I started writing this post numerous times, trying to figure out how to just come out and say it. I skirted around the issue. I sugar-coated it. But here, I'll just come out with it: I stole this cookbook. No really, I full-on stole it. And it's fabulous. Now let me explain: This fall, I was an intern at a local weekly paper here in San Francisco. It started out strong with assignments, bad coffee, and seminars touching on San Francisco history and politics. I was engaged. I envisioned a future with me traipsing about the city covering local food and culture. I wouldn't make much money, but I'd be happy. And well-fed. But in a very short time, the support faded and I found myself at a dark, windowless desk trying to look busy and not sulk that nothing I ever wrote seemed to make it to the right person's desk. The scheduling of the internship was such that I couldn't accept a full-time job anywhere, and I was the oldest intern by a solid ten years. I kept telling myself it could go somewhere. Who knows? In the meantime, I got to know Twitter. I did a little online shopping. I taught myself photo editing techniques, and learned a little hmtl code. I even wrote letters to relatives I hadn't seen in way too long. The high point of each day was checking the mail. I spent way more time on the task than my fellow interns, making piles for the appropriate editors and studying the upcoming events and book releases to see what might be worth checking out. And then, there were the days when publishers and PR folks would send books, cd's, free tickets and the like. So now you can see where this is going. On a particularly dreary and stormy afternoon, my editor received a recipe compilation from the editors at Food & Wine entitled, Best of the Best Cookbook Recipes. In it, the they'd gone through the most exciting cookbooks from 2009 and pulled their favorite dishes. Ah hah. It must be mine. I looked around and slid it into my welcoming messenger bag. I know, I know--stealing's never good. Even if you are a jaded, overqualified intern. And after a mere few hours, my conscience started to get the best of me. So I left a note. It went a little something like this. Dear ______ (overworked editor): You got a cookbook in the mail today and I'm borrowing it for research purposes. Let me know if you ever need it back. Thanks, Megan (intern in the back left corner). There. Phew. Now it wasn't technically stealing. And guess what? The editor that rarely published my pieces also never checks her mail. Imagine that. Three months later, that note's probably still sitting there. Lucky for us because now I can share these cookies with you.
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.
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.
Well, I missed the boat on all of the "Best of" or "Looking Back on 2009" posts. A Sweet Spoonful's not yet a year old so maybe I get a pass this year...regardless, as I sit here this very second, drinking mint tarragon tea with freezing cold feet and a darn fine looking dog draped over my knees, there are a few things to be said. First, it's finally happening. What I vowed would happen a year and a half ago is going down on Saturday: Linnea and I are moving to San Francisco. Yippee. For those of you who are confused, thinking I already live in the city, remember this post? That should explain it. It was a bit of a search and we saw some pretty heinous apartments. If you follow the blog, you've already heard of the odd landlords and heating situations. Perhaps I forgot to mention the fabulous apartments we found in our price range BUT if you read the fine print, the rent quadruples after the second month. Nice. But, we finally found a very small (eek) little place that is in a "great up-and coming area" (as everyone I talk to about it tells me). I actually almost fill in people's responses now before they say it because I know what's coming. But it's renovated, has hardwood floors and lovely period details, a nice view of the city from the kitchen, and is walkable to many cool neighborhoods (lower Haight, Alamo Square Park, lower Pac. Heights). So I think we'll settle in there just fine. I'll show you a picture soon. There are so many things to look forward to about living in the city. I get to see my gal Chelsea more often, and there's a gagjillion coffee shops with free wifi. I'll run in Golden Gate Park all the time and eat dumplings for breakfast. Oh, and the Farmer's Market and my favorite ice cream shop. So for today, there won't be a recipe because my life's pretty well boxed up. But, in addition to looking forward with excitement, I wanted to take a moment to think about what I'll miss about living at my mom's, in the suburbs, where I may be one of the youngest inhabitants and where--apparently--no one ever eats after 9 p.m.
The day after Christmas, my mom whisked my sisters and I up to Calistoga for the weekend. We stayed at Solage, and explored the town and surroundings on bikes. If you ever find yourself in the Napa Valley for a few days, here are some of our favorite spots: Saturday We checked into Solage late in the afternoon after stopping at one of my favorite wineries, Domaine Carneros (their Le Reve champagne makes me a very happy girl). My sister Zoe and I soaked in the thermal springs at Solage and we all headed over to the on-site restaurant, Solbar. I was originally skeptical as hotel restaurants can often be a bit marginal. But our meal at Solbar was the highlight of the trip (even topped Bouchon). Although they just received their first Michelin star, the service was laid-back and unfussy while still remaining attentive, informative, and gracious. The food was amazing, from the innovative cocktails to the duck breast, blackened cod, kale stew, and donut holes for dessert.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)
This year in particular, it seems to be a race to transition from fall to winter and start thinking about gingerbread and gifts and holiday travel -- when really we just got home from Thanksgiving a few days ago. Regardless, we're feeling it here too: this afternoon we'll head out to buy our tree at the Boy Scout lot down the road and stop off for clam chowder at Ivar's -- a new but fierce tradition in our house. Sam will hang some lights outside, and at some point this week we'll string popcorn and cranberries on the tree, hang a wreath on the front door, and nuzzle garland on the shelf above the fireplace. There's a rumor it might even snow tomorrow -- I won't hold my breath. But I would like to hold my breath and hope to prolong the in between time we find ourselves in now as we look back on one holiday and ahead to another. I'd like to draw it out as much as possible this year.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.
A recipe for Blueberry Cornmeal Custard and a giveaway of Megan Gordon's cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings