I have an office in the upstairs of our house, but I'm often found camped-out at the kitchen table or nudged into our small breakfast nook -- coffee cup, computer, and messy notes scattered about. We live in an old craftsman that boasts only one heating vent on the second floor, so in the winter it's freezing and in the summer it can get pretty stuffy and uncomfortable. Spring, on the other hand, is the season I claim it all back. Working upstairs with the morning birds, the one curious roof-top squirrel, and the changing afternoon light -- it feels like my world alone. It's not shared with household bills, neighbor kids walking by, or the UPS man ringing the bell. It's just me, and I have to say: I notice a change in my writing, in the cadence of my day and in my mood. Everything feels a bit calmer and less harried. There's a tiny, noticeable transformation. Hello from up here.
When I lived in California, I'd often meet up with my friend Susan and hike the hills of Marin. Situated just North of San Francisco, Marin has some of the most beautiful trails -- in the spring, there'd be boisterous waterfalls and in the fall there were dry and humble hills. I owned a tattered hiking book that covered the region and over the phone the night before we'd meet, Susan and I would eagerly decide on a trail to tackle. The funny thing about the book? It wasn't at all accurate. It wasn't fact-checked. We got lost each and every time we used it. And for some reason, we kept coming back for more. I'm not really sure why, especially considering I'm not someone who favors getting lost off the beaten path just for the heck of it. Repeatedly. But I do know that, because of the poor directions, an adventure always seemed to sneak into our afternoon hikes. The book got us to the trailhead and then about halfway through, we realized we were very much on our own.
A few days ago, it snowed in Seattle. And the days leading up to it were cold with a capital C. I broke out my puffy vests and started wearing my wool hat on walks to the library. While I've been snatching up daffodils and tulips whenever I'm at the market, let's just say that it's not boating weather here yet. But it's close. We're on the brink and it seems everyone can sense it: Saturday afternoon the cherry blossoms popped out from every street corner and the sun was gracing the wood slats of our upstairs room. On Sunday we hiked to Wallace Falls where there were patches of unexpected snow, but there was also genuine bursts of sun and fresh pine air. Hikers were draped over rocks sharing their bagged lunches and at one point on our descent, we sat towards the side of the trail and closed our eyes, just soaking in the tentative warmth. There were dogs off leash, families snapping photos, and one lone frisbee. See? we're on the brink.
Last week I didn't write a blog post because we were in one of two places, both without Internet. First, it's likely we were on an Amtrak train headed to Essex, Montana. Second, it's even more likely that we were actually tucked away in the lodge of the mountain inn where we were staying. As you likely already know if you've been around here for some time, Sam loves trains. I mean really, really loves trains. He goes on a 2-week trip each year to explore different parts of the country -- to actually see and get a sense of the bigness of the miles going by. If flying desensitizes us to distance, Sam keeps that sensitivity warm with his preference for trains (and cars, and ships, and walking. Really. He's an evangelist on this point). So last week, we not only took a train to a rather remote Montana Inn, but stayed in a restored 1895 caboose-turned-cabin while there. Sam was in heaven, as you can imagine. I was too, thanks to the miles and miles of snowshoe trails and complete and utter lack of technology. And witnessing Sam in heaven. That does it for me, too.
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I wrote to a friend today lamenting the fact that our fridge is filled largely with leftover grains. And some beer. It's like college, with farro and wheat berries replacing the cold pizza. I had grand visions, when Sam was on the train, that I'd try a few recipes I'd been cutting out of magazines and make proper meals for myself. There were to be the green chile enchiladas or the Moroccan braised chicken. Or even a simple homemade tomato sauce. Instead, I ate pudding. And pumpkin beer. The first night I thought it kind of novel and fun: look, it's like when I lived alone! The second night I admitted it to only Sam on the phone. The third night I thought there may be something wrong. So much for the enchiladas and braised chicken. So much for that tomato sauce. Clearly what I really wanted was some chocolate pudding.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.
