I might've spent the better part of the past two weeks trying to get these pumpkin muffins right. Before Oliver was born it would've been the better part of a single morning, with a good cup of coffee in hand. Uninterrupted time at home -- the kind of time I need to weigh ingredients, take recipe notes and photograph ingredients -- is pretty scarce these days. I often cook and bake in the evenings to prep for future meals, but obviously for the blog I like to snap a few photos to show you and that's pretty hard to do at 10 pm. The upside is that I tested these muffins a few times to get them just right and did lots of futzing and experimenting with ingredients. In my mind, they're the perfect pumpkin muffin: not too sweet, whole grain, fragrant and warmly-spiced.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
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 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.
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.
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.