We'll start with the chocolate

The 47 bars of artisanal dark chocolate, that is, which I have been forced to sample over the past three weeks in the name of good journalism. Around the magazine, we all make daily chocolate runs into Karen’s office where the remnants of a round-up on organic, sustainable chocolates have been stashed for morale purposes. When things get really tense, Karen brings a few - 85% AlterEco Dark Blackout or François Pralus ‘Le 100%’ - to the 10am status meeting, hoping that it’s harder to freak out while eating chocolate. It is.

Then there are the Jelly Belly’s - organic, of course - that I had to taste-test on my first day to write a quippy blurb asserting their superior flavor and texture. There was a steaming pot of thick gumbo at my editor Dave’s house that we spooned out of mugs before bundling up and accompanying a gaggle of kids trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, 1950s-style. There were root veggies I roasted on a lazy Sunday after a trip to the local farmers market and ate with crumbles of goat cheese that turned all creamy when topped with a fried egg (organic, pasture-raised, heritage breed, a topic I now know an infinite amount about after researching a sidebar for an egg buyers guide; forthcoming: Organic Life Magazine, January 2016). Seared scallops and kir royale at Bolete, the best join in town, where I regularly (ok twice, but plan to make it a habit) sit at the bar and chat up whatever stranger sits next to me (middle aged gay business man, hipster craft spirits maker) and read my book (A Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion). (Have you noticed? The parentheses are back! Huzzah!)

There have been trips into Brooklyn for soul-satisfying chicken and waffles that Chul, Adam and I doused in maple syrup and devoured as midnight approached and our day of bar-hopping came to a close. And bbq pork hum bao that I was craving so badly that I walked three miles from Port Authority to Chinatown through empty early-morning streets, only to discover one long black hair hidden behind the first bite.

There has been ramen with old college friends and local wood fired mushroom pizza and mind-blowing veggie pho (that people in these parts still pronounce foe). Homemade apple galettes and caramelized onion kale stuffing to christen my new kitchen, which is a work in progress, to say the least.

There was kitschy Greek fine dining - baked eggplant with feta and marinara - shared with my sort-of coworker and our mutual friend my sort-of roommate while we bitched about work, something I haven’t been able to do in a long time.

The farm-to-table cafeteria - a major perk of working at a company who claims to be the home of the organic movement - whose goat cheese, arugula, walnut pesto sandwich single handedly got me through the past week of trying to ship a magazine while the editor and chief changes his mind at the 11th hour about what should be included in the organic vs. conventional wool sidebar on page 24, among other things. Many, many other things.

That time when coworkers sit around the office table at eight o’clock at night and open a good Sauvignon Blanc, then dive into sour Ethiopian injera housed in squeaky styrofoam take-out containers that -  when wrapped around spicy red lentils and braised cabbage and stuffed into your face using only your hands - all but erases the stress of an 11-hour work day.

Those True Blue Mediterranean falafel gyros (pronounced jai-roase) we ordered-in on a Saturday when the most panicked among us came in to steal six more working hours from the ever-ticking-down clock that is marching us straight into an immovable deadline that I still have no earthly idea how we are going to meet.

There’s the “Not Your Father’s Root Beer” (5.7% ABV) that I drank - nay, guzzled - at The Broadway Social Cub before striking up conversation with two checked-shirt wearing bros - a personal injury lawyer (“I’m an ambulance chaser, really”) and a nuclear power plant worker (“I just sit in the office, no hazmat suit or anything”) - and hitting the dance floor until midnight with my 24-year-old boss.

But today, all I have to offer you are these cookies. I made them weeks back - another lifetime ago, really - and took them to my book club, which incidentally meets again today, sans moi. I imagine them sitting around discussing a set of articles by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which I think I may have suggested but won't be there to hear about. There'll be cheese and crackers and wine and wine and wine. I'll settle for some chamomile tea and a little bedtime reading on my own - 3,000 miles away - while I imagine what other meals the future might hold.

Nibby Buckwheat Cookies
Adapted from Alice Medrich

Before you get scared off by the buckwheat, let me assure you these cookies are in no way trying to be a health food. The buckwheat is a flavor flour giving wonderful round, nutty notes. Beneath their skin, these are just sugar cookies. I like to eat them cold, right out of the freezer where I store a batch after baking.

