As many of you know, Linnea and I currently live at my mom's house. It's a long story that involves my mom going back to graduate school, the family dogs, her eventually moving home, and me losing my job. It's very temporary and while I never envisioned being thirty and living at home--really, it's wonderful. I've gotten to spend so much time with my mom: sitting at the counter watching her cook; obeying her nonsensical driveway parking rules; talking about books, celebrities, Obama's charm. But Linnea and I have set a date that January 1 we'll be moving out. It's time. I can't wait to live right in the city, where you can get a piece of pizza after 9 p.m. (you can't get anything after 9 p.m. in Marin) and walk out your door in the morning to grab a cup of coffee and hop on the bus. I miss the constant buzz of a city, the way the sun glints off the buildings, and the proximity of your neighbors. That being said, Linnea, my mom and I all had a lovely (albeit quiet) suburban Halloween. We baked, we drank, we ordered a pizza, we drank some more, we carved pumpkins, and we handed out mini candy bars to the --drumroll, please-- one trick-or-treater who dropped by. I had big plans for my pumpkin this year. I was going to carve a cupcake on the front, and it was going to be epic. Well suffice it to say, my vision fell flat (pumpkin below is mine, the two below that are my mom's and Linnea's). Blame it on failing high school geometry or that second glass of wine, but it really ended up looking like a pumpkin with the entire front carved out. Oh well. At least one thing turned out just as planned: Rose Levy Beranbaum's English Gingerbread Cake.
I was pleasantly surprised last week when I came home to find a review copy of Vegan Yum Yum: Decadent (But Doable) Animal-Free Recipes For Entertaining and Everyday on my doorstep. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Lauren Ulm's (or "Lolo's") blog, you're missing out. As most of you know, I'm no longer a vegetarian and I'm far from vegan--but I've book-marked numerous recipes that I can't wait to try. The book is written clearly and intuitively with stunning photography. Lolo took all of the photos from the book herself: have you seen her post on digital food photography? If you're at all curious about food staging, lighting, lenses and the like, it's been an invaluable resource for me. In her book (and on her blog) Vegan Yum Yum, you truly feel like Lolo is sitting at the counter with you, peeling carrots, and hollering out directions. The recipes are all very accessible and casually written. From baking donuts to lightly frying samosas or caramelizing leeks, her encouraging 'give it a whirl' voice guides you through each recipe. So yesterday as I was tying up some odds and ends at my desk (bills, bills, and more bills), I started flipping through her lovely book to see if there was something relatively quick to whip up for lunch. I stumbled across the recipe for Pepita Fettuccine with Spinach and Cranberries. The dish is simple with vibrant colors and interesting textures. Even better? Lolo wrote the recipe for one person and I had all of the ingredients. Sold.
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.
My blogging friend Kelsey, over at The Naptime Chef, was in town recently for the BlogHer Food 09 Conference. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it, but we compared notes on where she ate in the city (and I'll tell you, she got around). Now if you haven't been to The Naptime Chef, what are you waiting for? Kelsey designs her posts and recipes to fit into a busy mom's schedule--and into the hour that is generally reserved for afternoon napping. While I don't have little ones myself, who doesn't appreciate a quick recipe? What I did not know was that before her daughter was born, Kelsey worked with Rizzoli and Florence Fabricant and members of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center to produce the beautiful Park Avenue Potluck Cookbook. After returning home from San Francisco, Kelsey invited me to take part in a virtual dinner party she is "hosting" with other food bloggers and writers to celebrate the release of Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations, the follow-up to the Park Avenue Potluck. The release is especially timely as the cookbook details recipes, entertaining ideas, party planning tips and personal anecdotes from New York's most celebrated hostesses. Perfect for the holiday season. The best part? A portion of the sales of the book will benefit the Society's work with patient care, research, and educational programs. So I hopped on board, determined to support such an important cookbook. Kelsey asked me to "bring" the Cornmeal Batter Cakes featured in the book, a versatile dish that would be great as a mini appetizer (cut with little cookie cutters), as a side dish with salmon or a vegetarian entree like ratatouille, or even as breakfast! As I told Kelsey when I wrote to her about the recipe, I ended up making the cakes one evening when I was home alone. I topped them with a little sour cream and chopped chives and had them with a big bowl of tomato soup. Perfect light fall dinner.
Many of you know that I'm training for the Nike Women's Marathon this Sunday. And most of you know that currently, what I do for "work" is write about food. Now thankfully, those two things have been a really nice pair. It's been working out just fine. Eat, run, eat some more, write a little. But I've been advised that after Sunday, I may have to cut back on my generally ravenous appetite. I'll worry about that later...for now, here's a visual chronicle of a food writer's week. And not just any food writer, but one with a penchant for sweets, and cookies in particular. There's a great new lunch pop-up in the Tenderloin called American Box. Remember the lunch boxes you had as a kid? Well they're doing them for adults. This is a warm oatmeal raisin cookie fresh out of the bag. I will add that right before I got to take a bite of this cookie, I was pulled over for having an expired registration. My grown-up lunch box cost me about $117. How is it that I've never, ever been to Mitchell's? I had a fantastic meal at The Front Porch with Craig and Linnea last week for a piece I'm doing on Soul Food in the city. We were cruising around the neighborhood, walking off our fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, when we stumbled upon Mitchell's. I'm much more of a chocolate ice cream kind of girl, but their fruit flavors are pretty incredible. The young coconut and cantaloupe were flying out the door.
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