Our days are a shuffle between yes and no, between obligations that must be tended to and doing something for ourselves to maintain our curiosity and excitement. To being a good partner, friend, daughter, sister. A negotiation, a tug and release, a push and pull. Oftentimes the pendulum swings drastically to one end, where work overtakes the day-to-day shuffle and dinner dates and lake walks and calls with old friends take the backseat. Then there are the moments when there are house guests, obligation emails, car headlights to replace, mouse traps to set and dentist appointments to keep. Work gets pushed aside, you start feeling guilty and become acutely aware of this funny thing called balance. When referring to the fullness of her summer days recently, Kelsey from the lovely blog Happy Yolks wrote: "We are living the length and width of our days." I love this sentiment for its deliberateness (hey, Wednesday, I'm going to live the heck out of you!). For me lately, it's not as much about camping and hiking and taking advantage of the lingering summer sunshine, but about taking each day and trying to squeeze an increasingly stressful work life, a little play, time with Sam, an actual home cooked meal or a trip to the grocery store into each little nook and cranny of a day. Without going crazy. Or making Sam crazy. Or both.
We arrived in New Jersey late one morning last month in a little red rental car. We'd just come from a meandering drive from my mom's cabin in upstate New York, dotted with many stops in small towns to visit houses from Sam's childhood. Soon we found ourselves at Sam's mom's place in Mt. Holly, before us a feast of stuffed grape leaves and fattoush. This was the food Sam grew up on, and the food he's made for me a few times to show me as much. He makes tabbouli brimming with parsley and mint (we once had a tabbouli showdown in the middle of the produce aisle at Berkeley Bowl, me deeming him crazy for buying so much parsley, he deeming me crazy for the big bag of bulgar wheat I was clutching). This is his comfort food, the food he's made when we have dinner parties. The food that reminds him of home. Unlike Sam, I don't necessarily have one distinct type of food I ate growing up that's tied to my ethnicity or a distinct place, so all the talk that night of buying pita from The Phoenician Bakery and how long to steam grape leaves was not an experience I share with my parents or sisters.
Hello there, August. You have brought with you wonderful tomatoes which I've been eating almost daily, outdoor weddings, a new camera to play with, and sunny clear mornings. You've brought iced coffee with a touch of simple syrup, dinner with friends outside, and nights spent sharing a beer while watching the Olympics (those runners!).
There are moments when I'm truly happy we don't have cable. This week, a time that finds us amidst the Facebook fiasco, is one of them. Even without TV, I feel like I can't escape news of the IPO, stock prices, shareholder reactions, and future projections. But in last Sunday's paper I read something that caught my attention. Mark Zuckerberg's now wife, Priscilla Chan, made a request of him before moving in together: 100 minutes of alone time each week. And a vacation each year. My first reaction was one of mild shock: only 100 minutes?! I turned to Sam and told him about these agreements that are becoming more and more popular amongst couples -- the drive to tell each other what you need from the relationship. The New York Times compared it to kind of an emotional prenup. It all sounded a bit formal and calculated to me. Wasn't this depressing, I asked Sam? He glanced at me with a look that said that it really wasn't at all. In fact, at that very moment, we were having our version of 100 minutes.
There are many times when I feel like we're on the same page here. Maybe we chat about the change of seasons, or really good chocolate, or a book I'm reading that you've also heard of. Maybe we talk about summer travel plans, or cherry blossom trees, or how to balance work and life in a relatively sane way. But I have a hunch that we're not on the same page with what I want to talk about here today. I'm willing to guess that, for most of you, you're far beyond me on this one. It's true: unbeknownst to me, I've been left terribly behind. This thing I speak of? Gardening. Or the backyard in general. Really, let's be honest: I'm talking about plain and simple yard work.
There are those Sundays when you get started slowly, and feel a little antsy actually sitting and reading the paper so you decide to go on a really long run. You come home to a Sam in the kitchen meticulously chopping cabbage and green onion, boiling eggs and catching up with his mom on the phone. Suddenly, you're no longer antsy. The sun is out and it feels like the best, slowest kind of Sunday.
