Over the past few days, I've seen seven apartments. And we're still looking. Some were unbelievably small, one only had heat "available" in one room (hmmm), and one of the landlords seemed legitimately insane. I actually dragged my mom around the city with me yesterday looking at places; she was a trooper. We did have many stops for fuel which helped ease the bustle/weirdness/stress/anxiety: Miette on Hayes St. for a gingerbread cupcake, La Boulange for a mini latte, and Paulette for an almond macaron to take home for later. I was thinking a cocktail was in order, but it was really only late afternoon. So I waited until we got home. Then it was time to put on a pot for mulled wine. I often have a glass of wine with dinner, but with the evenings becoming cold and even icy, why not have warm mulled wine instead? If you've never tried it, it has notes of citrus and warm spice and is perfect to ease the pain of dingy, disappointing apartments...or whatever it is that's ailing you at the moment. I got this recipe from Romney Steele's My Nepethe Cookbook. I have so many recipes bookmarked to try from the book that it almost seems silly that this simple drink recipe was the first up. If you missed it, Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks recently made Romney's Orange and Oat Scones and they looked awesome. Other stand out recipes I'm looking forward to trying are the Persimmon Pudding Cake, the Nepethe Cheese Pie, and Javier's Chile Rellenos. If you haven't seen Romney's book, it is a collection of recipes culled from her family's Big Sur Restaurant, Nepethe. While narrative cookbooks based around family lore are certainly nothing new, Romney's book is a bit different in that it speaks so much to how a singular place can color an upbringing, a family, a restaurant, and a community. Sara Remington's photography is absolutely stunning in that earthy, muted, moody style that displays and celebrates the landscapes and colors of Big Sur.
Thanksgiving came and went in a flash. It's always so odd how we think and plan and make lists and have dreams about rolling out pie dough...and then it's all old news. I hope your day was relaxing and wonderful. Wasn't the long weekend incredible? I took a photography class on Saturday, and we meandered around the Mission shooting murals, rusty cars, and cafes. I don't often get the chance (or take the chance) to really slow down and notice the stray dandelions growing in the sidewalk cracks or the way a bike is leaned precariously against a red garage door. I noticed these things on Saturday. I came home knowing all about histograms, setting a custom white balance, and organizing photos in Lightroom. But more than that, I had an opportunity to spend the whole day slowing down and exploring alleys, graffiti, and community gardens. I went home feeling nourished. We all focus so much on nourishing or feeding our bodies during Thanksgiving--but it's important to think about what nourishes and keeps the rest of you going, too. What excites you, inspires you, makes you want to wake up in the early hours of the morning and hit "go?" Lately for me, it's my photography, stunning books like A Year of Mornings, the way the afternoon light shines into my bedroom and how my dog Maddie knows exactly where to find it, knit hats, blogs like this and this and this, drops of eggnog in my coffee, routine, linen napkins.
Thanksgiving is here, my friends. I know this isn't new news--if you're anything like me, you've been making and revising lists, running errands, and having a drink as soon as it's socially acceptable to do so. For the past few days, I've been house/dog/teenage sitting at my Dad's house. And Lincoln, their sweet chocolate lab, was a rescue dog so he doesn't love being alone. For some, this would be a burden. But I've used this as an excuse to hunker down and do some writing, go on long Lincoln walks, take some photos around the neighborhood, and make hot spiked cider in the evening while lounging on the couch catching up with back issues of The New Yorker.
