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Updated: 2018-03-05T20:10:43.108-08:00


December 10


I come to you today for three reasons: 1) it is so windy outside this morning that my entire house will shortly be carried away (to Oz, I hope) and I want to leave you something to remember me by; 2) there is a fat, freshly baked loaf of banana bread on my kitchen counter that is not for me, and we all know how this will end if I don't occupy myself; and 3) though no one needs encouragement to buy more stuff, I enjoy a nice holiday gift guide. What follows is a quick, and possibly too late to be useful, tour of some of my favorite things to give and receive, accompanied by a selection of photographs of Christmases past. (Including, by not limited to, a shot of our cold-weather "auxiliary fridge," an milk crate on the deck that we trot out when the refrigerator gets too full with boozed-up egg nog, homemade toffee for gifts, the annual delivery of smoked salmon from our CPA, and other holiday delicacies. 'Tis the season!)We begin with books. How about the new Carrie Brownstein memoir, which Brandon and I both swallowed in one gulp, for the Sleater-Kinney fan in your world?  Or, for lovers of Patti Smith - and we should all be lovers of Patti Smith - maybe her new book M Train, or her now-classic Just Kids, winner of a National Book Award. For appreciators of poetry: I recently revisited my copy of Field Guide, Robert Hass's first book, and I still love it as much as I did at sixteen, when I was first introduced to it. And Anne Sexton's ecstatic, wildly sexy Love Poems, yeooooow! And for those who like a good craft project, I highly recommend The Modern Natural Dyer, which has put me on something of a dyeing-and-sewing tear. I had never dyed my own fabrics before, and now I'm dyeing tea towels, tote bags, flannel yardage to make a duvet for my kid - in other words, this book has given me a lot of ways to avoid real, income-generating work, la la la. (All book links are Amazon affiliate links, FYI. If you'd rather support an independent bookstore, and by all means, please do: Seattle's excellent University Book Store offers FREE shipping on all book orders over $20.)Speaking of my new sewing habit, I learned everything I know from the ladies at Drygoods Design. A gift certificate to the shop - which is based in Seattle but sells online as well - or for one of their classes, would make a killer gift. Also in the textile vein: napkins designed by artist Jen Garrido, also known as Jenny Pennywood. We've used cloth napkins at home since a friend gave us some as a wedding gift, and while I've lately taken to sewing the occasional addition to the pile - perhaps you sense a theme here - I hope to someday own a few Jenny Pennywood napkins, too.Also in the handmade gifts category: wooden spoons and other utensils, hand-carved by Maggie Kirkpatrick of Apple Doesn't Fall. I met Maggie a few months ago, when she was in Seattle and dropped by Essex with some of her wares, and I came home with two spoons, cherry and maple, and a butter knife. They're gorgeously shaped, soft as your grandmother's cheek, and - win win win! - more affordable than most other hand-carved utensils I've seen.Also, hey, did you know that Bennington mugs are pretty reasonably priced? I didn't, until I bought a couple this fall. I have two "trigger" mugs: "elements gold" (which feels wonderfully silky in your hand) and "black on green" (which Brandon says is "very '80s," but I don't care), and I love them. Spendier, but so handsome, is the Heath "tall tumbler," which I've had my eye on in black. Or this foxy Eric Bonnin tumbler.And for kids, this: a year or so ago, my sister-in-law Courtney gave June two small stuffed mice, each with their own matchbox for sleeping, à la Stuart Little, complete with tiny mattress, tiny woven blanket, and tiny pillow. June loves them almost as much as I do, and I can't imagine any toddler, or human being, who would not want one. Or two.The best slippers on the planet, in women's sizes and men's!And for those who have absolutely everything, I like to make a donation to a worthy cause. The thirteenth anniversary [...]

Doop dee doo


A couple of years ago, late one winter morning, we were out running errands in the neighborhood, and we stopped into La Carta de Oaxaca, on Ballard Avenue, for an early lunch. June was still in a high chair and not yet fully proficient at chewing anything with crunch, so we ordered their sopa de pollo for her, a rich, brothy chicken soup served in a bowl big enough for mixing cake batter, with the meat still on the bone and big hunks of zucchini, carrot, and chayote. I shredded the meat onto a plate and chopped up the vegetables with the side of my spoon. She ate with her hands, the juices running fast down her forearms, which were then still as soft and plump as water balloons, and we drank the salty broth straight from the bowl, as though it were hot tea. Then we brought home the leftovers, because the serving size had been approximately one quart, and got to do it all over again the next day.It feels like a strange leap of faith - leap of amnesia? Leap of denial, though denial doesn't seem like a leaping activity? - to write a blog post about food when there's a lot of cheerless stuff going on out in the world. It feels weird, even wrong, to sort of doop dee doo my way into a post on soup - here in the comfort of my heated home, where the fridge contains eight pounds of leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving and my kid mumbles peaceably in her sleep - without acknowledging that we live in the midst of wildly sad events, and that many people are hurting. I don't know how to make sense of it, and in a way, I hope I never do. I will resort to chanting under my breath (creepily, if you watch from the wrong angle) my own personal, agnostic, pseudo-version of the Serenity Prayer. I will try various leaps of various things. I will make more soup. I have known for a while how to make chicken soup. It's good. It's fine. I wrote about it somewhere around here, in late 2004 or maybe early 2005. But La Carta de Oaxaca makes a better chicken soup. And it happened that, the same winter that we first ate their version, we had a cook at Delancey who was related to the family behind La Carta, and he talked me through their method. Now it's "my," -ish, chicken soup, with the my accompanied always by a nod in the direction of a certain awning on Ballard Avenue.I imagine there are as many Mexican sopas de pollo as there are American chicken soups. This one is, really, just a variation on any other version, but its details are important. For one, you use skin-on, bone-in chicken pieces, for the flavorful fat in the skin and the gelatin in the bones. Then, and here's the kicker, into the pot go fresh mint leaves and a large handful of fresh cilantro, stems and all. You add the herbs right in the beginning, so they cook along with the soup, going limp and slippery, yes, but also giving the broth brightness and a mellow depth that's hard to pinpoint. If you don't want to eat the cilantro stems in the finished soup, you can fish them out before serving. (To make it easy, bundle the cilantro with twine before you chuck it in, and then you can just pluck out the bundle.) But Brandon loves the flavor of the long-cooked herbs, cilantro especially, so try it first.To serve the soup, I lift out the chicken pieces, pull the meat, and add it back to the pot. (The skin and bones are pretty much compost at this point.) What you have now is more stew than soup, really, more meat and vegetables than broth, and it wouldn't be out of place ladled over a slice of garlic toast. I think you'll find it infinitely - to borrow a term from Fergus Henderson - steadying.Happy Friday.P.S. BIG, LONG OVERDUE NEWS: I've been working with my homies at Neversink on a Wordpress migration and redesign of ole Orangette, complete with a proper recipe index (by course! by season! by ingredient!) and other good stuff.  Hoping to launch next week! Stay tuned! Many exclamation points!Sopa de polloInspired by La Carta de Oaxaca, and with help from Pedro Perez-ZamudioI've made this with homemade chicken broth, and it wa[...]

November 6


This one goes out to my friend Natalie. One night early last month, she and hers were over for dinner, and I made an applesauce cake with caramel glaze for dessert. As they left, she asked about the recipe, and she's been patiently waiting for me to post it ever since. In the intervening weeks, our kitchen faucet sprung a leak - a leak that must have actually sprung a month or two before that, because by the time we noticed it, it had thoroughly saturated all the wooden surfaces below and around it, making them buckle and curl like waves on an ocean, a special ocean that smells like rot. We called Natalie and Michael, because they are handy people, and this past Sunday, they came over with their three-year-old son and gave their day to helping Brandon do a quick, cheap fix of the kitchen, ripping out approximately fifty percent of the counters and the sink (and heaving them, wheeeeeeee, out the window into the yard), patching the floor and drywall, and installing a stainless steel restaurant-supply sink and work table. I now really, really owe Natalie this cake recipe. I now owe Natalie a small-scale kitchen remodel.I cannot take any credit for this cake.  I cannot even take credit for finding the recipe.  It comes from the great Merrill Stubbs of Food52, and I found it because the great Youngna Park, an artist / generally creative person / someone I admire, recommended it on Twitter. It was late September, and we were going apple-picking that weekend. We came home with enough apples to fill not only most of our fridge but also most of my mother's, and over the weekend that followed, Mom and I turned them into Judy Rodgers's roasted applesauce. And then I turned most of the applesauce into cake.The original recipe uses a Bundt pan, and that's how I made it the first time. I did not take a picture of it, because we were too busy eating it. A few days later, I made the cake again, but this time, I used one standard-size loaf pan and one mini loaf pan, with the intention of delivering the smaller one to my mom. I did not, because we were too busy eating it. I did, however, give her half. (Of the smaller one.) (With apologies.)There are a lot of recipes for applesauce cake. But what makes this one so good is not only that it's very moist - thanks to a generous amount of applesauce and to vegetable oil, rather than butter - but also that it's spiced just enough. It calls for cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and allspice, though I had no allspice, so I used grated nutmeg. (Never liked allspice much, anyway.) I also replaced the light brown sugar with dark brown sugar, because that was all we had, and because I hoped its deeper caramel flavor might sit well with the apples and warm spice. In any case, all of that made for a very, very good cake, plenty good as it was. But what made it a standout is this: once the cake is baked and cool, Merrill instructs us to make a quickly boiled glaze, cream and butter and brown sugar, and while the glaze is warm, to pour it over the top.Taste the glaze on its own, and it's sweet sweet sweet: you can almost hear the sugar crystals between your teeth. But against the dark, fragrant cake, it's exactly right. Merrill calls it a caramel glaze. But even more than caramel, it tastes like a soft, thin layer of brown sugar fudge, or penuche - or Aunt Bill's Candy, for any Oklahomans in the crowd. Fudge! On top of cake!  Have a great weekend.Applesauce Cake with Caramel GlazeAdapted from Merrill Stubbs and Food52If you have only light brown sugar in the house, by all means, use it.  But having made the cake both ways, with light brown sugar and with dark brown sugar, I prefer it with dark. The flavor is fuller, with a different depth.For the cake:2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour1 ½ teaspoons baking soda1 teaspoon kosher salt¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper2 teaspoons ground cinnamon1 teaspoon ground ginger¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg2 large eggs1 cup (200 grams) sugar½ cup (90[...]

October 23


Last night I got to spend some time with my friend Sam. We hadn't hung out, just the two of us, for a while - maybe not since June was born, if I really think about it. Sometime in the next month, Sam will become a dad. We've somehow been friends for nearly a decade. When I got into his car last night, he had R.E.M.'s Out of Time in the CD player. "Texarkana" was on. We got stuck in traffic, because it was rush hour in Seattle, but it was okay, because we were talking about being kids listening to R.E.M., Automatic for the People especially, and all the Big Feelings we were just starting to know then, feelings set to the soundtrack of Michael Stipe's voice. I remember being thirteen, or maybe fourteen, dancing alone in my bathroom to "Sitting Still," in the rental house we lived in that year, between the house on Westchester and the house on Elmhurst. I was once fifteen years old, lying on my bedroom floor in a black t-shirt and a pair of too-big men's pants that I bought at a thrift store for fifty cents, listening to "Find the River" and sobbing without knowing why. I didn't like "Everybody Hurts," but for the most part, when I listen to Automatic for the People, I get a sense that I'm witnessing a person at the height of his power, the height of his art, the same feeling I get when I watch Stevie Nicks sing the demo version of "Wild Heart." I'd never really thought of R.E.M. as a band I particularly loved, but I've now spent all morning now listening to them, Murmur to "Oh My Heart," and it's been the best morning I can remember.Earlier this morning, before my private R.E.M. listening party, I was helping June to put on her socks and shoes, and she asked me what the word "weird" means. I bumbled through an explanation that I hoped would be appropriately calibrated to her three-year-old brain, trying to explain why it's okay - more than okay; good - to be weird. I hope that, as she gets older, she finds people who can help her to understand it on her own terms, the way that Michael Stipe, and David Byrne, and poetry, and novels, and my spouse, and our friends, the way they've done for me.Wow, this music is really doing things to me.It's been a good week. Last night, we went to hear Alison Bechdel speak at Town Hall. I was first introduced to her work when I was writing A Homemade Life and my friend Kristen loaned me her copy of Fun Home. I didn't know why she gave it to me, and I'd never read a book in cartoon format, but I quickly understood that, as much as it's about Bechdel's coming out, it's also about the relationship between a father and a daughter, which is what I was attempting to write myself. And Fun Home is spectacular: honest, direct, funny, raw, and also deeply loving. Bechdel seems to be much the same in person, and I grinned like an idiot through her entire talk last night about writing, art, and creativity, and the complexities of family. Also! She mentioned Richard Scarry as an early influence, and HELLO, WOW, is my life right now ever full of Richard Scarry. I hope June is paying attention.Speaking of formative influences, please go read this piece by George Saunders immediately.Also terrific, thought-provoking, and only tangentially related to anything else in this post: an old episode of On Being, "What We Nurture," with Sylvia Boorstein. (I subscribe to the podcast of On Being and highly recommend it.)And I don't always listen to my own podcast, Spilled Milk, because nobody likes hearing her own voice, but I listened to the grapes episode yesterday and was still thinking about it, and laughing about it, when I woke up today.Happy Friday, everybody. I hope you and yours are well.[...]

On short notice


It's hard to start a post when I'm bored with the photograph(s) I have for it. The alternate title for this post is "A Life Fraught with Difficulty, by Molly Wizenberg."But I am never bored with beans.I don't remember how I first learned of Molly Stevens and her classic All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking, but if you've been around here for any length of time, you will know that it is a longtime favorite. I bought it shortly after it came out, sometime in 2004. I was in graduate school then, planning to become Michel Foucault, albeit with more hair, fewer turtlenecks, and a vastly inferior command of the French language. Like anyone who has tried to read the borderline unreadable, I had a ton of Post-It flag things in my desk drawer, and I intended to use every last one when I read Discipline and Punish. But then All About Braising came along, and it was so good that I put down my schoolbooks and plastered my Post-It flags all over Molly Stevens's recipes instead. By the time I was done with it, the book looked like a hastily plucked chicken, sprouting feathery flag things from every third page. And though I cannot say the sequence of events was purely causal, I quit grad school the following year. In the decade since, I've cooked more from All About Braising than from any other book.When I wrote about dried beans a week or so ago, I mentioned a particular Molly Stevens recipe, promising to write about it soon. Here I am. For the past few years, during the colder months, I've made this recipe every other week, and occasionally more often than that. Molly, if I may use her first name, calls the recipe Escarole Braised with Cannellini Beans, though I've made it with every kind of white, or white-ish, bean I can think of: cannellini, corona, marrow, garbanzo, great northern, navy, and flageolet, cooked from dried, or out of a can. I call it Braised Escarole with Beans. It's one of my best back-pocket meals, one I can make on short notice, assuming that I can get my hands on a head of escarole, which is a pretty fair assumption to make in the fall and winter. In the crackling heat of the pan, the escarole goes slack and silky, olive green, curling around the plump, creamy beans. This is honest food, old-lady-with-crepey-elbows-in-a-house-dress food, soft and stewy and fragrant with garlic. Everyone in my house likes it, including June, though she thinks the escarole is bok choy and I am not about to correct her, because the child is crazy for bok choy. I know when to leave a good thing alone.Braised Escarole with BeansAdapted from All About Braising, by Molly StevensThe original version of this recipe calls for cannellini beans, but any light-colored bean works. I wouldn’t recommend pinto beans or any other brown or red bean, though; the flavor is too dark and muddy here. And you’ll note that, if you use canned beans rather than beans cooked from dried, you’ll need to add some stock. I like chicken stock - though you could use vegetable, I’m sure – and in a pinch, Better Than Bouillon is more than adequate.Be sure to have some bread on hand when you serve this, and be sure to toast that bread and rub it with garlic. We usually keep the bread on the side, but you can also ladle the escarole and beans over it and let it get all nice and juicy and sogged.1 medium head escarole (about 1 pound; 450 grams)¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil3 garlic cloves, thinly slicedPinch of red pepper flakesKosher salt1 batch of white beans cooked according to these directions, OR about 2 ½ cups canned beans (a little less than two 15-ounce cans), drained and rinsed, plus 1 cup chicken stock½ of a lemonGreat-tasting olive oil, for finishingGrated Grana Padano or Parmesan, for finishingCut the head of escarole in half from root end to leaf tips. Working with one half at a time, starting at the leaf tips and working toward the root end, slice the escarole [...]

