Category Archives: recipe

A throwback, and a lentil salad

springtime lentil salad

The first time I flew into Regan National Airport in Washington, D.C., I think, was ten years ago. At the time, I was a personal chef—a private cook to people ranging, in order of preference, from devout foodlovers looking for a bit of a break on their summer vacation, to people looking for a more creative take on catering for larger parties, to heiresses looking (as far as I could tell) to flaunt their wealth to their Hyannis counterparts.

I was flying from Cape Cod to DC to drive to one of four or five homes owned by the rich Texan client a friend had dubbed Priscilla Princess. She belonged to the last client category. At her home on Cape Cod, she had a lawn man and an herb woman and a daily housecleaner and a personal assistant and an orchidist who arrived a couple times a week to make sure the arrangements in the bathroom were still perky. There were so many people helping her with life’s necessities that in my view, she almost ceased to exist. Catering dinners at her place always required an assistant, never because the food was so difficult—she didn’t have the taste for anything too adventuresome, and loved repeating dishes—but because inevitably another person was required to decide whether we’d plate on the Tiffany or Versace china, and whether the antique shrimp forks would work when there wasn’t an extra in case someone dropped one. Typically, the friend I’d roped into helping knew that if she wasn’t chopping herbs (“Jess!” the princess would wail from another room. “Don’t forget the pineapple sage is there in the back!!!”), she’d be following Priscilla around, nodding obediently as she took instructions on how far each wine glass should be from each plate and how big a piece of flourless chocolate cake she wanted for dessert. (“Oh Jess! The chocolate basil for garnish!”)

I think I did the job right. I organized everything through her personal assistant, because the Princess was allergic to email. I made the boring orzo salad she loved for her to have for lunch the next day, with the olives I had to order from Peru. (Maybe it was Argentina? I’ve blocked them out.) I scrubbed the Sunkist stamps off lemons in advance when I couldn’t find her required organic ones, and I smiled and presented the meal when I was supposed to in my pompous chef’s jacket, and in general, despite her difficulty, I really did enjoy it all. It was virtual reality—one in which I could buy whatever I wanted, at whatever cost, save the wine, which she limited to $20 per bottle. And she apparently enjoyed having me, because a few times, she paid me handsomely to fly down to her place in Virginia to cater a weekend’s worth of meals for her 25 or so closest friends.

Road to the plantation

It was a monster of a plantation in Virginia horse country, with a twenty-something-bedroom main house and servants’ quarters and guest houses here and there that each far outstripped an average large home in size. She and her husband had separate horse stables, which were not to be confused with the racehorses’ stables. (I believe the place was on the national register of historic homes, but I can’t remember the estate’s name. Shame on me.) We—my “assistant,” usually a good friend, and I—would stay in a four-bedroom apartment above the estate’s original horse stables, which I believe had been turned into an antique car showroom of sorts. For whatever reason, the heat didn’t work in the apartment, so we spent our days in a sweltering kitchen, churning out meal after meal, and our nights freezing in hard twin beds. “A kitchen should be warm, don’t you think?” she’d crow before dinner as she closed the windows we’d opened. Then she’d disappear to claim her place at the head of a massive table fitted with a servant’s bell under her foot. (It was actually a nice way to know when they were finished eating.)

The thing I remember most strongly, though, are her refrigerators. In the kitchen—a space roughly the size of my home’s current upstairs, fitted with a ten-person mahogany table in the center that we had to meander around each time we had to use the sink, oven, refrigerator, or trash can, which is to say, often—there was a bank of clear-doored Sub-Zeroes whose shelves’ square footage approximated that of a small grocery store’s. When I FedExed the pumpkin ravioli from Citarella that the Princess had to have from New York, it didn’t fit into her refrigerator plan. There was the place for milk and the place for fruit and the place for the grandchildrens’ food and the place for premade snacks, but there was no place for meat, or anything remotely “unsightly.” The ravioli were orphaned.

Downstairs, in the so-called slave kitchen—the Princess always whispered the word “slave”—there was also a walk-in refrigerator, which is where the ravioli ended up, on top of the duck breasts. One time, when my friend Michaela and I had been in Virigina long enough to get good and tired, we snuck down to the walk-in. We rested on the concrete floor with our feet elevated and drank Cokes. We iced our foreheads with the ravioli and made fun of her porcelain chicken collection.

Each time her gaggle of guests prepared to leave, the Princess hosted a lunch in what she called The Palm Room, which was a grand lobby-esque space not unlike the dining room in The Plaza Hotel near Central Park. (There were weird monkey statues everywhere, for some reason.) We made platters and platters of tea sandwiches, and salads, and deviled eggs, and lavender shortbread.