Last weekend my dad and I flew up to Seattle to visit my sister Rachael. I love Seattle for many reasons-one of which is the food. There were a few spots I'd been wanting to try, so we made the most of our time and hit up Serious Pie, the Chai House, Lark, Macrina Bakery, The Harbour Public House on Bainbridge Island and a few other spots for treats and coffee. I wish I could show you some pictures, but I stupidly forgot my camera. Suffice it to say, it was brisk and rainy (Seattle never disappoints when I visit) but utterly beautiful in a stark, fall kind of way. Rachael lives in Ballard in a sweet little green house on a wide, leafy street. Oh, and she has a fig tree. Her house is right across the street from this little blue craftsman bungalow that I fell in love with last time I saw it. A few days before my visit last week, Rachael called to tell me if was for sale and that we should check it out the second I landed. It was my Dad's first time visiting , so as we cruised him around Ballard and noticed the "For Sale" sign had been taken down. My little blue house sold so quickly! Now it's not that I was really looking to move this second, but every time I come to Seattle I marvel at how great it is. Yes, we have quaint, distinct neighborhoods in San Francisco and we also have fantastic food. But I love the way the weather and the outdoors is interwoven into the fabric and culture of the city, how casual it is, and how much more you get for your money in Seattle. There's a quality of life that you can obtain with much, much less. But for now-the flights are cheap, so I'll settle on visiting.
Although it's one of my favorites, I haven't had a piece of pumpkin pie yet this fall. Actually, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did have a few bites of a piece from Mission Pie but that doesn't really count. I seem to have a tendency to over-do it with pumpkin pie and get a little tired of it before Thanksgiving. So I wait, thinking of other ways to use pumpkin. I was leafing through my recipe binder the other night and stumbled across this recipe for Pumpkin Semolina Cake. Semolina flour is available in most supermarkets, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding it. It's often used to make homemade pasta and pizza dough because it has a higher gluten percentage, making pasta stretch easily rather than breaking apart. While Italians use it for pastas, it's traditionally used in Greece, North Africa and the Middle East to make crumbly baked goods. Because of the high egg content in this recipe, the cake is almost pudding-like with a large, moist crumb (thanks to the semolina flour). I'd never baked a cake in a water bath before, although I'd heard of people doing so with cheesecakes. It turns out, it's a common practice with delicate foods and egg-based desserts (of which this is one) because it allows them to cook at a lower, even temperature. This cake is best served warm with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. And I think it's especially nice served with cinnamon or mint tea. It should tide me over until Thanksgiving when I'll savor my first real piece of pumpkin pie. However, I loved this cake so much that--dare I say--it could even be a nice substitute.
Two east coast visitors in two days makes Megan a happy girl. Jeb, my charming and hilarious friend from Boston College, stopped in for a night on Sunday and fabulous Anthony has graced San Fransciso with his presence for the next few days. On Sunday we took Jeb up to Sonoma, ate at The Girl & the Fig, drove to Yountville and had macarons and espresso out on the patio of Bouchon Bakery, and chatted away until it was dark and my flip-flopped feet were freezing. Then tonight, Linnea and I were supposed to meet up with Anthony and Liz to have some drinks in the city. Blame it on daylight savings time (because I am) or my minor social anxiety (likely) or just pure laziness (very likely)--but I'm sitting here in front of my computer screen instead of on a bar stool. I actually took a shower, got dressed, put on a little blush (generally the extent of my make-up) and was ready to roll. I was in the passenger side of Linnea's car, deciding which playlist to listen to. For a few blocks, there were lots of internal pep-talks about how much fun this would be and how productive Tuesdays were over-rated anyhow. Nope, turn the car around. I just couldn't imagine staying out late, having to get up early, and navigating around noisy bars. Instead, I turned to brussels sprouts, chorizo, and onion and tried a recipe I'm thinking of making for Thanksgiving. While I'm dying to see Anthony and hear about what's going on in his world, I was thrilled with a hot plate of these little guys with dinner. I know that brussels sprouts aren't everyone's favorite, but these are quite tender and absorb the flavor of the chorizo and onion beautifully. I'd go out on a limb and say that even non sprout-loving folks may appreciate them.