While you're not looking


I went through a period a few years ago when I couldn't cook a pot of dried beans worth a damn. Every bean came out waterlogged and falling apart, like a rained-on newspaper, and on the rare occasion when every bean wasn't waterlogged and falling apart, it was only because a few holdouts had a mouthfeel closer to gravel. I did everything I was supposed to do: I soaked them, brined them, cooked them without salt, cooked them with salt, cooked them at a simmer, cooked them so a bubble only rarely broke the surface. Every way, the window of time in which they were just right, tender but not yet reduced to mush, was narrow at best. Occasionally I hit it, but often not. So I gave up on dried beans for a while, which is fine, actually, because canned beans are great. I can think of worse fates than going to my grave a crappy bean cooker - for instance, living an entire life without doing "Islands in the Stream" at karaoke. (Crossed that off the list.) But dried beans are cheaper than canned, much cheaper, and I wanted to get it right.My friend Winnie Yang helped me, though she has no idea that she did. In 2007, she left a comment on a Serious Eats post about cooking beans, and in her comment, she described her favorite method, which comes from the great John Thorne and his great book Pot on the Fire. Thorne cooks beans in their soaking water, and in a very low oven, not on the stovetop. As Winnie put it, "His method produces peerless beans . . . the tenderest, most velvety beans just barely held together by the skins. There's not too much danger of overcooking, and you get optimum flavor." I bookmarked it in my browser, calling it "Winnie's Pot Beans," and then I completely forgot about it.  But I found it again recently, after a long stretch of dried bean avoidance, and I am now a believer. It is How I Do Dried Beans. Incidentally, here is Winnie, looking as sprightly and triumphant as I now feel every time I eat my own cooked-from-dried beans, only she's not in a kitchen but instead walking in the woods on a vacation we took with a couple of friends five years ago this month, to pick apples and watch the leaves fall and generally cook our brains out in a rental house in upstate New York.Now that I've dug up that photograph, here are a few others from that trip, because it feels good to see them again, and because the trees outside my window look almost identical today.My kitchen's Formica is a sad, wonky shadow of the Italian tile in that upstate kitchen, but it serves its purpose. It is a flat surface. I can put a bowl on it, upend a bag of beans into the bowl, cover them with cold water, and, in the reflection on the water, watch the trees outside knock around in the wind.I try to soak my beans for a full 24 hours. But I don't know how much that matters. John Thorne soaks his for eight to twelve hours. However long you soak them, soak them. It makes a difference. But do not throw out the soaking water; it is not, how should I say it, infected with future "digestive distress." As Thorne puts it, and he in turn paraphrases Russ Parsons: "Neither cook nor eater can do much to reduce the problem of flatulence, except to eat more beans. (The more you eat, the better your digestive flora can handle them.)"Here's what you do instead: you put a strainer over a medium saucepan, and you drain the beans into the strainer, catching their soaking water in the pan. You bring the soaking water to a boil. Meanwhile, you dump the beans into a Dutch oven, season them with salt and olive oil and other things, if you'd like, and then pour the boiling soaking water over the beans, clamp on the lid, and put it into a 200-degree oven for four to five hours. After four hours, you check the beans for doneness, and if they're not done, you keep cooking them until they are. While they cook, you need only stir them once an hour, or less, or whenever you think of it, and make sure they a[...]

As ever


A couple of weeks ago, I got up earlier than usual, while the light was still blue, and baked a cake.We are having a very adult fall - not adult in the sense of, I don't know, the adult film industry, but in the sense that we now have a child who is enrolled in a real school. I remember only bits and pieces of my own first year of school, but I do remember operating under the happy illusion that my parents were bonafide adults who had things figured out. Having now crossed over to the other side of that illusion, I can report that, whoa, hey, it's an illusion! June is no fool, but she's content to play along as necessary. Yesterday, in the car on the way home, she informed me, apropos of nothing, that she has no blood. When I asked what's inside her body instead, she paused and stared out the window - Moms, man! Totally clueless! - and then replied, "Pee and poop, silly." (She gets it from me.)In any case, we are now firmly into fall. My child, who has no blood, is now a child who goes to school. I am, as ever, a person who will bake a cake before the sun is up, after the sun is down, and anywhere in between, because I like to.This is Alison Roman's Coconut-Lemon Tea Cake, from her Short Stack mini-book Lemons. I picked up a copy of Lemons on a whim one day at Book Larder, and I immediately wanted to make everything in it, starting with a Campari/lemon/rosé drink called "Rosé All Day," or maybe "Meyer Lemon Moonshine" (which, as Roman explains, "is one of the easiest things you can do with lemons, and of course the most fun (because it will get you very drunk)."). But I went for cake.There are a certain few cooks whose recipes I trust instinctively and always. It's not to say that I trust only those few, but theirs are the recipes that most consistently appeal to me, make me feel confident, and in the end, make me proud. The late Judy Rodgers, for instance, is one of those cooks. Another is Alison Roman. I don't know her, and she doesn't know me, but she was a senior food editor at Bon Appétit, and I first saw her name in the magazine, attached to a lot of good recipes. That raspberry-ricotta cake I wrote about last March, that was hers. She's now moved over to BuzzFeed Food, but in any case, wherever she is, she knows her way around a lemon.This cake uses lemon in two forms: the grated zest, which you rub into sugar to infuse and perfume the batter, and the juice, which you make into a syrup to pour over the finished cake.  There's also coconut in two forms, though its flavor is more subtle: there's coconut oil in the cake itself, and coconut flakes on top, which get toasted and sticky with the lemon syrup. What you wind up with is a texture and heft a lot like pound cake, but with a heady whack of lemon and the satisfying chew of coconut. June and I ate it for breakfast, and I took another slice after lunch. My mother, who loves a lemon dessert, came over a couple of days later and stumbled upon what was left of the loaf, still moist, when she went to put away an upturned aluminum mixing bowl on the counter and found that I'd co-opted it as a cake dome. She raved about it. This one's for her.Coconut-Lemon Tea CakeLemons, by Alison Roman (Short Stack Editions, Volume 13)Three notes before we get started: I tend to have regular whole-milk yogurt on hand, not Greek yogurt, and I used what I had. I haven’t had this cake when made with Greek yogurt, but I can imagine that it could only be better. It was plenty moist and tender with regular yogurt. Also, re: the mildly fiddly step of rubbing the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers, I know I know I know, but do it. It infuses the sugar with lemon flavor, and lemon flavor is what this cake is all about. Lastly, because coconut oil is very hard and crumbly at room temperature, I find it difficult to measure by volume. So I measure it by weight, scraping and c[...]

September 6


I've never been to Chez Panisse, the restaurant itself, the part with the nightly prix fixe menu. But I first went to the Cafe at Chez Panisse the summer that I was twenty, working at Whole Foods in Mill Valley, California, and living nearby at my aunt's Tina's house. I went with my cousin Katie, who was also at Tina's that summer, and her saintly then-boyfriend Rob, an un-date-y third-wheel kind of date. We made a reservation, got (too) dressed up, and ordered the Menu du Jour, a three-course meal for the current steal of $30 - though it must have been $25 then, at most. We threw down.I remember the first course with a clarity that surprises me. It was Little Gem lettuces, which I'd never heard of before, dressed in Green Goddess dressing, which I'd also never heard of before, with slivers of cucumber, beet, and avocado. It was understated, careful, perfectly spare, but not precious. Sixteen years later, we serve a Green Goddess salad at Delancey every spring because of that night at the Cafe at Chez Panisse, and because of that salad. The second course was a pasta, and then tiny profiteroles, both of which were quietly terrific, though I remember neither as vividly as the salad. In any case, what I remember most clearly was the way we felt afterward. We felt like we'd accomplished something. We'd crossed a threshold. We'd taken ourselves to Chez Panisse! The Cafe, anyway! We'd paid for it ourselves! We'd eaten Alice Waters' food! We'd had experiences.I've been back a few times, and it's always felt like that. Brandon and I went for lunch at the Cafe the first time I took him to California to meet my family there. We had pizza with nettles on it, the first time either of us had eaten them. Chez Panisse was on our minds when we drafted the first sample menus for Delancey. It was also on our minds we started to reach out to the farmers and ranchers who supply us with most of the fruit, vegetables, and meat we use at Delancey. We wanted to feed our customers food that we could be proud of.It's become a cliche, this farm-to-table ideal, a benevolent cliche. In this country, access to good food is a complicated, unequal thing: how nice that some of us can afford to feed our families fresh, organic food, while the rest of the country scrapes by on cheap, GMO crops! I feel as cynical about it as the next guy. But I will never forget a morning at the farmers' market three years ago, when I was out of my mind with the insomnia and anxiety that I would soon understand as postpartum depression, when Wynne of Jerzy Boyz, who grows our apples and pears and dries oregano for our tomato sauce, put her arm around me and let me cry all over her coat. And I cannot say how happy it makes me that June is on a first-name basis with Eiko and George of Skagit River Ranch, who raise the pigs for Delancey's sausage - we break down, season, and grind 100 pounds of their pork every two weeks - and the cows for Essex's burgers. It feels right. It feels right to support people who are doing good work, and to be supported by them in return. I learned that - or a lot of that, at least - from the influence of Alice Waters and the restaurant she started on a hope and a whim almost 45 years ago.All of this to say that I was beside myself with glee when, about three weeks ago, I was asked to interview Alice Waters and write a profile of her for the National Endowment of the Humanities, to accompany the announcement that she has been chosen as one of this year's National Humanities Medalists. We spoke by phone a couple of Fridays ago - I now have a soft-spoken voicemail from her on my phone: "Hello, Molly. It's Alice." (!) - and I still feel electrified by it. I'd read a lot about Alice Waters. You have too, I'm sure. None of it had read prepared me for how gracious she was. We had some phone glitches that meant I had to call her six times, dying a little more with e[...]