If you had stopped by our house anytime in the last few weeks, you would've likely left with pumpkin madeleines, cranberry cake, half of a cheesecake, or a hearty slice of apple pie. Yes, just a few days ago I turned in a batch of recipes to a magazine I've been working with for their holiday issue. It has been an excessive few weeks in our kitchen but whenever possible, we've been bringing sweets to friends or down the street to the corner coffee shop (a.k.a. Sam's office). After I sent in the last of the recipes, it was time for some good, clean food. We went to the store a few night's ago and bought greens, yogurt, tuna, lentils, an avocado, peanut butter and a few other staples. We had soup for dinner; I had more for lunch the next day. After that much buttercream, it's time for a bit of simplicity.
When you move someplace new, it's natural to compare it to the place you've just come from. It helps you sort of compartmentalize things and understand them. For example, when I first moved to Boston I'd notice people lining up for ice cream cones in the dead of winter. This was new and kind of odd, but also became one of the things that endeared the city to me. Here in Seattle there are a fair number of differences, too. For example: they do not have citrus at the farmers markets. I'm not sure why this still shocks me (it obviously doesn't grow here), but it does. People walk a lot. In the Bay Area, getting together with friends usually means meeting at a restaurant, cafe, or a bar. Here, it seems that people meet to walk. I've decided I kind of like this. And folks don't use umbrellas when it rains. I can't tell you why, but I assure you this is true. The nice thing about moving somewhere new is that these differences eventually become less apparent and just become the new landscape. I know this will happen soon enough. In the meantime, I buy lots of tangerines at the grocery store.
Something funny happens when you live with someone instead of dating them from afar. You learn little nuances about each other's behavior, see the bottom-of-the-barrel sweaters, take out the trash, and buy underwear and shampoo together. Sam calls my beloved furry slippers old lady slippers and, to be fair, they kind of are. And I've become well acquainted with his holey "sick sweater," his eagerness to retrieve the mail in the early afternoon, and his uncanny ability to drink more tea than anyone I've ever known. Also, I'm learning things about myself. Like the fact that, apparently, most people don't eat a whole grapefruit when they sit down for breakfast. According to Sam, they stop at a half.
I have this theory that it's bad luck to talk about something until you're pretty darn sure it's going to happen. When I applied to graduate schools back East, I sent an application to Harvard. I didn't tell a soul. I actually remember walking it out to the mailbox and sending it off on its own, as if the secret might contaminate my other mail somehow. The reason? I didn't see the point in getting everyone excited about the chance I may go to Harvard if I didn't end up getting in (and, for the record, I didn't). These past few months have brought about a little bit of quiet sneakiness in their own way. For a while now, Sam and I have known I'd be moving to Seattle. I started telling a select few friends but was cautious to talk too much about it -- I wasn't sure exactly when we'd find a house or what it would look like or if we'd even like the same houses. I wanted to be very sure before sharing the big news with you, but now I can't wait to tell you: Sam and I found a very sweet craftsman house on a quiet little block with a big tree in front, a huge basement, and a backyard. And I can't stop thinking about it.
The week between Christmas and New Years is kind of magical, isn't it? A lot of people take it off from work, others put in half-days, and there's a palpable slow down to the hustle and bustle. There are loads of laundry, long walks, lounging with new books, and wishing complete strangers a Happy New Year. Just because. It's always seemed to me that there's this collective hush or sigh -- a kind of release and a relishing in the quiet.
I didn't know this until last week, but Seattle has a way of gripping you in the fall. Sure, our leaves change in the Bay Area, and the light basks down glowingly in the afternoons and evenings in a much different way than it does in the summer. We get golds and touches of amber. Because I went to graduate school on the East Coast, I'm used to boldly-hued falls, but in Seattle the colors are more muted and in this way maybe even more beautiful. The air is brisk and crisp and you need to break out your coat. A scarf would be good, too. You may want to even leave the heat on overnight or turn it on the second you patter out of bed to take the chill off.