I have a confession. I'm reading Twilight. It's ironic in a lot of ways. When I was teaching, my students were always dying to get me to read it. Nah, too busy kids. Translation: SO below me. But I've been sneaking around, reading it deliberately face down in public places and keeping it on the DL when talking to friends. I know it's silly. I shouldn't be ashamed. But for someone who has an advanced degree in English literature and is generally a little snobby about their reading material... it's a new thing for me. And you know what? It's amazing. I can't remember the last time I read something for no other purpose than to escape. Obviously I read for information or for a nice story/plot, but more often than not, I read to admire the craft of an author. So as I'm still struggling to find a full-time job and getting a little more antsy with each passing day, I've also decided to try and be gentle with myself. It's cool. Watch Mad Men in the middle of the day. Why not? Someday (hopefully soon) I'll look back on this day and marvel that I had the time to do such a thing. And in that vein, I've decided to loosen up the reading reigns and have at a little trash. Why not? Got something better to do? So I'm unstoppable now. As any Twilight reader will tell you, these books are rather addicting. No they're not written well...at all. But there's something appealing about Stephanie Meyer's quick prose and the way she taps into your long-lost high school psyche. Yesterday I wanted to whip up a little snack to go with my daily dose of vamp-lit. And I knew exactly what it would be: I bought this sweet little apple pie mold at Williams Sonoma and had been waiting for just the right time to make these individual pockets. It turns out they're the perfect companion to shameful afternoon reading.
I recently bought myself a present. I'd heard amazing things about David Tanis's book A Platter of Figs. Cooks I respected loved it, I kept running into it at bookstores, and then I was visiting my sister in Seattle and saw it on the shelf at Delancey That's it. I was sold. I'm not sure how to even talk about this book because it's so unlike any other. It's not just a cookbook. Christopher Hirsheimer takes beautiful, spare photographs that really highlight the integrity of the food. And then there's David's recipes. He focuses on simplicity and seasonality. In his introduction, he notes "The platter of figs is a metaphor for the food I like. Fresh ripe figs are voluptuous and generous, luxurious and fleeting. And beautiful." If you're not familiar with David's story, he grew up in Ohio, moved to California, took odd jobs in Bay Area kitchens, landed a pizza and salad gig at Chez Panisse and eventually stayed to run the upstairs cafe. The draw to open his own restaurant eventually brought him to Santa Fe. He was extremely successful there, but business became tough in a depressed economy and David moved back to CA...and to Chez Panisse. At the time, he shared the downstairs restaurant chef position with Jean-Pierre Moulle. They split up the week. Then in 2001, an opportunity arose for David to move to Paris. Initially saddened, Alice Waters came up with the perfect plan: instead of splitting up the week, they could split up the year! And that was that: David cooks for six months out of the year at Chez Panisse and during the other six months he hosts a private dining club in Paris, preparing meals in his tiny galley kitchen. In talking about initially meeting David in the early days and asking him to cook lunch for her, Waters notes,"It was that lunch's radical simplicity that won me over." And that radical simplicity is exactly what drew me to A Platter of Figs. The book is split into seasonal, themed menus. For example, under Fall you'll see "The Bean Soup Lunch" or "Dinner for a Tuscan." David's writing is visual and visceral: he paints lovely narratives before each menu, talking about the weather, the seasons, the light at a certain time of day. You could buy this book with little intention to cook any of the recipes and still enjoy it. I promise.
As many of you know, Linnea and I currently live at my mom's house. It's a long story that involves my mom going back to graduate school, the family dogs, her eventually moving home, and me losing my job. It's very temporary and while I never envisioned being thirty and living at home--really, it's wonderful. I've gotten to spend so much time with my mom: sitting at the counter watching her cook; obeying her nonsensical driveway parking rules; talking about books, celebrities, Obama's charm. But Linnea and I have set a date that January 1 we'll be moving out. It's time. I can't wait to live right in the city, where you can get a piece of pizza after 9 p.m. (you can't get anything after 9 p.m. in Marin) and walk out your door in the morning to grab a cup of coffee and hop on the bus. I miss the constant buzz of a city, the way the sun glints off the buildings, and the proximity of your neighbors. That being said, Linnea, my mom and I all had a lovely (albeit quiet) suburban Halloween. We baked, we drank, we ordered a pizza, we drank some more, we carved pumpkins, and we handed out mini candy bars to the --drumroll, please-- one trick-or-treater who dropped by. I had big plans for my pumpkin this year. I was going to carve a cupcake on the front, and it was going to be epic. Well suffice it to say, my vision fell flat (pumpkin below is mine, the two below that are my mom's and Linnea's). Blame it on failing high school geometry or that second glass of wine, but it really ended up looking like a pumpkin with the entire front carved out. Oh well. At least one thing turned out just as planned: Rose Levy Beranbaum's English Gingerbread Cake.