I changed my mind


Two Mondays ago, the night before the moving truck was due to arrive at my mother's new (Seattle!) house with everything she owns, Brandon suggested making a celebratory dinner. My mother, it was agreed, would choose the menu. After a moment's hesitation, she requested steak and Caesar salad. We headed out for groceries.I'm not going to go into great depth about the steak. I don't know. I feel bored just thinking about writing it. You know how to cook steak. Right? You don't need me. If you don't know how, or if you want to try another method, I can tell you that we use Renee Erickson's instructions (for indoor cooking, not grilling) on page 195-196 of her dreamy A Boat, a Whale & A Walrus, though we test for doneness by temperature (135°F for medium-rare; all hail the extremely not-cheap but worth-it Thermapen!), rather than by time. Thus concludes my discussion of the steak. Let's talk romaine.Nobody talks about romaine. I too used to dismiss it, in as much as one might bother to formulate dismissive feelings toward a type of lettuce. But a few years ago, I changed my mind. Of the lettuces available at an ordinary grocery store, I now almost always choose it. It's not fancy, but it is consistently good, with its mild but unmistakable flavor and that juicy, resilient, water-chestnut crunch. I am not bored by romaine. I usually slice it cross-wise from tip to stem for salads, but sometimes I halve it lengthwise and roast it instead - thank you, Yolanda Edwards! - and sometimes, especially in the case of a Caesar, I just whack off the stem end, dress the leaves, and serve them whole, and we eat them with our fingers.A couple of months ago, on a quick work trip to California, I was asked to make dressing for a Caesar salad, and I realized with a start that I didn’t know how. It’s not that I consider this a particularly glaring omission in the experience of being alive; there are a lot of things more important, starting with access to affordable housing and clean drinking water and the right to vote and believe me, I could go on, could I ever, but there I was in California, and it was dinnertime. I was at my cousin Katie’s house. Her husband Andre was grilling burgers, and Katie was getting their son ready for bed. My assignment was Caesar salad. Katie is a confident, no-recipes-needed kind of cook, and by the way she mentioned it, I knew she could make a Caesar dressing without much thought. So I did the part that I knew how to do, prepping the greens and putting them in a bowl, while I waited for Katie to finish the job.As I expected, she had an easy way with Caesar dressing. She assembled it in a half-pint Mason jar, entirely by eye: the juice of a lemon, maybe a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise, maybe a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, maybe a quarter cup of olive oil, a little vinegar, and black pepper, shaken to mix. We tossed it that night with torn-up kale and some farro that she had cooked earlier and stashed in the fridge. (Katie is full of good ideas like that - fleshing out salads with a handful of toasty cooked grains in lieu of croutons, putting a seven-minute egg on top, etc.) But when I came home, I was faced with that regrettable cosmic phenomenon familiar to all cooks, the phenomenon that makes the same dish taste better when someone else makes it than it does when you make it yourself. I decided to forge my own way.I took down The Zuni Café Cookbook, my own personal Southern Oracle of cooking, and asked Judy Rodgers, RIP, to teach me. What follows is her recipe. It's not much more complicated than Katie's, except the chopping of garlic and anchovies, which I guess is a little complicated. Instead of mayonnaise, it uses egg, which is more traditional but just as easy. Judy Rodgers's version is what we made for my mother that Monday night, and we all pawed at the salad bowl. But if you[...]

July 29


Today is our eighth wedding anniversary. It's also the 11th birthday of this blog, the first day of our first-ever corporate tax audit, and the day that my mother officially moves to Seattle. It's a lot of Big Adult Stuff, and I have lots of feelings, including immense gratitude for our accountant. But most of all, I'm glad that these two wide-eyed pups, the ones in this shot circa 2007, decided to take the great leap that is marriage, that they've kept at it, showing up, cooking, eating, building, building some more, figuring it out, duking it out, and loving, loving, for eight whole years. And I'm glad that this blog made it all happen. Thanks for being along for the ride, everybody.And now, for a properly celebratory cocktail:Campari Granitafrom Bitter, by Jennifer McLaganThe world does not need Campari Granita. It is enough, I think, that Campari exists, and that we can mix it with soda water and drink it. But the instant I saw this recipe in Jennifer McLagan's excellent book Bitter, I knew I had to make it, because the only thing better than straight-up Campari and soda (or a Negroni, or an Americano, or a shandy), is Campari and orange or grapefruit juice and the smallest splash of lemon juice, frozen and forked to the texture of a snow cone and eaten with a spoon on a sticky July evening, while you make dinner. Or more succinctly, in the words of our friend Michael Riha: this stuff is great. Cheers.For the orange version:1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice½ cup (125 ml) Campari½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juiceORFor the grapefruit version, which is more bitter, and which I prefer:1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice½ cup (125 ml) Campari2 tablespoons (25 grams) superfine or caster sugar½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juiceStir the juice, Campari, and lemon juice (and sugar, if using grapefruit juice) together. Pour into an 8-inch square metal pan (or another pan of similar volume). Place in the freezer. Stir the mixture with a spoon every hour or so, to break it up into large ice crystals. I used a fork for the last stirring, to make the ice crystals finer and fluffier. It took about three hours for my granita to be fully frozen and to the right texture. If you forget to stir the mixture and it freezes solid, don’t panic: just break it into chunks and pulse briefly in the food processor. To serve, spoon the granita into chilled glasses.Yield: 4 to 6 servingsP.S. A wonderful, and relevant, episode of On Being.P.P.S. Pavement's Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain in the car on a hot, sunny day, with the windows down![...]

We'll go from left to right


I promised cookbooks, and I shall deliver cookbooks. No more nostalgia! No more old photographs! No more zoning out with Danzig videos on YouTube because a man in a Danzig t-shirt just walked into the coffee shop where I am writing and reminded me of the song "Mother '93"! I will be useful.Four years ago, when we moved into the house where we now live, I started keeping a small collection of cookbooks on top of the refrigerator. Most of our books live in June's room, on the wall of shelves there, but that's down the hall from the kitchen, and I wanted to have my most-used, best-loved, most-consulted books within reach.  I rotate them as new books come out and others fall out of use, but a few never leave.  I wrote about last summer's collection on Serious Eats, but the fridge looks decidedly different now, so here I am, not watching Danzig videos and recoiling in horror from Glenn Danzig's pectorals, nope nope nope.We'll go from left to right, and I'll try to point out recipes that I particularly like or make often.- Seven Spoons, by Tara O'Brady. I hope you know about Tara's wonderful site. Her book is even better, if that's possible. The first time I picked it up, I thought, This book is going BIG. It's full of food I want to eat, food that feels doable but also thoroughly inspired, and the whole package is lit from within by Tara's writing.  Hummus with White Miso (page 112), Za'atar Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Salad (page 170), Coconut Kheer (page 230), and with the kheer, Pickled Strawberry Preserves (page 111)- My own books! So embarrassing! I keep them up there because I am suuuuch a jerk because the best part of having your recipes printed and bound is being able to dog-ear them, write notes in the margins, and muck them up with butter smears. From A Homemade Life: Buckwheat Pancakes (page 68), Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger (page 26), Ed Fretwell Soup (page 156), and Scottish Scones (page 174); and from Delancey: My Kate's Brownies (page 183) and Sriracha-and-Butter Shrimp (page 88)- River Cafe Pocket Books Pasta & Ravioli, by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. I have three River Cafe books, and I've come to believe that their recipes aren't meant to be followed to the letter; they're best used as treasuries of good, simple ideas. I've been meaning to make the Penne with Zucchini and Mint, which I think my friend Gemma once recommended, and in which the zucchini gets cooked until mashable and enriched with an amount of butter that might best be described as swashbuckling. Also, Penne with Sausage and Ricotta.- Every Grain of Rice, by Fuchsia Dunlop. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Luisa does too, and I'll just let her speak for me, because she gets it so right. I requested the Sichuanese chopped celery with ground beef (pictured above) for my birthday dinner last year, and I may well request it again this year. Red-Braised Beef with Tofu "Bamboo" (page 108), Bok Choy with Fresh Shiitake (page 180), Sichuanese "Send-the-Rice-Down" Chopped Celery with Ground Beef (page 194), and Fish-Fragrant Eggplant (page 210)- Parisian Home Cooking, by Michael Roberts. I bought this book on a whim when I was 22, living alone for the first time, and at the height of my Francophilia. (When I opened the front cover just now, a flier fell out from an anti-Front National rally on May 1, 2002, with a headline reading, "Nous Sommes Tous des Immigrés." Ouaaaaais!) Michael Roberts taught me a lot about French home cooking, and though I don't use this book as much as I used to, I like to keep it around. Perfect Mustard Vinaigrette (page 69), from which I took the proportions for "my" everyday vinaigrette; Scrambled Eggs the French Way (page 50); Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Vinaigrette (page 92); Glazed Bru[...]