Pulling off the farmers market this past weekend was a bit of a challenge. I had flown back from Seattle Friday afternoon, knowing full-well that the evening would consist of harried hours of crimping and baking, filling and frosting. And I was okay with that. I wanted as much time there as possible.
I've been thinking about nourishment lately. And satisfaction. See, I just finished Gabrielle Hamilton's Blood, Bones, and Butter (finally) and in it she talks about the experience of opening her thriving restaurant Prune, being wooed by a man that makes her homemade ravioli, her travels to Italy each summer to be with his family, having children, and her immense love for really good food. But it's also about the facade of all of those things -- about the deep loneliness she constantly faces. Feeling unhappy in her marriage, running ragged working around the clock at the restaurant, forgetting to eat or putting together odd, haphazard meals at odd, haphazard times of the day. Feeling dissatisfied. Feeling undernourished.
So Marge. A few of you have asked how things are going. I love that. Thank you. Things are plugging along. I'm adding another farmer's market onto the weekend docket in a month or so and testing some new pie recipes. It's good. It's all good. But I have to say: when it's 38 degrees, rainy, and "ski week" for the kids in school (don't ask--it's a California thing) the market is pretty darn slow. That was the case last weekend. And I don't blame people. If I wasn't working, you couldn't have paid me to get off the couch in that weather. It was a pretty surreal experience though: baking a lot of pie and having very few customers come through the market. I gave some slices away to local businesses, telling them all about Marge. They were thrilled. Pie makes people very happy. I made some last minute pie deals at the end of the day. And then I got smart.
I've spent three weeks baking in my commercial kitchen for Marge. I'm still running around doing what feels like hundreds of errands each week, but things are starting to become a bit more streamlined. I've done two farmer's markets and a few great local events. I'm meeting lots of new folks who live nearby, making friends with other vendors, and oftentimes selling out before the market even ends. For me Saturday mornings are like a big ol' bake sale and I couldn't imagine anything else I'd rather be doing. Friday nights, however, are a much different story. The night before the farmer's market always brings about many hours of baking, packaging, usually burning myself once or twice, occasionally getting aluminum foil caught in the convection oven (lesson learned: no aluminum foil in the convection oven!), witnessing occasional drug deals out back, listening to old classic rock on the radio, talking to myself, pacing. And more pacing. For the past few weeks, there's been very little sleep, lots of anxiety, and questioning if this is really how I want to spend every Friday night into eternity.
I got an email from a reader last week that made me think. And then smile. She mentioned how she liked my blog because it was about food while simultaneously being nothing about food. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she's probably right. If you really just wanted a quick granola recipe, there are many other places you'd probably go first. But here we are. And it's late on Tuesday night and it kind of feels like fall rather than summer and my sixteen year old dog is snoring at my feet. I've made a fresh batch of granola for the morning, there's a giant mosquito buzzing around my desk that I can't seem to catch, I'm drinking lime fizzy water from a straw and wishing my sister a happy first day of work tomorrow. So, yeah. I like talking to you about baking and salads and homemade ice cream. But I also liked talking to you about books and yoga and how amazing afternoon naps are. About movies and wacky seasons and travels. And hopes and family and pretty dishes. All that. Hopefully you're down. I'm guessing since you're still reading this paragraph, maybe you are.
I'm a chronic mover. I hate that about myself, actually. I can't wait for the day to come when I stay in one apartment longer than a year. The reasons vary, from moving to attend graduate school to always seeking a bigger pad in a better neighborhood. So I'm moving again on Friday. This time, interestingly enough, it's not really by choice. I love living in San Francisco. I love my apartment. Heck, I just bought a new rug, a funky retro lamp and some odd little wired birds that sit happily on my window sill. I've got my matchbook collection and the Russian dolls my grandma gave me. And of course, rain boots. My across-the-way neighbor Brian carries my groceries up three flights of stairs for me often, and I've figured out a way to ride the bus to yoga for free. I've even learned to kind of love living by myself over these past few months.
Some of you have very sweetly written me to ask how I'm doing after this post. Truthfully, it's day by day. This Thursday is the first day that I'll be living alone...for the first time in my entire life (with the exception of a very brief period in Boston that didn't work out all that famously). Yep, and I'm 31. When you've been with someone as long as we have been together, it's just the way it's always been. So I have days where I'm excited to rearrange the furniture, and I have a lot of days where I'm really anxious and worried. I bite my nails, watch bad late night TV, and eat strawberry jam out of the jar. Today's been one of those days. I've discovered days off from work aren't necessarily great for me--there's a little too much time to think and be in my own head. It's important to stay busy. But the more I try and figure out what it is I'm so worried about, the more I realize it's really just the unknown. It's not knowing how I'll feel next week or this summer or who I'll go to first with exciting news or wake up in the middle of the night with a terrifying dream. So I'm trying really hard to just sit with that. Sit with the unknown and try and not figure it all out this second. Because I can't. And I'm guessing it's not ready to be all figured out.
Spring is officially here. Many of you will probably read this post on Saturday and yes, it's the first day of spring. I know it's been one long, ruthless winter for much of the country. So while we're lucky here in the Bay Area to wear our flip-flops year round (or at least I do), we're excited about warmer weather, too. We're all waiting for a little change, a little more light, a little growth. Waiting.
There's nothing like making a hearty soup to break in a new kitchen. And you know how it is when you move: until you get the pantry stocked and a few items in the fridge, there's a lot of pizza and canned soup going on (or, in our case, burritos). So it was a welcome break in routine this morning to wake up to a stormy Monday, hot coffee waiting in the kitchen, and some free time to get busy in the kitchen. Finally. Now a quick business note before we talk about minestrone. You've probably noticed: A Sweet Spoonful got a face lift! Have a peek around. There are some new features and pages, giving you the ability to print recipes, read travel pieces and restaurant reviews, and browse previous posts via photos. I also added a little Amazon page: just things I like and use often in the kitchen that I think you may like, too. The new site just went live a few days ago and somehow I've lost a lot of subscribers in the transition (not really sure how), and there have been a few mass email snafus (hopefully we've stopped that from happening in the future). So please make sure your readers/RSS are up to date and/or that you've subscribed via email in the box to the left. I'd love for you to stick around! Now on to the important stuff: hearty, winter soups. Minestrone is an Italian staple and is often known as "the big soup." It's kind of ironic that I found this recipe and set out to the store to purchase all of the ingredients (as our kitchen is still under- stocked at this point) because traditionally, this was a soup that you kind of add whatever's in the fridge--from meats, to rice and pastas, to vegetables. Most minestrone's I've had in the past are thick, tomato-based soups. But I was drawn to this particular recipe because it called for pancetta (hello!) and instructed you to simmer the soup with a Parmesan rind. Intriguing. It's more of a brothy soup, with lots of vegetables and incredible flavors. Perfect for a stormy afternoon...of which we've been having quite a few of around here lately.
Gosh. How is it that this will be the last post of December? The last post of the year? And what better way to celebrate than to raise a glass to the amazing gals at The Kitchn for hosting me as a guest writer today. I've been a big fan of the site for some time, but even cooler is the fact that some of my favorite bloggers like her and her and him were featured as guest writers this holiday and I'm honored to be in their company. So head on over to check out the post there. And I thought I'd re-post it for you here. Cheers to a full, dynamic, and inspiring 2010 with many new recipes, friends, stories, and travels. And in other A Sweet Spoonful news, the site redesign is almost done and should be up soon, soon, soon. I'm so excited to share it with you. Happy, happy New Year! See you in 2010. Well folks, it’s over. The hustle is no longer hustling and the stockings are waiting to be packed up for the next go ‘around. An ungodly amount of See’s Candy has been consumed, and we’re slowly making our way through leftovers and the last dregs of eggnog. Now if you’re anything like me (read: efficient first child), you’ve broken down boxes, recycled wrapping paper, and put your new gifts away. Heck, maybe you’ve even got your thank you notes ready to roll.
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.