Once, at the last minute, the Princess announced she wanted to add a lentil salad to the lunch menu. I’d grown accustomed to her weird whims—if you want to plop a Maryland crab cake into that potato soup, lady, you go for it—but we had no lentils, and it was nearing noon, and the plantation was thirty minutes from anything. I said no. She pouted the rest of the day.

Since then, when I make anything with lentils, I think of Priscilla Princess. I think of the way she could somehow say my name with a Southern accent, rising in pitch and volume every time. “JaaayyyyUUSSSS?” she’d start, sugary sweet. “Just a quick question. Would you mind making that osso buco on the old stove on Saturday, when we have dinner in the blue house? I know it doesn’t really work, but it’s so pretty, and I’d love for the guests to get a feeling for how it was to cook a century ago.” I think of how sorry I felt for her sometimes, when I realized that the stress of not having the pillowcases in all twenty-something rooms match the patterns popular in the 1700s (when the estate was built) was actually causing her physical discomfort. And I think of how sad it was, and probably still is, that she liked really boring food.

And so here I am now, flying into Reagan again, this time for a conference, where no one will tell me how to wash my hands or how many lemon thyme sprigs are required on each plate—with a lentil salad on my tray. It’s an asparagus and pea version from home, and it’s spilling herbal perfumes into the seat beside me in a way that makes me feel like I’m getting back at my neighbor for taking up more than his paid share of the plane. We are bumping over Chicago (something that always seems odd to me when the sky is clear, despite my vague awareness of airflow science). I’m thankful I’ve made the salad a second time, so I don’t find myself lunching on a bag of beef jerky and stale nuts. I’m thankful that I don’t have an orchidist, or work for a person who feels she needs one. And I’m thankful that life has taken me to a place where I make lentil salad when and where and how I want, with ingredients from a refrigerator that is always too full and an herb garden that, despite total neglect, actually grows something useful.

Springtime Lentil Salad (PDF)

In hindsight, this salad looks like the offspring that might result from a debaucherous night involving the lentil salad and the raw asparagus salad in A Boat, a Whale and a Walrus, but it wasn’t intended to mimic either. It’s a result of two things: first, the need for a lighter meal before a bike ride, and second, the green riches springing forth from my garden in the forms of parsley, chives, and mint. Serve it as is, with a few things alongside, or pile it onto steamed brown rice, like we did, for more of a complete meal.

I used the nettle pesto I make every spring, but basil pesto (even a good jarred version) will work nicely.

Serves 4 with rice, or 6 to 8 as a salad.

4 cups water
1 cup small black lentils or beluga lentils, rinsed and picked over
Kosher salt, to taste
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (raw, unpasteurized preferred)
8 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
1/2 pound skinny asparagus (about half a bunch), ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch sections
1 cup fresh shelled English peas
1/4 cup roughly chopped mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup pesto (made with any combination of herbs and nuts that appeals to you)
Crunchy sea salt

In a large saucepan, heat the water to a boil. Add the lentils and cook at a simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until tender.

While the lentils cook, in a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and 7 tablespoons olive oil to blend, adding salt as necessary. (Keep in mind that lentils like a lot of salt.) Set the dressing aside.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining tablespoon olive oil, swirl to coat the pan, then add the asparagus and peas. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are bright green and slightly charred in spots. Transfer the greens to a big platter to cool.

When the lentils are cooked, drain them in a fine-mesh strainer, then transfer them back to the warm pot. Add the dressing, stir gently to combine, then stir in the mint, parsley, and chives, reserving a few pinches of each for the top of the salad, if desired. Add the asparagus and peas to the lentil combination, stir a few times, then heap the salad back onto the big platter.

Serve the salad warm or at room temperature, drizzled with additional olive oil and garnished with extra herbs and crunchy sea salt.

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A Year Right Here

All those corks

In the fall of 2013, when we returned from a 3-week stay in Provence, my husband and I had a bit of a hangover. It was less from the 42 bottles of wine we’d consumed collectively with various visitors over long lunches and drawn-out dinners, and more from the extended thrill of exploring new things, from the heady combination of having the little Citroen that could and no schedule. We agreed we’d had the trip of a lifetime. And over the course of 2014, as we were reminded time and time again that the same magic mix of time and freedom and savings might not present itself again for years, we mourned. The downside of taking the trip of a lifetime is that once you’ve taken it, it’s over.