July 10


My mother tells me that she had always loved the house. She used to drive by and admire it. When I was thirteen, it came on the market, and she and my dad snatched it up. The house was built in 1948, old for Oklahoma, painted brick with wrought iron and ivy. It needed a lot of work, and they tore out walls and opened it up, changed everything. It was their biggest, finest collaboration, and they made it exactly what they wanted. It was weird in ways, or maybe quirky is the better word, with a mirror on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom and Pepto-Bismol pink wallpaper in the dining room. But mostly it was beautiful, obscenely beautiful, full of books and art and small fragile things that my dad collected at estate sales and antique malls. He got to live there for less than ten years before he died, but my mother is still there, or will be for another two weeks, when she moves to Seattle.This move has been a long time coming, and I've been waiting impatiently for the house to sell. When she called me up in mid-June to tell me that she'd gotten an offer, I nearly shrieked. But then a different thought came, and I stopped nearly-shrieking, because that thought was, I will never see that house again. So on Wednesday, I got on a plane and flew here to do just that, and to help my mother clear twenty-plus years of living from the various cabinets, closets, and shelves. If you had asked me fifteen years ago, even ten years ago, if I'm a sentimental person, I would have denied it. Now there is no doubt. Between loads of books - 295 donated to the library thus far - and trips to Goodwill, Mom and I get lost in piles of photographs; her old jewelry box, with its collection of scarabs and giant costume earrings from the '80s; the box of poems my dad wrote to her before they were married.We moved into the house when I was a freshman in high school, and I lived there for barely four years, plus a couple of summers in between other places. It wasn't long. But I can still hear the creak of the stairs when my dad went down to make coffee in the morning, and the shhhh of his hand sliding along the banister. I know the smell when you walk into the front hall, and the smell of the living room, and the smell of the kitchen, all of which are different. I know the hiss of the air conditioner. I can find all the light switches and lamps in the dark. I dyed burgundy streaks into my hair in my bathroom there, put on the long black net skirt that was my favorite article of clothing at age sixteen, and listened to Minor Threat on vinyl that I mail-ordered from Washington, DC. I had the hots for Guy Picciotto in that house. I sat on the floor of my bedroom and typed out college applications on an electric typewriter. In the laundry room, my first dog had her last seizure. My mother and I carried her to the car on a beach-towel-turned-stretcher, and not long after, she was gone.I made my first pie with my mother in that kitchen, a blueberry pie from some Martha Stewart book. High on our victory, we attempted a towering lemon meringue pie that wept uncontrollably onto the counter. Later that same summer, on that same counter, my dad and I rolled out fresh pasta. He liked to grill burgers out back, the burgers that I ate all through my so-called vegetarianism. He sat by the window in the kitchen to enjoy his Saturday egg salad and beer. Upstairs, in my bedroom with the stereo cranked up, I daydreamed (for years, years) about what it would be like to make out with someone but never actually did - until, VICTORY, shortly after high school graduation, I had my first kiss in the front hall and, hopped up on elation and pure cold terror, grabbed the doorknob to keep from passing out.It was to that house that I returned the summ[...]

June 26


I am feeling profoundly (or, as my fingers tried to put it, "feely profounding") inarticulate today in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage. I keep thinking of my uncle Jerry, the first gay person I ever knew, whose death to AIDS in 1988 spurred me to activism as a young kid with moussed bangs and a Silence=Death sweatshirt, and in whose memory June carries one of her middle names. I wonder what he would say today. I'm grateful, relieved, elated, and beyond, that June will grow up in a world that's very different from what I knew in 1980s Oklahoma.It also feels like a fitting time to reread John Birdsall's whip-smart Lucky Peach piece, "America, Your Food Is So Gay," which was originally published a couple of years ago, I think.And given that it's a Friday in late June, it would also be a fitting time to make watermelon popsicles.June would eat popsicles, also known within our house as "popsissles," for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and in truth, I can't argue with that, especially if I exercise my parental privilege to decide what goes into said popsissles. In this case, I used David Lebovitz's simple and brilliant watermelon sorbetto recipe as a template. It starts with watermelon juice - just watermelon, zizzed in a food processor until liquefies - and then you take a little of that juice and warm it with sugar to make a watermelon simple syrup. [So smart, David! So smart.] That syrup then gets stirred into the remaining watermelon juice, along with lime juice and, if you want, a tiny splash of vodka, to help make the popsicles less ice-y. (I skipped the vodka, because I didn't have any, and if you don't want to use it, don't.) In any case, the mixture was bright and big-flavored, and I was halfway inclined to pour it over a glass of ice and down it. But June's breakfast, lunch, and dinner needs prevailed. We made popsicles.Happy weekend.Watermelon PopsAdapted from David Lebovitz’s The Perfect ScoopThese popsicles will only taste as good as the watermelon you start with, so start with a sweet, flavorful one. Oh, and you can omit the vodka, if you want.A roughly 3-pound (1.5-kg) chunk of watermelon½ cup (100 grams) sugarBig pinch of kosher salt1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste1 to 2 tablespoons vodka (optional)Cut away and discard the rind of the watermelon, and cut the flesh into cubes. Chuck the cubes into a blender or food processor, and process until liquefied. Pour through a strainer (to remove seeds) into a large measuring cup. You should have about 3 cups (750 ml) of watermelon juice. (If you have more, well, drink up! Or freeze for future use.)In a small, nonreactive saucepan, warm about ½ cup (125 ml) of the watermelon juice with the sugar and then salt, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat, and stir this syrup into the remaining 2 ½ cups (625 ml) watermelon juice. Mix in the lime juice and vodka, if using. Taste, and add more lime juice, if you want, or more salt. You shouldn’t taste the salt; it’s just there to intensify the watermelon flavor.Chill the mixture thoroughly - if the watermelon was refrigerator-cold when you started the process, this won't take long - and then pour it into your popsicle mold of choice. (I used this.) If you have more mixture than will fit in your popsicle molds, drink it, or for mini-pops(!) and other fun stuff, freeze it in ice-cube trays.Yield: about 10 pops [...]

One Tuesday, late-morning


I come to you today, June 13th, a fine summer’s day on which you probably have no desire to turn on the oven, to talk about roasted chicken. More specifically, I want to talk about Thomas Keller’s Favorite Simple Roast Chicken, which I prefer to call TK’s Hot Buttered Chicken.I have long been a devotee of the Zuni Cafe recipe for roasted chicken. I imagine many of you feel the same way. Zuni’s recipe, which Judy Rodgers wrote with a rare and reverential thoroughness - may she rest in peace, and may more cookbooks be written like hers - relies on three things: using a small-ish bird, salting it a day ahead, and cooking in a crackling hot oven, first breast-up and then flipped breast-down and then breast-up again. It was the first roasted chicken I ever made, and when I get all the elements right, it is the best roasted chicken I will ever make. However. I forget to salt the bird ahead. Or I put it off, because getting involved with raw chicken takes resolve. Or I don’t plan dinner until the afternoon of, and then it’s too late for advance salting. Or maybe I manage the advance salting, but then I don’t feel like messing with the beast once it’s in the oven - remembering to flip it and flip it again, dodging splatters of hot fat, etc. Roasting a chicken the Zuni way is not hard, but sometimes I want to make easy things easier.Thomas Keller’s chicken recipe has been floating around for more than a decade, but I first tried it only last month, after two different friends in two different cities happened to mention it to me within a week of one another. Both are energetic cooks, not likely to balk at a complicated recipe, so when they recommended something so straightforward, so lazy, even, I went out and bought a chicken.Like Rodgers, Keller calls for a small-ish bird, two to three pounds, and he too cranks up the oven. But he salts the chicken just before cooking, and once it’s cooking, he leaves it alone. And when it’s done, he slathers the meat with butter and serves it forth, with Dijon mustard* on the side. Slathers it with butter and serves it with mustard! SLATHERS IT WITH BUTTER! SERVES IT WITH MUSTARD! I will make TK’s Hot Buttered Chicken.I’m rarely at home for lunch, and if I am, I’m a sandwich-or-leftovers-lunch cook. I am not a hot-lunch cook. But one Tuesday, late-morning - because Tuesday is my Sunday - I salted a chicken, TK-style, and put it in the oven. While it quietly roasted - so independent, this chicken! - I managed to yank up a bunch of weeds in the yard-slash-jungle out front, and June played in the car, her favorite activity, flicking switches and turning nobs and stealing the emergency animal crackers I keep in the glove compartment, eating half of three of them, and hiding the remains in the console. When the timer went off, we went inside, and I carved and buttered the chicken. I steamed some broccoli and squeezed a lemon over it, and we sat down to lunch.The chicken was golden and taut-skinned, juicy and glistening. June picked at it, because that’s what she's doing this week - toddlers! Always doing toddler things! I scooped mustard onto my plate, and we sat and talked, eating and not eating**, and one of us sang, because when you’re not eating, you sing. I wiped up the last smear of butter with a fingertip, cleared our plates, and then Tuesday was already halfway over, easy, and there were leftovers for tomorrow.* Any mention of mustard always reminds me of this. And while we’re on the topic of Karl Lagerfeld, this this THIS.** Talking, and not talking...TK's Hot Buttered ChickenAdapted from Thomas Keller, Bouchon, and EpicuriousOne 2- to 3-pound chicken, at room temperature for an hour or so, if possibleKo[...]