This is my favorite soup recipe. Ever. I discovered it in Vegetarian Times when I was a vegetarian and living in Boulder, CO (fitting, I know). But more than anything, this soup reminds me of snowy afternoons in Boston. A whole pot would feed me for a good five days. As a graduate student, I'd stock up on bread, butter, greens, coffee and milk, plenty of tea, and a chocolate bar and I could hibernate for quite some time. The smell of the fennel seeds cooking in olive oil brings me right back to my pink-tiled Brookline kitchen. I'd sit at the bay windows, looking out at elderly Russian women in vibrant silk scarves pushing their shopping carts back from the corner grocery store, and college kids with backpacks and arms of books racing to catch the bus. I'll always equate the smell of this soup with that light-filled pink kitchen, fallen leaves whipping by the windows, and the fading Eastern afternoon light.
My blogging friend Kelsey, over at The Naptime Chef, was in town recently for the BlogHer Food 09 Conference. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it, but we compared notes on where she ate in the city (and I'll tell you, she got around). Now if you haven't been to The Naptime Chef, what are you waiting for? Kelsey designs her posts and recipes to fit into a busy mom's schedule--and into the hour that is generally reserved for afternoon napping. While I don't have little ones myself, who doesn't appreciate a quick recipe? What I did not know was that before her daughter was born, Kelsey worked with Rizzoli and Florence Fabricant and members of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to produce the beautiful Park Avenue Potluck Cookbook. After returning home from San Francisco, Kelsey invited me to take part in a virtual dinner party she is "hosting" with other food bloggers and writers to celebrate the release of Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations, the follow-up to the Park Avenue Potluck. The release is especially timely as the cookbook details recipes, entertaining ideas, party planning tips and personal anecdotes from New York's most celebrated hostesses. Perfect for the holiday season. The best part? A portion of the sales of the book will benefit the Society's work with patient care, research, and educational programs. So I hopped on board, determined to support such an important cookbook. Kelsey asked me to "bring" the Cornmeal Batter Cakes featured in the book, a versatile dish that would be great as a mini appetizer (cut with little cookie cutters), as a side dish with salmon or a vegetarian entree like ratatouille, or even as breakfast! As I told Kelsey when I wrote to her about the recipe, I ended up making the cakes one evening when I was home alone. I topped them with a little sour cream and chopped chives and had them with a big bowl of tomato soup. Perfect light fall dinner.
It's raining, it's before 8:00 a.m., and I'm eating cookies for breakfast. But these aren't just any cookies: they're made without egg, so they're almost more like pumpkin drop biscuits. They're amazing with hot coffee and the latest episode of Dexter. I got back from Jean's memorial last night and have given myself this day to hunker down a little, do some laundry, nap, hang out with the dogs, read, watch movies...whatever. Since my folks moved to the Bay Area when I left for college, I don't go back to my hometown for holidays--or for much, really. So going back to Eureka is always odd. Sometimes I feel nostalgic walking around the quaint downtown, getting a bagel at Los Bagels, or going to the park. But this trip was, obviously, a different one filled with days that seemed to go on forever, family friends I haven't seen in fifteen years, and new friends from Boston that Jean loved dearly (and I can see why). So it was mentally exhausting for many reasons. And today I'm just laying low. I do have a few people coming over to potentially purchase my Vespa (cross your fingers!), but other than that, this could be a stay-in-your-pj's kind of day. And these are the perfect laying low cookies.
