. When she spoke of her own work at the magazine, Anna mentioned that it often made her angry and agitated--that she'd know when to throw in the towel when she started getting angrier and angrier throughout the day. I don't know about you, but I may just settle for quiet, small-scale contentment rather than feeling that way day in and day out. So then I was running yesterday, and I started to think about a quote from the film Alice and Wonderland. In short, Alice hesitates to help the Mad Hatter in his resistance against the Red Queen. The Mad Hatter is disappointed, noting "You used to be much more muchier...you've lost your muchness." I smiled during this scene and continue to think about it. What does this even mean? What is this muchness? A state, a passion, a spark, a sense of wonder or confidence or fearlessness or comfort with the hear and now. I don't know. Now perhaps the larger question at hand is what does all of this have to do with Vogue and with blackberry cornmeal muffins for breakfast?
I lied. I promised an amazing morning recipe early this week and somehow I'm sitting here Thursday morning finally making it happen. My internet's been down, so I'm sitting at the coffee shop right down the street where I used to camp out before I had internet in the first place. It's kind of a nice change of scenery and pace from my living room (obviously). They make better coffee, there's buzz, there's bits of the paper strewn about, and pieces of conversation to eavesdrop in on. And this morning, there seems to be a steady stream of Phil Collins. Not sure what to say about that. But I am sure what to say about breakfast these days. Since I've been commuting to Marin, I don't have much time to have my typical breakfast of yogurt, granola, and honey. I can barely seem to get coffee and milk in my travel mug and get out the door on time. So I've started planning ahead a little with things I can grab and take with me. Homemade granola bars? Check. Bananas and those nice little pouches of peanut butter? Check. A damn fine English muffin. Check.
It's been a long weekend. Not long like 'yay, it's a holiday' long. More like 'hours piling onto hours piling onto more hours' long. I'm pretty firm about this remaining a food blog, so I won't bore you with the details of what's been going on in my life. But let's just say I'm cooking more for one now than for two. Moving has a way of highlighting problems rather than solving them. So after twelve years of comfort, stability, laughs, road trips, cups of coffee, holidays, birthdays together, apartments spanning the country--I'll be spending a bit more time alone. I've actually written this paragraph many times trying to just come out and say it. So there it is. And I've had enough sleepless nights, tears, and a rather lousy appetite because of it. So hell. Today it was time to bake a cake.