When I worked at Two Hands Paperie in Boulder, CO–a lovely little paper store on West Pearl St.–the owner, Diana Phillips, used to have a bowl of matchbooks on her desk. When I’d sit talking to her about the shop or how business was going, I’d…
We all have memories of foods that remind us of Summer. For me, it's Log Cabin ice cream. My family has been coming to the same little funky cabin in Kings Beach, Lake Tahoe for almost thirty years--beginning soon after I was born. When we lived in Eureka, the drive was much longer than it is now (a quick jaunt from the Bay Area); we'd load up the car with blow up rafts, word puzzles, and juice boxes and head on out. Although we'd only go up in the Summer and the Winter, I can't think of a place that has been more of a constant in my life. This from the girl who moved into three different apartments during the three years I lived in Boston. I feel like I always have a box packed. Things have changed, for sure. When my parents got divorced, my dad got the house. So a place that was so much about my mom isn't any longer. We don't hear the late night sound of her sneaking out to the casino ; we don't look out onto the pier to see her perched on the edge with a floppy hat and a fashion magazine. The lake levels fluctuate, neighbors come and go, restaurants change ownership...but Log Cabin's always there. In a world where things change by the microsecond, I love that I can come back to Tahoe, walk through the dilapidated motel with bats, drug deals, and screechy electrical wires, over to The Log Cabin to see the same menu that I did when I was four, fourteen, twenty-four. I realize you don't get a good sense of each sundae with this photo, but as a kid this is pretty much how it looked. A big board with lots of words, colorful swirly's and zig-zags, and endless opportunity.
The Sebastopol Gravenstein Fair was this past weekend. I had a few food adventures planned in the city, but Craig, Linnea, and I decided a little jaunt up North might be fun. It's been strangely cool in the mornings and evenings here; the light is even starting to change. I've been in denial that Fall is looming. The Gravenstein Fair, I figured, would be a nice way to come to terms with this fact. When I was going to graduate school in Boston, I couldn't wait for Fall. The leaves turned overnight (I kid you not), the air was crisp without being frigid, and there seemed to always be a good reason to make soup. One of my favorite things to do was go apple picking out on an old family farm in New Hampshire. They gave you special apple picking bags with super sturdy handles, and you could buy provisions at the little country store to have a picnic out in the orchards: honeys, apple butter, farm-fresh eggs, apple chutneys, and homemade apple breads. I miss that. But I was thinking the Gravenstein Fair might be similar: paper cups full of cider, bales of hay, maybe pick some apples. Instead, I found something very different. I realized quickly that, amidst the Thai BBQ and corndogs, there wasn't going to be any apple picking. I really had to hunt for cider. And people were walking around with carnival toys and huge, furry hats. But the more I excused the fact that I'd had the wrong idea of what the festival would hold, it was actually a nice afternoon. We saw a restored tractor exhibit, ate doughy apple fritters, and tried Grandma's Fried Apple Rings (apple rings, lightly battered and fried, and dusted with powdered sugar by none other than Grandma herself):
[do not print] Everyone is off and running today. Except for me. Things are pretty mellow here. Not many emails or leads on freelance work--the kind of day where you hear the mailman drive up and head out immediately to see if there's anything of serious import (there wasn't). Linnea's at work, Zoe and A.J. went to the Academy of Sciences; I have some work to catch up on but instead, decided to make a nice lunch and sit outside reading Molly Wizenberg's stunningly beautiful food memoir, A Homemade Life. We have a bunch of tomatoes out in the garden just starting to ripen: Brandywines, Romas, little cherry tomatoes...many of them aren't quite ready, but every now and then, there are a few stray rogues. I've been thinking about my favorite tomato recipes to contribute to food52's site (they're featuring tomato recipe's this week), but decided to keep it simple today with a toasted avocado, sharp cheddar, tomato, and grainy mustard open-face sandwich along with a simple, summer beet salad (I had a few roasted beets leftover from the other night). Now after a little coffee, I'm ready to jump back in --quietly-- and make something happen this afternoon. Hope you are, too.
I've had some unexpected new beginnings during the past month. First and foremost, I roasted beets a few nights ago. I have to admit that I always buy them pre-done at Trader Joe's although everyone in my family tells me how easy it is to make a little foil pouch with some oil and roast away. They were right. They turned out beautifully and I'll never buy them pre-done again. To bigger and better things (I just had to mention the beets): I've started applying to jobs that are not at all related to my field. And I'm strangely calm about the whole thing. Since it's a pretty crummy time to be a teacher in CA right now, I've thrown myself into the world of food writing, started a column doing restaurant reviews for a local website, and have sent out a million and one queries to local and national magazines. It's funny working so hard towards something, knowing that nothing may come of it. I may never hear anything from the million and one magazines. Who knows...but I decided that, logistically, if I keep working this hard towards this new goal, something must come of it sometime. So I plug away each morning. Making coffee, feeding the dogs, trying to stay away from Facebook and Twitter, putting my ideas down on paper, and crossing my fingers.
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