The availability of good peaches is starting to wane...but not completely. Summer's not quite over yet in California. To buy fruit for canning (or anything, really), my new trick is to go to the farmer's market around 12:30. This is the magic time when vendors start putting things on sale. I love supporting local farmers, but I also love saving a few bucks. So this jam was my first do-it-myself batch. You may remember I wrote about a jamming class I took last month where we made a wonderful strawberry jam, but we did it in a class environment with an instructor readily available for each question on consistency, timing, and processing. This afternoon, it was just me and Oprah. But I set out confidently--in fact, I broke the first cardinal rule that Jordan Champagne told us that night in class: as a beginner, never mess with the recipe. There are important PH considerations with canning, and usually with jams you're o.k., but you need to understand the necessary proportions of sugar to fruit before you start playing around. But every recipe I found had equal amounts fruit to sugar, and I hate overly sweet jam. But I also hate sugar substitutes and am really attracted to jams that don't use pectin. There's something about the old fashioned 'simmer and stir' method that just feels right. So I researched numerous recipes, and decided to take down the sugar content and increase the amount of lemon juice...and voila: a chunky, delicious peach jam.
This dessert came to be for a few reasons. One: it's the first day of fall and this seems like the perfect bridge-into-autumn dessert, using late summer berries and incorporating Bosc pears from the farmers market. Two: I've been awfully into rustic, free-form desserts lately. Recently, Linnea was up in Sonoma--ambling around the square with her mom--and brought home a book called Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. Both are from Portland, OR and Julie owns a little small-batch bakery there by the name of Baker and Spice. She started out selling her tarts and crumbles at the farmers market...and business grew. I can see why. There's just something nice about unfussy desserts with a reliable crust that showcase beautiful, seasonal fruit. The ingredients are simple: mainly butter, sugar, buttermilk, eggs, and fruit. And the method almost seems intuitive, as if you're keying into something that people have been doing the same way for years and years.
I was peer-pressured into baking. I can't say that it's ever happened before. But recently, Jamie at Life's a Feast and Deeba at Passionate About Baking encouraged me to join them and a few other food bloggers to a "Mac Challenge": making macarons and sharing our results with each other while fielding questions via twitter. Jamie came up with the idea as it was the one thing she had shied away from for so long (macarons are notoriously difficult to make perfectly, with their long sought after "feet" on the bottom and delicate, chewy shells). I, too, tend to shy away from extremely fussy desserts. But I love the sweet, pastel-colored confections and thought I'd join in and try my hand at it. (Friday): When I got the recipe that many of the ladies were starting with first, it was in grams and I don't have a kitchen scale ("Dear Santa..."). So I found David Leibovitz's lovely recipe for chocolate macarons using volume instead and set out for greatness. My meringue looked perfect and glossy.
There's something about the academic calendar. Even though I'm no longer a student and not teaching at the moment, fall brings out the 'I want new pencils' mentality in me. So with that, I've been thinking about making my favorite recipe for granola bars. Not that I have a lunch to pack. But even so...it's a nice breakfast treat with a cup of coffee, good walking-the-dog energy, and a reminder of a winter hunkered down with snowshoes in the middle of nowhere. For those of you who have munchkins in school or are, yourself, immersed in academia somehow, make these and tote them to class. I have many times (as you can see by my scribbles and revisions). I got this recipe from the nice folks at the coffee shop at the Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise, Canada. My mom and my two sisters and I went up there a few years ago after Christmas. For some reason, I have a selective memory about the trip: I remember the absolutely heinous ride up the mountain with the driver drinking out of a flask, falling asleep, and swerving into the other lane of traffic numerous times (I don't pray often, but I did that day); I remember realizing how hard cross-country skiing is...when I was miles from the hotel; I remember how much Asian tourists seem to love a good English tea service. And I remember these incredible granola bars. The snow-shoe guides created them for their own snacks, but they were so popular with people on their tours, that they started selling them in the coffee shop. My sister, Zoe, and I would make a pilgrimage downstairs in our little black ski pants, looking like we were about to take on the great outdoors when really we were about to take on The New York Times and some nutty goodness. Now you can, too.