Here was an opportunity


One evening last week, my friend Sarah sent me a sudden text that said only, "Yotam Ottolenghi. Carrot and Mung Bean Salad from Plenty More. Just do it!" These kinds of vital communications are why humans need one another: so that we know what to eat next. I was skeptical about the mung beans: I know they’re used to great effect in many cuisines, I know, I know, but a certain aura of patchouli and tie dye hangs over them. Still, I was willing to reconsider. I took down my copy of Plenty More from the top of the refrigerator, where my favorite and most-used cookbooks live. (Hey: another time when I mentioned this fridge-top collection, one of you asked if I would consider writing a post about the books I keep there. Does that still interest you? I’d forgotten about that request until now, but really, I’d be very happy to do it. Update: I am an idiot. I forgot about this post on Serious Eats! That said, the top of the fridge looks quite different today, with new books coming out, and I would be happy to tell you about it.) I turned the book over and flipped to the index, looked up the page number (169) for the recipe, and proceeded to thumb backward toward it, but I overshot the mark and found myself on page 163 instead, looking at a recipe for Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini Yogurt.I paused long enough to skim through the ingredients. I had everything, as it happened, including a fresh bag of carrots and a newly opened container of tahini left over from another recipe and now waiting to be finished. I am famous within the four walls of my house for buying tahini, using approximately two tablespoons, and then entombing the remainder at the back of the fridge for a couple of years. Here was an opportunity to do something different. The mung beans could wait. (They’re still waiting, and waiting, and waaaaaaaaiting...)You do not need me to tell you how smart, how good, and how necessary Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More is. Plenty was seminal, and I think Plenty More is even more important. This particular recipe reminds me a lot of Casa Moro’s Warm Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini, but maybe better. Ottolenghi uses carrots instead of squash and, instead of allspice, freshly toasted coriander and cumin seeds. His spicing feels more special as a result, more fragrant and beguiling, and the carrots get sticky-slick with honey, and the yogurt in the tahini sauce gives it both lightness and heft. To be totally honest, Ottolenghi did call for a little too much coriander for me - coriander seed, like marjoram, can start to taste the way potpourri smells - so I scaled it back when I typed up the recipe below, and I think it’s just right. Next time, I might add chickpeas and red onion, à la Casa Moro, and make a great thing greater.In any case, I made it for lunch on a day when I had the house all to myself - and had celebrated having the house all to myself by eating a gigantic slice of cinnamon-custard twist from Larsen's for breakfast - and it was exactly what I wanted. It’s more than the sum of its parts, by far: one of those things that you can zap together without a trip to the grocery store and, afterward, makes you feel like putting on the Chariots of Fire theme and taking a victory lap around the table. That night, Brandon and I ate the leftover carrots and sauce with hot Italian sausages and a cucumber salad, and he liked the tahini-yogurt sauce so much that, after we’d eaten all the carrots, he went to the cupboard, took down a box of Triscuits, and used the crackers to scoop up the last of the sauce from his plate and then the jar I’d made it in.Honey-and-Spice Roasted Carrots with Tahini YogurtAdapted from Plenty More[...]

May 22


About eight months after we opened Delancey, a customer named Eric Peterson sent an e-mail to Brandon, and the subject line read, I want to make pizza at Delancey!Eric was working at a local pizza place, but he wanted to learn another approach - to learn the chemistry behind good dough, how to make sauce from scratch, how to manage a wood-burning oven. His five-year plan was to open a small wood-fired pizza restaurant in Leavenworth, a mountain town roughly two hours east of Seattle, and he was ready to put in the time to learn what he needed to know. I called his references and wound up talking to an older guy with whom Eric had once worked at a ski shop, I think, and mostly what I remember is that this guy all but yelled into the phone, SNATCH HIM UP. So we did. We hired Eric, and he cooked next to Brandon for a year and a half, making dough and stretching pizzas and finding his way around the fire, until late 2011, when he headed east over the pass, as he had always planned, to open his Idlewild Pizza. And it is killer.And this coming Monday, Memorial Day, I get the great pleasure of doing a talk and signing for Delancey - which comes out in paperback on Tuesday! - there, at Idlewild. If you're going to be in the area, or even remotely in the area, please come visit. I'll be there from 3 to 5 pm, and there will be wine and, of course, pizza. Or, if you can't make that, maybe you can stop by A Book for All Seasons between 1 and 2 pm, because I'll be doing a little signing there first. I love Leavenworth and the mountains around it, in the summertime especially, and I'm thrilled to have the book as an excuse to get back over there.  Hope to see you - and either way, happy almost-Memorial Day.P.S. I should note that the above photos were taken at Delancey, not at Idlewild. I don't have any pictures from Idlewild, though, hey, I could fix that this weekend.P.P.S. San Francisco! I'll be in your town next week, on Saturday, May 30. See you at Omnivore Books at 3 pm?P.P.P.S. This week's This American Life is so smart, so heavy, and so important.[...]

Yes yes yes


Last November, I got an e-mail from a fourth grade public school teacher in Sitka, Alaska, inviting me and Brandon to be part of a classroom project he was planning. The project would be called the Perfect Pizza, and it would go like this: the students would spend some time studying pizza and writing about pizza, and along the way, we’d chat with them once or twice via Skype about what makes great pizza great. As the culminating event of the project, Brandon and I would come to Sitka in the flesh, ta daaaa, where we would make pizza with the students (Brandon), talk writing with the students (me), and give a reading at the local library (me). We of course said yes right away, yes yes YES.We went to Sitka a couple of weeks ago, at the end of April. We were there from a Sunday evening to a Wednesday evening, hardly enough time to get a feel for a new place - neither of us had been to Sitka, or anywhere else in Alaska - but our hosts and the organizers of our trip, Chris and Tiffany Bryner, were such generous guides that I came away with a real affection for the town, and with a few tips for those of you who are considering a trip up that way.Sitka is an island near the southeastern tip of Alaska, just north of British Columbia. The topography of Sitka felt familiar to me, because like Seattle, there’s a lot of water, and beyond the water there are mountains, although the mountains near Sitka are much nearer, seemingly arm’s reach away. Sitka also feels immediately more rugged, wetter and palpably wilder. In our first twenty-four hours, we spotted eight bald eagles and walked past some fresh-ish bear droppings on a trail, and I saw my first raven and then about three dozen more after that. Because of Sitka, I get to use the word droppings for the first time on this blog. Ring the bells!Sitka has a population of only 9,000 or so, which makes it roughly one-quarter the size of our neighborhood in Seattle. But it has a terrific bookstore in Old Harbor Books, complete with a kids’ reading nook where June and I could have spent all day. Behind the bookstore is the Backdoor Cafe, where we warmed up with some curried pea soup. I’m still thinking about the raspberry crumble bar I bought there, and I probably will be for a while. A few doors up the street, I bought handmade soap scented with Sitka spruce at WinterSong Soap Company. At the Larkspur Cafe, we had our first black cod tips, a small, rich, silky strip of fish taken from between the jaw and the collar. June isn’t usually into fish, but she wound up stealing most of mine. It was cute, and also not at all cute. But then a friend of Tiffany’s saved the day by showing up with a frozen package of black cod tips for us to take back to Seattle. (!)We took a walk one cloudy morning along the seawalk to Sitka National Historical Park, where I took the more wooded photos in this post. In the woods, the deerheart were coming in so thickly that, in some areas, you could hardly see the soil, and the trees had so many layers of lichen and moss and more moss that they seemed to be turning slowly into Muppets.We didn’t have time to get out on a boat, though we wanted to. I had hoped to see a humpback whale, but it was the wrong time of year. But at dusk on the evening of my reading, we went out onto the seawalk across from the library, and every few seconds a tiny fish would leap out of the water of the harbor, snatch a bug in mid-air, and plink back under the surface. We also visited the Alaska Raptor Center, where I met this very small owl and had a moment of spiritual communion with this other owl and realized that I, hav[...]

May 7


One Tuesday evening in March, I went somewhat accidentally to the town of Edison, Washington, and bought a pack of graham crackers. Two weeks later, I drove back deliberately, 75 miles each way, just to buy more.

Thanks to Renee Bourgault and her wonderful Breadfarm, I got to tell the story, and share the recipe, on (the newly redesigned! fancy!)


