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5.22.2015

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.

5.14.2015

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, having also nursed a low-grade obsession with great blue herons for several years, have finally become a real, full-on Bird Person. I surrender.


In Sitka, everything seems to happen at or around the library. On our first night in town, Tiffany took me to a poetry reading there in celebration of National Poetry Month. The poets ranged in age from maybe 8 to maybe 75, and their work was so good. It’s been a long time since I read poetry regularly, or even felt connected to the idea of poetry, but the morning after the reading, I found myself thinking about three poems that I loved as a teenager. There’s something about poetry that reverberates differently from prose. Just thinking back to those poems, even remembering only a line or two, I felt for that instant like the exact same person I was when I first read them, twenty years ago, sitting on the floor of my bedroom in my parents’ house in Oklahoma. Surely somebody must be able to explain how poetry does that. Or maybe it’s better if no one can.



On our last afternoon, the sun came out - in Sitka, as in Seattle, when the sun comes out, everyone throws down everything and rushes outside - so before heading to the airport, we drove to the south parking area of Halibut Point State Park and walked down to the beach behind it. At low tide, the island there, called Magic Island by locals, is connected to the beach, and you can walk out onto it. If it’s clear enough, you might be able to see Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano, in the distance. In any case, Magic Island lives up to its name.



I owe a great debt of thanks to everyone who made our visit possible: to the the half-dozen small businesses that generously donated our meals, to Kettleson Memorial Library and Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary, and to the families that loaned us their car, car seats, stroller, apartment, you name it. To Chris, Tiffany, and Shewa, who put it all together, and to Chris’s whip-smart fourth grade class: we’ll be back. x

P.S. If you find yourself in Sitka during the summer, keep an eye out for Chris and his Bunna Bike Coffee.

P.P.S. This cat’s out of the bag. YEEEEEOOOOWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

5.07.2015

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!) Saveur.com.

P.S. MAKE THOSE GRAHAM CRACKERS IMMEDIATELY.

5.03.2015

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 saucepan. Any way, you win.

*Update: Tim at Lottie + Doof just changed the world by posting this recipe. HOT DAMN. Check it out.
**Another update: as a commenter pointed out, Dana still has a blog, a newer one. Thank you for catching that, Dave! Here it is.


Dana’s Rhubarb Compote
Adapted from Dana Cree

Over the years, I’ve tweaked this recipe slightly. Her version suggests halving the rhubarb stalks lengthwise before slicing, so you wind up with 1-cm cubes; I get lazy and just cut the stalks crosswise into chunks. The chunks are still small enough that some break down during cooking, while others just get soft and plump, making for a variation in texture that I like very much. As for sugar, Dana’s version uses ¾ cup sugar for 1 pound rhubarb, but I’ve come to prefer mine with slightly less, roughly a scant 2/3 cup. I know that ¾ cup, or even 2/3 cup, might sound like a lot, but the rhubarb can take it. You could use less, sure, but keep in mind that the sugar also helps thicken the rhubarb’s juices and give the compote its body, so if you cut back too much, the texture will be different. The most recent time I made it, I doubled the recipe and used 1 ¼ cups of sugar, just FYI.

1 pound (455 grams) rhubarb stalks, trimmed and sliced into ¾-inch chunks
½ to ¾ cup (100 to 150 grams) sugar
2 Tbsp. (28 grams) unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur, such as Cointreau, Grand Marnier, and the like

In a medium bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar. Set it aside while you melt the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the rhubarb, the sugar, and the orange liqueur. Allow to cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes, until the rhubarb begins to release its juices. Then gently stir, and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb is very juicy and those juices begin to thicken. The compote is ready when the rhubarb is tender and beginning to fall apart and the juices look thick, about 10 to 15 minutes. This is a cook-it-until-it-looks-right-to-you situation: trust your judgement.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and serve cold, cool, or warm.

Yield: maybe 1 pint? I always forget to measure.

4.27.2015

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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.)

4.17.2015

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 right there and have a great scone. But this particular specimen also includes freshly grated nutmeg, which gives it - and, in my experience, any baked good that uses nutmeg in sufficient quantity - a certain intoxicating eau de doughnut. The scones bake up sturdy but tender, biscuit-y, and between the whole wheat and the sticky dried fruit and the spicing, they double as both a weekday breakfast and a totally racy afternoon snack.

One final aside: your scones will not, and should not, look as date-y as mine do. The recipe as written in the book has both weight and volume measures, and I learned the hard way that the weight measure for the dates is incorrect. It calls for 250 grams of pitted, chopped dates, indicating that this should equal a scant ½ cup. Because I like to bake by weight, I didn’t even look at the volume measure before I cheerfully stirred in the entire 250 grams, or more than half a pound. I like dates, but there’s a limit. 250 grams, as it turns out, measures to nearly one and a half cups, or nearly three times what you actually need and want. The recipe below reflects my correction.

Oh, wait, another aside: Spilled Milk will be live, live live live! at Town Hall this Sunday night, April 19th, and though the show is sold out (?!?!?!?!), there will be a limited number of standby tickets available.

Oh, and this is really the final aside: to celebrate the paperback edition of Delancey, which will be released on May 26th, I’ll be reading and signing at Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco on Saturday, May 30th, at 3:00 pm. I can’t wait.

Happy weekend.


Whole Wheat Date Scones
Inspired by Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, by Rose Carrarini

Carrarini says that these scones should be eaten warm, with lots of butter, and eaten slowly. Eaten slowly! Riiiiiiiiight.

As for kosher salt, I use Diamond Crystal brand, and though it might seem like a trivial detail, the brand does make a difference. If you use Morton’s, note that it’s saltier than Diamond Crystal, so use less.

125 grams (¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
125 grams (1 cup) whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 heaping tablespoons golden brown sugar
60 grams (4 ½ or 5 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, diced
90 to 100 grams (½ cup) pitted, chopped dates
150 ml (2/3 cup) whole milk
1 egg, beaten well

Set a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk to blend well. Add the brown sugar, whisking again, and then add the butter. Using your fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture, rubbing and pinching the butter until there are not lumps of butter bigger than a pea. Stir in the dates. Add about three-quarters of the milk, and using a fork, stir it into the dry ingredients. If it seems too dry and crumbly, add more milk as needed, but start sparingly, so that the dough doesn’t wind up sticky. Once the dough is coming together, put down the fork and finish bringing it together with your hand, pressing it and turning it to incorporate all the flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and massage it into a disk roughly 1 inch tall. Cut the dough into 10 even wedges (or squares, if you want, or you can use a cutter to make circles), and arrange them on the baking sheet. Brush lightly with egg.

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are lightly golden. Serve warm – or, if eating later, reheat gently before eating.

Yield: 10 small scones

3.31.2015

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 Saveur.com, 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.