Then last fall, an east coast acquaintance visited Seattle. She’s someone I’ve met many times but haven’t spent much time with, and as she traipsed her way through The Emerald City—through my own neighborhood, at times—I watched it on social media with the same interest and bewilderment I felt as I watched another acquaintance journey through Morocco. It became clear that the Seattle visitor was treating her trip here the same way we’d viewed our time in France; she skipped from market to café to restaurant to farm, ending up, more often than not, back in her own rented dining room, with food from the region and a good bottle of wine. She made me realize that while Provence was lovely, we live in a pretty epic spot ourselves. (Isn’t that why we moved here?) That while I skipped with joy at the prospect of picking up fresh lamb from a local butcher across the Atlantic, I had grown blind to the possibility of buying crab off a dock so close to home. That while I swooned when our French hosts brought wine from a friend’s vines, I forgot I knew folks who make cider right here in Seattle.

And so it came about that rather than pining for a full year in Provence, that sabbatical from life so many of us began imagining with the publication of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, I began daydreaming about how I’d spend a year in the Pacific Northwest, writ large, if I could go anywhere within a day’s drive of Seattle. If I could learn about anything. If I could talk to anyone. And if about half the time, I could take my family with me.

This month, I started working on A Year Right Here: Essays on Food and Life in the Pacific Northwest, due out on bookshelves in (gulp!) the spring of 2017. And by “working on,” I really mean planning for, because at this point, my poor beleaguered calendar isn’t sure what hit it. I’ve signed up for a hunter’s safety course. I have a shellfishing license. I’ve sized my child for a wetsuit he may or may not permit me to put on, for a winter surfing trip also linked to a restaurant off the coast of Vancouver Island. I’ve planned a chicken coop for the backyard, which involved bribing ten friends into digging out iced-over waterlogged grass on a cold-for-Seattle January 1st, hauling flagstone til my fingers (literally) bled, and, tangentially, installing a fire pit where the grass had been. (You’re not the only one who has asked whether we plan on roasting old chickens in plain view of their former coopmates. We won’t.)

I don’t know how many wine corks I’ll collect over the course of the year, but I’ve started a bucket, right on top of the bookshelf. And on Saturday, we’ll make the long, winding, likely rainy drive up Vancouver Island from Victoria to Tofino, through the Douglas fir trees, to a crab shack whose supposed location I know only in relation to a Gas-n-Go, because it apparently has no address.

So it’s a new year, and for us, that means new adventures, right nearby. This year, Hogwash will be full of outtakes–everything from our upcoming surf lesson, slated to take place in 40-degree driving rain, to the meals I can’t write about in the book, to the sad stories, like the one I’ll inevitably face when I mark the anniversary of a barn-burning accident with two lovely cheesemakers near Yakima, WA.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just stay right here.*

If just talking about surfing in January makes you cold cold, head for the hot-and-sour soup recipe I made this week for some of the generous backyard diggers, as repayment for spending the first day of the year hoisting dirt up into rickety wheelbarrows and piling it into big mountains on our front lawn.

And just think: you won’t even have to pick up a shovel.

*Or follow me on Instagram (@jessthomson)

hot & sour soup

Fresh Fall Hot and Sour Soup (PDF)

This is not traditional Chinese hot-and-sour soup, but it was born close by. Down an easily forgotten staircase near City Fish—the Pike Place Market’s oldest fish shop—Pike Place Chinese Cuisine serves fantastic fare with an astounding view of the Sound. Start your market trip with a bowl of its pork-studded soup, then march upstairs to gather ingredients for this brightly hued vegetarian version, which has the same punch of white pepper and vinegar but uses fresh fall farmers’ market ingredients, such as mushrooms, kale, squash, and carrots.

Outside of chanterelle season, you can use all shiitake mushrooms.

Active time: 45 minutes
Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
8 ounces tofu (about ½ package)
3 leaves lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
½ delicata squash, seeded and shredded
¼ pound chanterelle mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
6 cups vegetable or mushroom broth
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 large egg, beaten

In a small bowl, blend the cornstarch, water, sugar, soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil together with a fork until combined, and set aside.

Cut the tofu into ¼-inch batons and set aside. Cut the tough ribs out of the kale and slice the leaves horizontally into ¼-inch strips. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large soup pot over high heat. When hot, add the canola oil and the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil, then the carrots and squash. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the kale and mushrooms. Sauté for 2 minutes, until the kale has wilted. Add the broth, then the tofu, and bring to a simmer. Stir the cornstarch mixture, add it to the soup, and bring the soup back to a simmer, stirring occasionally until it looks a bit thicker and almost glossy. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vinegar and pepper, and taste for seasoning—you’ll probably want a bit more vinegar and/or pepper. Stir the mixture around in a circle once or twice, creating a gentle whirlpool. Stop stirring and drizzle the egg into the swirling liquid—it will cook upon contact in long, thin strings. Serve immediately.