You win


When I moved to Seattle, I lived a gray shingled apartment building on Northeast 67th Street, a speedy bus ride to the UW, where I had just started school. My apartment had deep-pile carpet the color of weak tea and a floodlit view of a parking lot, but it was mine, mine mine mine mine mine mine mine. Even getting a utilities bill was exhilarating: it was in my name! I bought cheap produce at the stand a few blocks east, found a good Thai curry place a few blocks to the west, and got takeout from an Indian restaurant down the street. I started this blog in that apartment in 2004, and I lived there when I met Brandon in 2005. At some point around then, before he moved to Seattle in 2006 and we packed up my stuff and hauled it to the Ballard duplex we’d rented, somebody told me about a restaurant nearby called Eva. It was small, well-regarded, a polished neighborhood place with a menu closely tied to the seasons, the kind of menu that used kale before any of us knew the word, let alone dreamed of uniting it with the word chip. I was still a student, and most days, I couldn’t afford a restaurant like that. But somebody told me that Eva had a spectacular young pastry chef, a woman named Dana Cree, so I saved up, or maybe I waited until my mother came to town, and I went.Dana was doing a series of throwback desserts, I think - if I’m getting this wrong, and I’m almost certainly getting it wrong, I hope she will tell me - and I seem to remember having a sexed-up homemade Ding Dong, and maybe a chocolate rice pudding with caramelized Rice Krispies on top, and a butterscotch pudding, dark and rightly salted. Dana’s food was playful and intelligent, irresistible, impeccable, each flavor and thing in its best possible form. We followed her to Poppy, where you can still, and should, get her Nutter-Butter Squares* (crispy! creamy! crackly!), and then she moved to Chicago, lucky Chicago, where she is now pastry chef at Blackbird. This year, for the second year in a row, she’s a nominee for Outstanding Pastry Chef in the James Beard Awards.Also: she has a great rhubarb compote recipe.Nine years ago, Dana had a blog**, and on that blog, she posted what she called Orange Rhubarb Compote, or what I call Dana’s Rhubarb Compote. It’s simple, and it’s perfect, and every spring, almost a decade later, it’s still the rhubarb recipe that I think of first.I’ve already got plenty of rhubarb recipes, and you probably do, too. A lot of days, I think the best thing you can do with rhubarb is roast it, period. All the other days, though, I think of Dana’s rhubarb compote, cooked on the stovetop until it’s thick, spiked with orange liqueur and softened with butter. It comes together in twenty minutes and keeps for a week, easy. And though there’s booze in there, it’s not boozy; the orange liqueur is there to support the rhubarb flavor, to underline it, amplify it, join in the chorus. The butter, for its part, is also there to quietly support, smoothing the rough edges from the rhubarb and giving it a subtle, welcome roundness. Dana’s rhubarb compote might be my very favorite thing to stir into a morning bowl of plain yogurt, less sweet and softer than my second favorite, jam. You could also serve it with shortcakes and whipped cream, as a sauce for ice cream, spooned into pavlova, slathered on pancakes or waffles or French toast, or - my friend Matthew’s idea - on top of a toasted English muffin spread with mascarpone. In general, I like it icy cold from the fridge, though June prefers it warm from the sa[...]



In three months, this site will be eleven years old. Three nights ago, I got to stand on a stage in New York in front of hundreds of people I admire – including Martha, THE Martha, who looked foxier, and younger, than anyone – and accept a James Beard Award for this blog.

I was so nervous, so totally electrified with terror, that my right eyelid twitched for six days leading up to the ceremony. I hope I never forget what it felt like, after so much hoping, to hear my name called. I hadn’t planned a thank-you speech – if you take your umbrella, yadda yadda, it won’t rain – but once I was up there, everything felt oddly clear and slow, and I managed to thank my friend Chris Oakes, the person who suggested that I start a blog; and Dorie Greenspan, author of the first cookbook I ever owned, who was sitting right there, at stage left, smiling; and then Brandon, of course; and my dad – of course, my dad. I want to think he heard. Then somebody whisked me away to take a picture, and there was a party with a lot of good hair, and a late slice at Joe’s Pizza, and I finally limped to my friend Brian’s apartment in Brooklyn, where the world’s most comfortable air mattress was waiting in the living room. But when I woke up the next morning, I realized that I had forgotten to thank my mother(!!), and also you. I wouldn’t have the heart or the guts to write anything if I didn’t think a real live person, somewhere, somehow, might read it. I’m here because you’re here. Thank you for that.

(Photo by Sarah Lawer, excellent company at table 28.)

I like to imagine


The only bookshelves in our house are in June’s room, one and a half walls of built-ins that bracket the space like a capital L. The previous owner had used the room as an office, as far as we can tell, and we planned to do the same. We set my desk under the window. I had just started writing Delancey then, and I pounded out the early chapters there - or, more often, avoided pounding out the early chapters by watching nuthatches flit around the giant evergreen outside. At some point, we decided that having a baby would be good idea, and to make room for her, we moved my desk to the dining room, replaced it with a crib, and hung her name on the door. And that is how it came to pass that the only bookshelves in our house are in June’s room, three people’s worth of cookbooks, fiction, grad school texts, and picture books, climbing the walls. I like to imagine that this will make some kind of lasting impression, that she’s absorbing novels and recipes by proximity as she sleeps, maybe, or that she’ll grow up to remember the books as a quiet, reassuring presence, like the old lady in the rocker in Goodnight Moon, the one whispering "hush." I like to imagine.In any case, the fact that we have only limited space for books is frustrating, but it’s also nice, because I get a real thrill out of getting rid of books we don’t use. We could buy some bookshelves, yes - or I could just cull the herd once a year and revel in the satisfaction of that until it’s time to do it again. For now, we’ve chosen the latter, and last week, I hauled four bags of books to Half Price Books. Cheap thrills!Anyway, as I was doing this latest round of culling, my hand paused on the spine of Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, by Rose Bakery founder Rose Carrarini. I’ve had the book since shortly after its publication in 2006, and though I’ve used it twice at most, I can’t seem to get rid of it. I like its spacious layout and the way the food looks tidy and geometric, but also clearly handmade. A loaf of polenta cake is impeccably square in cross-section, but the powdered sugar on top is uneven. One arm of a star-shaped gingerbread cookie bends slightly, gracefully, toward another arm, like a sea star on the move. A small lemon tart is clean and round as a clock face, but the lip of the crust rises gently at four o’clock, where a finger pinched it shut. This is food I want to look at. Rose Bakery also has handsome concrete-and-metal tables, which you can see in a picture on page 57, and we liked them so much that, based on that picture alone, we copied them at Delancey. All that said, I never use this book. I almost never even pick it up. It takes up shelf space. My fingers itched.But then, then, I remembered having seen a recent mention of it online, and that this mention came from my friend Shari, she of the sweet potato pound cake and the raspberry-ricotta cake recommendations. She’d posted a shot of some date scones she’d made from a Rose Bakery recipe, and she’d raved. I decided to let the book live another round, and I added dates to the grocery list.Now. You probably don’t need another scone recipe, and I don’t either. But I will be keeping this recipe, need it or not. The dough is made from half white flour and half whole wheat, which means that it gets the flavor of wheat without its weight. It’s sweetened only lightly, and with brown sugar, so most of its sweetness comes from the dates themselves, dark and fudgy. You could stop ri[...]

March 31


Early Friday morning, I boarded an airplane to Washington, DC, and on the way there, using my Motherly Time-Management Skills, I managed not only to sleep for two hours, but also to read one New Yorker and the entire current issue of Lucky Peach. I was in DC for a conference, and to celebrate my nephew’s fifth birthday (Lego-themed party! Lego-shaped candy! BTW, IMO, the blue ones are best; avoid yellow). But this morning, back at my desk, I’m still thinking about that Lucky Peach. In particular, this Jeremy Fox story and this endive story. But really, the whole issue was great, so smart and so weird, that I even mentioned it to the nurse in my dermatologist’s office this morning. That’s a strong endorsement. Somebody should use it for a book blurb, like, "So-and-so’s Very Good Book struck me so deeply that I couldn’t stop talking about it, not even while getting my moles examined."Speaking of being struck, I learned this weekend that this blog is a finalist in the Saveur Blog Awards, in the Best Writing category. My fellow finalists are some of the writers I admire most, online or off, and I’m elated. Elated! Whoever nominated me, whoever you are, thank you.  Voting is open through April 30, and if you feel moved, you should take a look at the finalists in all 13 categories and cast your ballot. (You must be registered at, yadda yadda, but it only takes a second.)And speaking of elation, next month I’m going to Alaska, somewhere I’ve never been. We’ll be in Sitka, to talk to a class of fourth graders about the chemistry of pizza (Brandon) and writing (me). The teacher who invited us has also lined up a reading for me at the public library, so if you find yourself in, or near, or even remotely near Sitka on the evening of Monday, April 27, please come to Kettleson Memorial Library at 7:00 pm. I’ll be reading, and there will be books for sale. I will try not to talk about Lucky Peach, or moles. But I might talk about something else that you should read: "Eating Well at the End of the Road," which is wonderful - and about Homer, Alaska - and very rightly nominated in this year’s James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards.As I type this, a fine hail is falling steadily on the roof. It sounds like television static from the next room. After just four days away, Seattle seemed impossibly green and wild this morning, like a caricature of itself. It made me think of an interview with Mary Oliver that I listened to a few weeks ago on On Being, and of her poem "The Kitten," which has always meant something to me, even before I could really understand it. It’s good to be back in my city.[...]