1 1/4 cups (5.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (3 ounces) buckwheat flour
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cacao nibs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Using the stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, and salt until creamy.
Mix in cacao nibs and vanilla briefly
Dump in both flours and combine together briefly with your hands. Then crank up the mixer and beat until flours and just incorporated.
Scrape dough onto plastic wrap and form into log (12” by 2” diameter). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Log will last several days in the fridge or several months in the freezer).
Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Slice cookies off the log, roughly 1/4-1/2” thick, using a serrated or sharp kitchen knife. The key is to get all cookies the same thickness so they cook evenly.
Bake until cookies are just browning at the edges, 12-14 minutes.
Cool completely before eating. (They taste even better once cooled. I store mine in the freezer and eat them cold).

Please pack your knives and go

If you were stranded on a desert island for six months and could only bring one box of kitchen equipment with you, what would you bring? Well, assuming Central Pennsylvania turns out to be somewhat reminiscent of a desert island, I can tell you what I’d bring:

My Le Creuset pot
A couple sharp knives
An immersion blender
A sheet pan
A wooden cutting board
Measuring spoons and cups
One saucepan
Place settings for two

But perhaps I should back up to the time I decided to move to Pennsylvania for six months. I write to you from somewhere in the middle of South Dakota where I find myself driving eastward toward Emmaus, PA. Exactly two weeks ago I got a call from a magazine I’ve written for over the past year saying they had a short-term position and did I want it and could I get out there ASAP. Here’s the thing: I am much better at making big decisions when given very little time to consider them. I saw my house on a Friday and bought it on a Monday. I got rejected from grad school and quit my job that afternoon. I went to visit the last straggler in littler of puppies that was an hour and a half away and came home with a dog. So naturally, I told the editor, sure! When do I start?

Then I proceeded to freak out. I binged watched The Good Wife, paralyzed from moving off my couch. I called every AirBnB and craigslist listing within a 45 minute drive of the office. I let the dishes pile up, laundry strew the floor. Then I went into hyper-drive and winterized the yard, trimmed the raspberries, emptied out my closets, got my car fixed, hair cut, ate as much of the frozen food stored in my freezer as I could work into every meal. I went out to my favorite restaurants with my favorite people and dug out all my old Colorado ski gear to prepare for an east coast winter.

When everything was packed up, the lawn mowed, the bills paid, I made banana bread. My friend Margaret came over and we ate slices hot out of the oven while we watched the 90s classic Strictly Ballroom. I managed to take only one hero shot of the half-eaten loaf before Luka  snatched it off the table and took large bites out of the chewy top crust. So you’ll just have to take my word for it: it looked as good as it tastes.

This may be my last loaf of banana bread for a while as I’m traveling sans-loaf pan.

Chocolate Ginger Buckwheat Banana Bread
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg

Though it’s hard to improve upon a good thing, I adapted this recipe to use buckwheat flour which gives it a dark, nutty flavor. The addition of good dark chocolate and sweet and spicy ginger makes for a loaf that’s not too sweet.

1 cup all-purpose white flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup buckwheat flour
2/3 cup raw sugar
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t kosher salt

2 eggs
1 t vanilla
6 T melted butter (unsalted)
1/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt
3 large bananas, as ripe as you can find

1 bar (3oz) Theo ginger dark chocolate (other dark chocolate bars or even chocolate chips will also work here)
1/3 cup crystalized ginger

Preheat oven to 350
Mix all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. (All flours, sugar, salt, and baking soda) Stir together with your fingers or a clean whisk.
Chop chocolate bar into small chunks, about the size of a chocolate chip.
Chop ginger pieces to pea size or smaller. (I usually by the small crystalized ginger cubes and rough chop them even finer).
Add ginger and chocolate chunks to dry ingredients and mix together.
In a medium sized bowl, mash up the bananas. Then add the eggs and whisk together. Add the remaining wet ingredients (yogurt, melted butter, vanilla) and stir until combined.
Pour wet ingredients into the large bowl and stir to combine with dry ingredients. Stir with a spatula until just combined, taking care not to over work.
Pour into a greased loaf pan and cook 50-6o minutes, until a knife comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then flip it over and slice!

Radical Hospitality

“Domestic culture in the city is dead,” my high school English teacher informed me this summer. We were standing under an arbor at the vineyard in the town where I grew up, sipping wine in the summer dusk and waiting for an al fresco presentation of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline to start (“One of his worst”). “No one cooks or cleans or dines-in in Seattle any more,” she continued. “It’s all about the hottest restaurant and outsourcing domestic duties to paid help.” It felt like she was undermining everything that mattered to me. Like when she informed me that no one would want to read my senior project on how technology was changing the way people communicated in the late 90s. Or how asking if I could raise my grade to an A was a surefire way to ensure it never got there. 