*(c)2012 By Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Pike Place Market Recipes by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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When we weren’t looking

Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip with Crudites

It’s been a whirlwind, this year. At the start, when we knew 2014 would bring surgeries and leg casting and umpteen hours of therapy for 5-year-old Graham (“FIVE AND A HALF,” he’d scream), I’ll admit I wasn’t excited. I just wanted it to be over.

But a few Friday nights ago, Graham walked right across the living room floor. In our house, with no physical therapist in sight. And then he walked around the first floor, in the little circle you can make when you leave the dining room to get something in the kitchen, but forget it’s really in the office, then somehow make it back to the dining room without losing your mind. And then he did it again, over and over, giggling uncontrollably. And then he fell with control, which was really the most significant thing. My husband and I danced around him the entire time, hands on sharp corners, ready for the inevitable crash. It never came. He just walked and walked, like it was a game, until he decided he was done. It was a game—a game he suddenly seemed to know he might someday win.

I wrote a friend with our holiday YouTube video recently, which chronicles how far Graham has come this year. She has a kiddo in a similar position with cerebral palsy, albeit much younger. “Tell me M will be able to pull to stand one day,” my friend pleaded. Her email exuded the same dangerous desperation I’ve felt so many times; waiting for the walking is wanting good strawberries in winter and healthy news from a doctor and the fat college envelope. But it’s all those feelings rolled into a bracing sweet-and-sour moment that pops up a thousand times a day, over and over, day after day. I said once that having a child with cerebral palsy isn’t disappointing, it’s disorienting, and that still holds true. But suddenly I’m much less dizzy. Suddenly, that persistent moment—the wanting moment—matters less and less.

It must have happened when we weren’t looking. Like fall does, when you’re busy looking at the things that happen in the fall, or, in my case, like a lupus flare does, when you’re busy doing the things you can do when you’re healthy.

Here’s a recipe that happens almost when you’re not looking, from Passionate Nutrition, which comes out next week. It’s not walking, but it’s still quite spiffy–a scoop of this and that, all whirled up into an easy dip that I package in small containers to tote around town for snacking when I’m on the go (think crackers, cucumbers, and carrots). It’s an intriguing thing to set out for guests, because few people associate kimchi with anything besides Korean food, and it’s also a great way to get a little dose of healthy bacteria into your body every day. And—the most shocking news of all—Graham likes it. On crackers, spread all the way to the corners, eaten off a cutting board that’s seen three generations of haphazard snacks.

Bring on the New Year, people. You never know what might happen. But at least you’ll know you’ll have a snack.

Crudites with Kimchi Cream Cheese Dip (PDF)

Not everyone likes kimchi straight, which is why when I help people start incorporating it into their diet, I often give it a little bit of a disguise. Blended into cream cheese, it makes a dip as addictive as the packaged soup mix dips of our youth. If you don’t have a food processor, just mash all the ingredients together with a fork. It won’t be as smooth, but it’s just as effective.

Since this travels well (and tastes great at room temperature), it’s a good go-to snack to leave in the fridge at work or bring on trips.

8 ounces cream cheese (cultured, if possible), at room temperature
1/2 cup unpasteurized kimchi (with juice)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Cut raw vegetables, such as cucumbers, carrots, celery, radishes, cauliflower, jicama, broccoli, or snap peas, for serving

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the cream cheese, kimchi, and salt until smooth. Serve with the vegetables or transfer to a sealable container and refrigerate for up to 2 months.

Change It Up:

Stir in 1 cup fresh crabmeat or drained, canned crabmeat. Transfer to a small baking dish, bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, and serve as an appetizer at room temperature, topped with additional kimchi. (You’ll lose the dip’s original beneficial bacteria, but it tastes great.)

Add 1/2 cup cream and use as a dip for artichokes or a sauce for grilled chicken or salmon.

*(c)2014 By Jennifer Adler with Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Passionate Nutrition: A Guide to Using Food as Medicine from a Nutritionist Who Healed Herself from the Insider Out by permission of Sasquatch Books.

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A new staple

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad

If I could rewrite Thanksgiving tradition to include something a little more convenient and versatile than stuffing—a more colorful, more nutritious mixture of ingredients that really did stay perky overnight—it might look something like this fallish grain salad. Spiked with lemon and rounded with olive oil, it’s a colorful hodgepodge that comes together in about 20 minutes and passes as almost anything in my kitchen: as lunch on its own, as a bed for grilled tuna or roasted chicken, or as a nest for a poached egg in the morning. It’s wonderful warm, but equally delicious at room temperature, when the more subtle flavors of the parsley and pecans shine a bit brighter.