The bean doctor


I believe everyone should know how to doctor a can of beans. I also believe that, having said this, I have become my father. I also believe I would do anything, anything, absolutely anything to get R. Kelly’s "I Believe I Can Fly," which lodged itself in my head as I was typing those first two sentences, back out of my head again. Spread my wings and fly awaaaaaaaaaayI come from a family of bean doctors. The beans we ate most often were baked beans - Bush’s brand, I think - to which my dad added brown sugar and Worchestershire sauce. We ate them whenever my mom was out for the evening, usually with boiled hot dogs. It felt like a secret that only he and I were in on, and it was my favorite meal as a kid. It might still be, because you can’t improve on a combination like that. Burg could also be known to crack open a can of cannellini beans, rinse them, and dress them with pesto to make a quick salad. If he was feeling frisky, he would then plate his cannellini salad by carefully piling spoonfuls of it onto individual endive leaves, as though he were making canapés for a banquet. He could throw down.I married a bean doctor. We always have canned chickpeas and black beans in the cabinet for Brandon’s chickpea salad with lemon and Parmesan or his quick black beans with cumin and oregano. One night last week, when he needed a late dinner after work, he drained and rinsed some chickpeas and tossed them with warmed leftover sauce from a batch of penne alla vodka. As for me, if I happen to have pinto beans around, I make Luisa’s, or rather Melissa Clark’s, fake baked beans. (The. Best.)I know that some people look down their noses at canned beans: maybe they don’t taste or feel quite the same as perfectly cooked-from-dried beans, and they can be higher in salt, and then there’s the specter of BPA in the can lining. I do keep dried beans around, and I cook them often, and sometimes I do a good job of it. But there is nothing inherently wrong with a canned bean. Being told otherwise makes me tired. Canned (or jarred in glass, if you prefer) beans can be very good - especially brands like Progresso, Bush’s, or Goya - and it doesn’t take much effort, or much time, to make them great. VIVE LE BEAN DOCTOR.My cousin Katie makes something called Creamy Beans, and she shared her method with me a few weeks ago, when I called to pick her brain about seven-minute eggs. You upend four cans of beans - black or pinto are best - and their liquid into a saucepan, add a chunk of butter, and shake a bottle of hot sauce over the pan for ten seconds. You stir it all up, and then you let it simmer gently until the liquid is thickened and the beans are starting to break down. Katie learned about Creamy Beans from a co-worker, and now she and her husband Andre usually make a batch once a week, have it with or for dinner, and then eat the leftovers in the mornings that follow, with seven-minute eggs on top.I’ve made Creamy Beans twice since Katie told me about them, once with pinto beans and once with black beans. Pintos don’t break down much - it’s mostly about letting the liquid thicken and get creamy - but with a long simmer, they become wonderfully tender, even more than the average canned bean. Black beans break down more easily, though I stopped cooking mine before they really did; I let them cook just until they were fudgy, gooey. In any case, the butter gives them a quiet richness and heft, while the hot sauce brings acid to off[...]

Doing it right


I believe in everyday cake.I may have remembered to floss four times last week, up from my usual count of zero. I may have had avocado toast one sunny morning at Vif, with za'atar, aleppo pepper, preserved Meyer lemon, and celery(!). I may have even rediscovered R.E.M.'s superlative Green after forgetting about it for twenty years and then sung along loudly and with feeling to "World Leader Pretend" and got goosebumps during the bridge like I used to when I was seventeen. But nothing makes me feel like I'm really living, really doing it up right, like having a cake on my kitchen counter on a weekday.About a week ago, my friend Shari posted a photograph of a cake on Instagram and declared, "New favorite, I think!" Instagram has more shots of cake than there are particles in the Milky Way galaxy, but then again, you may remember that Shari is the person who, six years ago, introduced me to sweet potato pound cake. Her opinion is not to be questioned. And as I studied her photo, I realized that her cake, pale gold and splotched with berries, was from a recipe that I had read and dog-eared only the night before, as I thumbed through the March issue of Bon Appétit: a simple, single-layer cake enriched with whole-milk ricotta and spiked with frozen raspberries. Ding ding ding!So I picked up some ricotta over the weekend, and on Monday afternoon, when I found myself with a free half-hour, I made a cake. This is a cake that you can actually throw together, not just in word but in deed: there's no mixer required, just a spatula and a whisk and an arm. The batter is thick and rich, like a mousse, and bakes up light, pillowy, terrifically moist. (I know everybody hates the word moist now, but I don't mind it. British recipe writers seem to be into damp, but that usually reminds me of basements, or other people's towels, or the point in a day at the beach when your bathing suit starts to itch.) A few people on the Bon Appétit website have commented that they would reduce the sugar, but I wouldn't: it's just right, especially against the tart shock of the berries.  If anything, I'd up the amount of raspberries by a third or half - or, whoa, hey, maybe try it with frozen sour cherries instead? Ricotta and sour cherries. That's doing it right.Happy weekend.P.S. If you've got time to make your own ricotta, do. There's a recipe in Delancey, and what you don't use for the cake, you can use on crostini, on toast with jam, in pasta, on pizza, stirred into eggs, you name it.P.P.S. More everyday cakes here. And this looks a little more involved, but man oh man.P.P.P.S. Earlier this week, I wrote on about one of my favorite things, the seven-minute egg.P.P.P.P.S. Luisa started a good discussion about food magazines, and I'd love to know what you think.And this P.S. thing is getting ridiculous, but P.P.P.P.P.S. My favorite (ancient) photograph of R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe.Raspberry-Ricotta CakeAdapted very slightly from Bon Appétit, March 20151 ½ cups (210 grams) all-purpose flour1 cup (200 grams) sugar2 teaspoons baking powder¾ teaspoon kosher salt3 large eggs1 ½ cups (325 grams) whole-milk ricotta½ teaspoon vanilla extract1 stick (113 grams) unsalted butter, melted1 cup (100 grams) frozen raspberries, dividedPreheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan (I used springform), and press a round of parchment paper into the bo[...]

While the house is quiet


Today is our Sunday, and everyone but me is napping, sleepy after a lunch of cheese toast and cucumber salad. While the house is quiet, I should probably be doing tax paperwork and résumé reading and other sacred rituals of small business ownership, but:- I’ve never felt confident about picking favorites: my favorite movie, favorite song, favorite food, favorite whatever. I don’t have many favorite anything. But I do feel confident about saying this: Michael Chabon is my favorite novelist. His first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has been my favorite book for two decades, since I first read it at sixteen years old. He also wrote The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and plenty more since that. I finally got around to starting Wonder Boys, his second novel, and I like it so much that it’s taken me almost a month to get through only the first two hundred pages, because I want to read and reread every sentence over and over and over, just sort of roll myself around in it. For example, this: "'Is he kidding?' said Miss Sloviak, all of whose makeup seemed in the course of the ride from the airport to have been reapplied, very roughly, an inch to the left of her eyes and lips, so that her face had a blurred, double-exposed appearance." I MEAN.- Also, This American Life is killing it. Amateur Hour!- Also, Invisibilia. They’ve only made a handful of episodes, so you can catch up quickly, and you should. The Secret History of Thoughts is fascinating, and Fearless, too. (I particularly like the idea that fear = thinking + time, and that if you take away either one, and you can’t have fear.) Good stuff.- Speaking of fear, ha ha HA, I’m helping to lead a class called "Varying Your Voice: A Workshop on Writing in the First, Second, and Third Person" at the IACP conference in Washington, DC, on Monday, March 30th. I’ll be co-teaching with Jess Thomson and Kathy Gunst, both longtime pros and forces of nature, and while our workshop does unfortunately require a separate day pass, it’ll be worth it.- My friend Natalie brought over some Persian cucumbers one night last month, and I had forgotten of how good, and how versatile, they are. They’re not exactly winter food, but we’ve been eating them every day, in salads (usually with a mustard vinaigrette and feta) or on their own, as a snack. Our family of three took down six of them at lunch today.- It’s handy that we’ve been eating so many cucumbers, because when we’re not eating cucumbers, we're eating cheeseburgers. Brandon spent the better part of last year testing and perfecting a wood-fired burger for Essex (using grass-fed beef from Skagit River Ranch, with not one but two secret sauces), and he put it on the menu last October, as a Sundays-only special. But now, as of a couple of weeks ago, it’s available five nights a week, Wednesday to Sunday. June pronounces it "booger," and she eats a full half of the thing. She’s an animal.- I’ve mentioned before that every Tuesday is Taco-&-Tiki Night at Essex, but I haven’t told you what’s for dessert: our own choco taco. (There’s housemade ice cream in there.) It isn’t entirely in my interest to tell you about it, because any that we don’t sell on Tuesday are mine to eat for the rest of the week, but I’m trying to get better about sharing.- Our friend Edouardo Jordan, the supremely talented chef de cuisine at Ba[...]