I've been eating a lot of bananas lately. And not just for an afternoon snack, or with my cereal in the morning. No, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings, try and gag down a banana, and go back to bed for an hour. This sounds odd to most, but for someone who overdosed on the starchy fruit as a little girl, it's particularly strange and unpleasant. When I turn out my bedside light on Friday night, I can't help but dread the looming alarm and banana that await me. So what's the deal? I'm training for the Nike Women's Marathon and our coach has given us strict instructions to get some food into our bodies well before our our training runs in the morning. I'm not an early breakfast person as it is, especially not before 7:00, so this has been a challenge for me. The one thing I can seem to get down is half a banana. Thus: lots of bananas hanging around the house. And with our unusually hot weather over the past week, that means lots of overripe bananas. So every cook or baker knows: time to make banana bread. I recently finished Molly Wizenberg's beautiful memoir, A Homemade Life. In it, Wizenburg chronicles her move to Seattle, meeting her future husband through her blog Orangette, and the death of her father. It's truly a food memoir for my generation--I can't so much relate to getting a divorce and up and moving to Italy. But I can relate to small apartment kitchens, what it feels like to move to a new city without knowing anyone, and stark uncertainty about what the future holds. In addition to prose that will make you want to read very slowly with hopes the book will never end, Molly includes numerous personal and family recipes she's come to cherish over the years. Her Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Ginger caught my eye.
In the Bay Area, we often have an Indian summer. It descends each year around this time. And each year, I always wonder why it's heating up as we ease into September. Just when all the fall clothes pop up in store windows, when the morning light begins to change, and when you feel like you should be making soup--it's damn hot. And with the heat comes my kitchen lethargy. Rather than cooking, I find myself putting things together instead: salads with tomatoes and squash from the garden, sandwiches with cold cuts and lots of mayo and crisp lettuce, simple pastas with olives and shaved Parmesan, my infamous rustic Mexican pizzas (if you're lucky, more on that later). So in the summer, I like to make this pesto and keep it in the fridge to have readily available when cooking sounds as enticing as changing a flat tire. Now before we get to the recipe, you may be asking yourself, 'wait a second. I thought Megan lived in San Francisco where it's rarely above 75.' Well, I've lied to you. Probably not a good tactic so early on in our relationship. I actually live right outside the city, about 8 eight miles North, in Marin County. I live on a wide street with big leafy oaks in a very large house with a pool, two back yards, a circular driveway, lemon trees, and a box garden.
Our bocce team is no longer in last place. I think we're second to last-- but still, let's celebrate the small victories. Chocolate seems to help. We definitely play a little better. I noticed this when I made Katherine Hepburn's brownies a few weeks back--so last week, I decided to test Amanda Hesser's recipe for her mom's Chocolate Dump-it Cake (found in Cooking for Mr. Latte), a birthday staple in the Hesser household. I was intrigued because you make the cake all in one saucepan and I hadn't tried sour cream frosting before. Hesser claims, "For the icing, you melt Nestlé's semisweet-chocolate chips and swirl them together with sour cream. It sounds as if it's straight from the Pillsbury Bake-Off, but it tastes as if it's straight from Payard. Everyone loves it." She wasn't kidding--the icing was remarkable. It's substantial (unlike occasionally whimpy buttercream), smooth, and has a creamy chocolate depth.
For people who love brownies, these are legendary. There are a few different recipes floating around claiming to be the definitive one and there are different stories about how the brownies came to be. The one most commonly held to be true is that Liz Smith of Better Homes and Gardens went to interview Ms. Hepburn for their August 1975 issue--these are the brownies she was served. Whichever story or version you subscribe to, the reason I love Katherine Hepburn's recipe (and brownie philosophy in general) is because she believes in using very little flour. A belief I share. If you are a "cakey," thick brownie person, these may not be for you. But if you like thinner, chewier, denser brownies--keep reading. These are super easy-you make them in the saucepan itself, so very few dishes. I made a small change: the original recipe calls for 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate and they yield a really nice, mild brownie. I make mine with 3 oz. chocolate which notches up the dense, rich flavor.