There's something about the academic calendar. Even though I'm no longer a student and not teaching at the moment, fall brings out the 'I want new pencils' mentality in me. So with that, I've been thinking about making my favorite recipe for granola bars. Not that I have a lunch to pack. But even so...it's a nice breakfast treat with a cup of coffee, good walking-the-dog energy, and a reminder of a winter hunkered down with snowshoes in the middle of nowhere. For those of you who have munchkins in school or are, yourself, immersed in academia somehow, make these and tote them to class. I have many times (as you can see by my scribbles and revisions). I got this recipe from the nice folks at the coffee shop at the Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise, Canada. My mom and my two sisters and I went up there a few years ago after Christmas. For some reason, I have a selective memory about the trip: I remember the absolutely heinous ride up the mountain with the driver drinking out of a flask, falling asleep, and swerving into the other lane of traffic numerous times (I don't pray often, but I did that day); I remember realizing how hard cross-country skiing is...when I was miles from the hotel; I remember how much Asian tourists seem to love a good English tea service. And I remember these incredible granola bars. The snow-shoe guides created them for their own snacks, but they were so popular with people on their tours, that they started selling them in the coffee shop. My sister, Zoe, and I would make a pilgrimage downstairs in our little black ski pants, looking like we were about to take on the great outdoors when really we were about to take on The New York Times and some nutty goodness. Now you can, too.
I've been eating a lot of bananas lately. And not just for an afternoon snack, or with my cereal in the morning. No, I wake up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturday mornings, try and gag down a banana, and go back to bed for an hour. This sounds odd to most, but for someone who overdosed on the starchy fruit as a little girl, it's particularly strange and unpleasant. When I turn out my bedside light on Friday night, I can't help but dread the looming alarm and banana that await me. So what's the deal? I'm training for the Nike Women's Marathon and our coach has given us strict instructions to get some food into our bodies well before our our training runs in the morning. I'm not an early breakfast person as it is, especially not before 7:00, so this has been a challenge for me. The one thing I can seem to get down is half a banana. Thus: lots of bananas hanging around the house. And with our unusually hot weather over the past week, that means lots of overripe bananas. So every cook or baker knows: time to make banana bread. I recently finished Molly Wizenberg's beautiful memoir, A Homemade Life. In it, Wizenburg chronicles her move to Seattle, meeting her future husband through her blog Orangette, and the death of her father. It's truly a food memoir for my generation--I can't so much relate to getting a divorce and up and moving to Italy. But I can relate to small apartment kitchens, what it feels like to move to a new city without knowing anyone, and stark uncertainty about what the future holds. In addition to prose that will make you want to read very slowly with hopes the book will never end, Molly includes numerous personal and family recipes she's come to cherish over the years. Her Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Ginger caught my eye.
On my ferry ride into the city Friday night, one of the drivers came on the loudspeaker announcing, "No we do not have air conditioning. No, the city isn't any cooler. Have a lovely evening." Yikes. Well, to his credit, we were all a bit grouchy. This past weekend, a heatwave descended on the Bay Area. The ferry was stifling hot and the air was stagnant. Not exactly the perfect night to stand around a simmering pot of strawberries for two hours making jam. But we don't always have a choice in these matters. So in a tank-top, flip-flops, my hair pulled back, and extra-large water bottle in tow, I walked into Urban Kitchen SF excited to begin. There's a part of me that's always felt like maybe I was born in the wrong era. I loved Little House on the Prairie (I still have the boxed set up in my closet somewhere), and always fantasized about what it'd be like to live off the land. I despise wasting food, and will eat the same meal for days to avoid doing so. So I'm actually surprised I haven't gotten into canning sooner. I'm not sure what inspired me to take this course initially, but after meeting Jordan Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen Co., I know it will not be a waning interest.
In the Bay Area, we often have an Indian summer. It descends each year around this time. And each year, I always wonder why it's heating up as we ease into September. Just when all the fall clothes pop up in store windows, when the morning light begins to change, and when you feel like you should be making soup--it's damn hot. And with the heat comes my kitchen lethargy. Rather than cooking, I find myself putting things together instead: salads with tomatoes and squash from the garden, sandwiches with cold cuts and lots of mayo and crisp lettuce, simple pastas with olives and shaved Parmesan, my infamous rustic Mexican pizzas (if you're lucky, more on that later). So in the summer, I like to make this pesto and keep it in the fridge to have readily available when cooking sounds as enticing as changing a flat tire. Now before we get to the recipe, you may be asking yourself, 'wait a second. I thought Megan lived in San Francisco where it's rarely above 75.' Well, I've lied to you. Probably not a good tactic so early on in our relationship. I actually live right outside the city, about 8 eight miles North, in Marin County. I live on a wide street with big leafy oaks in a very large house with a pool, two back yards, a circular driveway, lemon trees, and a box garden.
The Ferry Building is one of those unique places in San Francisco that locals and tourists happily share. Residents run in for a loaf of bread at Acme or some oysters from Hog Island while tourists scoop up Scharffen Berger bars and snap photos of heaping market stands. Set back towards the side where the ferry actually lets off is the small Mexican eatery, Mijita, run by chef Traci des Jardins (of Hayes Valley's Jardiniere fame). On a Thursday or a Saturday when the farmer's market is up-and-going, it's tough to get a spot at one of the coveted oil-cloth tables. However, on an off-day this week, there were plenty of free seats right by the window: perfect for a little late afternoon grazing and people watching. A nice pairing. When you walk in, notice the specials of the day are printed in the chalkboard portion below the posted menu. Ask for a printed menu: it goes into much greater detail than the listed title of the dish alone. Behind the counter, if you peep (which I did), there are orange and yellow Le Creuset pots bubbling away on the stove and colorful dishes stacked neatly, waiting for the early dinner crowd. Looking into the kitchen, it seems more like a Mexican grandmother's domain than it does a commercial production--certainly part of its charm.
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