Like those times long ago, for whatever reason, I believed her. “I’m doomed,” I thought. “My interests will never fly in a metropolis.” The hardest part for me about living in a city is the lack of domesticity. There’s just too much Little House on the Prairie in me. Am I fated to live as a granola-baking island in a sea of restaurant-goers and personal assistants? Must I either join the old ladies knitting circle at the yarn shop or binge watch Netflix on my couch with my hat pattern? Are communal meals destined to occur only at a bar (with trendy subway tile and exposed brick)?

But wait just a hot second. There’s something about wanting to be close to food that everyone and their mom is trying to grasp hold of these days. Farm to table. Farmers’ markets. The Great Canning Revival. Yet in the fast paced weeks that fly by in Seattle, it’s hard to imagine where all those people are and if they might stop by with a bag of gleaned plums or invite me over for an impromptu potluck dinner. Being domestic requires time that just doesn’t exist for many people working at today’s pace. 

Whatever happened to hospitality?

Last fall I spent a week at a retreat center not far from Seattle. Julie, one of the in-house chefs, spent the day making these cauliflower hand pies while I perched in my window seat in the farmhouse living room and furiously tried to come up with an inspired way to describe a potluck. Radical hospitality, they call it there. Cooking and cleaning and care taking serve as the focal point of making guests feel at home and relaxed. The freezer is stocked with the harvest from the summer garden - bags of berries, blanched veggies, frozen chocolate chip cookies from the batch where Kathy accidentally melted the butter and they spread out as thin and light as crisps. Absent the noise brought on hustle and bustle of the city, it didn’t seem like anything else much mattered.

To bring a bit of that radical hospitality back to the city, I started by making these pies. Try them yourself and I promise you’ll thank me. They’ll take way more time than you have, but that’s ok. They’re worth slowing down for. The flaky cheese crust is a decadent balance to the creamy cauliflower and hazelnut filling. Six months later and I’m still thinking about how I warmed one in the toaster oven in my little cottage and settled in for a few more hours in the window seat.

So, go on! Who says domesticity is dead? Make Martha proud.

Cauliflower Manchego Handpies
Adapted from Martha Stewart via Hedgebrook

These pies are fussy and require many steps. But oh, my are they worth it. Very rarely do I follow a recipe without cutting any corners, but after I first had these pies hot out of the Hedgebrook kitchen, I wanted to do everything in my power to recreate the magic. Make them on a lazy Sunday and take leftovers for lunch during the week. You won't regret it. 

1 small head cauliflower, sliced into steaks
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground pepper
2/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
5 ounces Manchego cheese, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 large egg yolk
(All-purpose flour, for work surface)

For the Cheese Short Crust:
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated Manchego (since you bought some already) or Parmesan cheese
Pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold
1 egg yolk
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Make the crust first (even the day ahead of time):
Pulse flour, cheese, sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal. 
Add egg yolk; pulse to combine. 
With processor running, drizzle in 1/4 cup water until dough just comes together. (If dough is still crumbly, add up to 1/4 cup more water, 1 tablespoon at a time.) 
Do not process for more than 20 seconds. (Yes, it’s fussy. But it’s the best way to get a flaky crust)
Wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes or even overnight. 

Then make the pies:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. (For a more detailed primer on roasting cauliflower, check out this post.)
Spread cauliflower steaks on a sheet pan and cover in olive oil. Flip and stir them around to coat both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 
Roast in oven until undersides begin to brown (10-15 minutes). Flip steaks over and continue roasting until both sides are browned (about 10 more). I usually have to rotate the pieces around the pan as my oven doesn’t heat evenly. 
Remove from oven and let cool on the pan.
Reduce oven to 375 degrees.
Combine toasted hazelnuts and garlic in a food processor. 
With processor running, slowly add 4 tablespoons oil until mixture is finely chopped. 
Add lemon zest and 1 teaspoon rosemary; season with salt and pepper. 
Process until combined.

Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness. 
Cut out eight rounds that are each 4 inches across. (I used an upside down bowl as I didn't have a large enough cookie cutter)
Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Spread 2 teaspoons hazelnut mixture onto each round, leaving a 1/2-inch border. 
Divide cauliflower among rounds. 
Top with cheese and remaining teaspoon rosemary, dividing evenly; sprinkle with pepper. 
Whisk cream and egg yolk in a small bowl. 
Brush edges of dough with egg wash. Set aside.

Roll out remaining dough on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thickness. 
Cut out 8 rounds, 5 inches each. (I found it helps if the tops are slightly larger)
Place a dough round on top of each pie; gently press edges with a fork to seal. 
Brush crusts with egg wash
Refrigerate until cold, about 20 minutes. 
Bake until crust is golden brown, 30 to 32 minutes. 
Serve warm or at room temperature.