Well, food blogging has brought about many firsts. I look at food differently, often thinking about how to plate it and how to capture the light just perfectly in a photo. I read recipes differently, always pausing to think about adapting them to my own interests and taste. And last but not least, I look at dishes and linens much, much differently. Even if I'm eating alone and in a rush, I still always set a place for myself. There's something depressing about standing in front of the TV or perching on the edge of a chair at the counter. I always put out a nice place mat and silverware, and there are usually flowers on the table. The aesthetics of a room, table, and a place setting is important if you think about eating as a sensory experience and not just a habit or necessity. Now I'm not talking fine china and stemware with each meal. I'm just saying the presentation of food matters. So I've been very aware of dishes, napkins, linens, and antique silverware lately. And during the past week, Heath Ceramics has come into my radar. I was having coffee and a macaron at Cibo in Sausalito and noticed their beautiful dishware. After a little investigation, I realized it was Heath, and I'd just read how Chez Panisse uses Heath Ceramics for their dishes and serving ware. I promptly hopped online and discovered they've been around since 1948 and, low and behold, the U.S. factory is in my backyard. I knew what I had to do: the next morning I woke up and headed over to investigate. And that's when I found the plate.
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.
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