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.
Harold is someone I've written about many times before, but not here. I wrote about Harold for my college entrance essay, for a graduate school speech, and even mentioned him in my book proposal last year. He's unassuming in appearance, but not in character -- you likely wouldn't look twice as you walked by him on the street. He's generous with his time and always up for helping when the cards are down. He has good taste in clothes, enjoys a great meal, and is always full of ideas for how to fill out a day just right. Before I boarded a plane for Ghana the summer of my junior year in college, I thought about Harold. When I got the jitters about leaving my friends and family to move to Seattle, I thought about Harold. The funny thing is, Harold isn't real (bear with me here. Really). He's a character from Harold and the Purple Crayon, a children's book my mom read to me as a little girl. About ten years ago, she gave me a copy for Christmas, and it sits on the bookshelf in my office today. If you're not familiar with the story, Harold's a young boy armed with a purple crayon and he thinks through what he'd like to surround himself with -- what he'd like his world to look like--and then simply draws it and it comes to be. Want a full moon tonight and a long evening walk? Harold breaks out the crayon. Care for a long slide to slide down on a sunny afternoon? Harold draws it. The idea behind the book and the charming character of Harold is that we can all create the day we wish to have, the month we really need, or the year we hope for if we use our purple crayons carefully and deliberately -- if we simply imagine how we'd like for it to look and set out to begin making it happen. So on New Years Day, I thought about Harold again. I thought about how I'd like this year to look for myself, for Sam and I, and for my business.
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.
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.
This time of year always comes quietly. I call these weeks "bridge weeks": it's warm during the day and tomatoes and corn are still at the markets, but the light is a touch more golden and it's chilly enough in the mornings and evenings to grab your closest sweater. While fall is my favorite season, I find myself going inward a bit in September, wanting to experience the change of seasons without the Internet or TV forcing it upon me, or Starbucks announcing what seasonal drink I'd likely crave at any given time. We're fickle people, aren't we? One week eating stone fruits and discussing the dog days of summer and the next diving head-on into pumpkin breads and cookies. This is why I don't read many food blogs at the very beginning of fall because I'm not quite ready to jump right into pumpkin breads and cookies. Here at our house, there are still tomatoes to slice, warm walks to take, and backyard picnic table with my name on it.
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.
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.
It's all I can do not to just drop everything and turn this into a gardening blog. Maybe a gardening blog with cookies, and cocktails? I jest. But in all seriousness, thank you all so much for your generous comments and advice about planting and gardening. I wish I had you in my back pocket at all times, but you've given me a lot to work with and much inspiration. In fact, today's recipe is made with fresh herbs from the backyard! It's been unusually warm in Seattle this week, so everything's growing like crazy and quite thirsty. I learned a valuable lesson: if you take off on the ferry to Vashon Island on a very sunny day to visit a most lovely couple in their new home, eat the best quinoa you may have ever tasted, and forget to water your plants, you will come home to sad basil. This is, apparently, a fact. I'm learning slowly. Also a fact: playing hookie on an island is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. I've been thinking a lot about creativity lately and how to make more space for it in the constant to-do lists of my (I assume our) daily lives. I often feel guilty if I take moments to focus on a non-work related project, but I read something recently that led me to believe taking time out of our day to chop some herbs, knead some dough, and wait for it to rise might just be what we all need more of.
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.
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've learned something about myself this week: I'm a neurotic packer. I don't think this is a new trait, I think I've just now come to realize it. I've been putting off the huge task of packing up this apartment but the time has come to get down to business. I started by packing things that I wouldn't really notice were gone: ski stuff, summer clothes, cookbooks I know I won't use over the next two weeks. Then I take those boxes and put them in the back of the closet so I don't have to look at them--this way, everything continues to look in perfect order. Just so.
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'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.
We've all done it. You get home from work and you're basically ravenous. You can't be bothered with setting an actual place for yourself. You grab a few nuts, pour a glass of wine, break out the leftovers, and go to town. Or if you're me last night, it goes a little something like this: You spend the late afternoon making and photographing a beautiful dish of warm grains and cabbage and time's ticking away. You're meeting Katie, your old high school friend, for drinks so you rush out the door. You're wearing a pretty, flowy scarf and feeling a little like you can take on the world as you're strolling down Divisadero towards your favorite neighborhood bar. You catch up. You laugh. You cry a little. You envy the fact that your friend has a real job (yay, Katie!). You drink maybe one more than you should considering the fact that you haven't eaten since 11 a.m. Then you get home, pull your hair up into a high bun, break out the boxer shorts, and to the fridge you go. You find yourself sitting in a dark, quiet kitchen lit only by the security light from the building next door--tipsy and grateful for such an amazingly nourishing salad.
This recipe is the result of a convergence of two obsessions: Rancho Gordo beans and Tessa Kiros, the lovely and talented writer and cookbook author. She's of Finnish and Greek-Cypriot heritage and has wandered the world, detailing her experiences and memories through food. Recently, my dad gave me Falling Cloudberries for my birthday and I've been slowly leafing through it each night, wishing it'd never end. The photos are just dreamy, and the recipes are both evidence of Tessa's heritage (classic finnish meatballs with lingonberry jam, stroganoff, and moussaka) and a postcard from her travels (spinach and truffle pies, champagne risotto, and lemon vanilla jam). It's one of those books where it's truly hard to decide how and where to begin. Lucky for me, the decision just showed up on my desk with a bag of colorful Christmas lima beans.
I'm always the weather skeptic: when friends and coworkers are going on and on about a looming storm, it's always me that assures them the weather channel is sensational, and people have nothing else to talk about. Just grab your raincoat and call it a day. But this week we had some legitimately major weather in the Bay Area. When I saw businesses putting out sandbags and the commute slowing to a crawl, I gave in and held my tongue. Now generally people turn to comfort foods like soups, stews, or cheesy casseroles when the weather forces you indoors, but lately I've been craving simple salads--a little color amongst the gray, gloomy days. There's this wonderful Mediterranean restaurant back in Marin called Insalata's and they serve the best fattoush I've ever had. After trying it a few times, I set out to duplicate it, and have come pretty darn close with the recipe I'll share with you here in a minute. The nice thing about fattoush is, regardless of the season, you can find most of the ingredients in your local market. And I love that, with the addition of baked pita chips and garbanzo beans, it's a nice meal in and of itself. Oh, and most importantly: the fresh, citrusy dressing brightens up even the gloomiest of days.
When I was a vegetarian, I probably made couscous at least twice a week, mainly because it's so quick and versatile. It takes 10 minutes to cook; you toss in cubed tofu, beans, or roasted vegetables and dinner's done. Now in last week's New York Times Dining Section, they featured a recipe for morning couscous with oranges and dates. After all these years, why didn't I ever think to do a morning couscous? The problem: I found the NYT recipe to be a bit fussy with straining and cheesecloth and steaming...all unnecessary for a quick morning meal, in my opinion. So I spent a few hours in the kitchen and developed my own simpler version of a morning couscous using two of my favorite ingredients: almond and coconut.
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.
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.
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.