Of course, if this were served in place of stuffing at Thanksgiving, there would be gravy, and while this salad is many things, I don’t imagine it making friends well with gravy. Which is why someday soon, I will make both.

Warm Quinoa and Radicchio Salad with Pecans, Parsley, and Goat Cheese (PDF)

Note: You can toast the pecans on a baking sheet at 350 degrees F until sizzling and a shade darker, about 10 minutes, but in a rush I toast them by simply cooking them in the microwave for a minute or two.

TIME: 20 minutes
MAKES: 4 to 6 servings

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
1 cup raw quinoa (any color)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Half of a medium (3/4-pound) head radicchio, chopped
Stripped zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup toasted pecans
1 loosely packed cup Italian parsley leaves, roughly chopped
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground pepper (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a boil over high heat. Add the quinoa and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir to blend, then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until the quinoa has absorbed all the liquid, 12 to 15 minutes, stirring just once or twice during cooking. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then the chopped radicchio. Season the radicchio with salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the radicchio softens, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and the juice of half the lemon and cook, stirring, for one minute more.

Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl or serving plate. Layer on the pecans, parsley, goat cheese, and cooked radicchio. Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, the juice of the remaining 1/2 lemon, and additional salt (and pepper, if desired) to taste, and toss all the ingredients together a few times. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The salad keeps well, covered in the refrigerator, up to 3 days.

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How it ends

IMG_1119

About a year ago, well before 7 a.m., I woke to the telltale click of the screen door being closed extremely carefully. We have a slammer of a screen that doesn’t fit its home squarely; the silent slam is a trick only the most well practiced guest can perform. I scrambled up the stairs, more curious than afraid. Half a pink salmon sat in a plastic shopping bag on the shoe bench just inside the door, right next to my XtraTufs. I picked it up, knowing one of our builders, Richie, had left it there for me. His wife had planned to fish that morning, and he knew I was jealous. “Hope you can use this,” said his note. I could still feel the warmth of his skin on the handles of the bag.

At the time, I was testing recipes for A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories. Renee Erickson and Jim Henkens and I been tinkering with the smoked salmon recipe, and as I tested and retested, I relied on the builders to be occasional judges—of that salmon, and of the French-style apple cake, and of the braised pork shoulder I served to six or seven of the guys in that last week of remodeling. That final meal was a sort of congratulatory lunch that doubled, for me, as a way of testing a huge handful of recipes in one day and serving the food to a crowd piping hot at midday so it didn’t sag on the counter until dinnertime.

I’m not sure they realized then how closely I watched their faces as they ate, and how much I appreciated that salmon, and another guy’s homemade bacon, and that they somehow kept the water on at all the right times as they intentionally shattered and rebuilt the basement and all of its associated plumbing.

banana bread sliced

My hope, at the beginning, was to leave the builder a book and some banana bread as thanks. When the bananas had wilted sufficiently on the counter, I tweaked the book’s zucchini bread recipe to incorporate them. The zucchini bread, as it stands, is perfect. (I can brag like that because it’s not my own recipe: It’s perfect, people.) I like it for its spice, and for its fine texture, and for the fact that it uses olive oil, so you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften. But if you’re going to make a perfect banana bread out of a recipe for perfect zucchini bread, a few things about it need to change—the substitution of bananas for zucchini, for example. I gave it a bit more backbone with bread flour, omitted the lemon zest, and tinkered with the top. Ultimately, though, it’s just the same bread, all dressed up for fall. (Honestly, with the exception of my cousin’s killer homemade sugar pumpkin pie, I’ll take a pumpkin-seeded banana bread over pumpkin pie any day.)

It baked up big and beautiful, just like it does at The Whale Wins, so that when you cut it into slabs, it eats more like cake than like a breakfast bread. I carefully sliced part of it for us to keep for snacking, and wrapped the rest in foil for the contractor.

signed book 2

When I signed the book for the contractor to pick up and share with Richie, I suddenly felt like the process of writing this particular book came full circle. Perhaps strangely, it’s often not the book’s release or its appearance on store shelves that makes me feel like a project has grown proper wings. For me, a book’s real launch happens when I thank the people who helped me get ‘er done. When I mail a huge stack of books media rate to the book’s recipe testers, and send copies to my siblings, and bring what I’m starting to call The Big Blue to the coffee shop that offered me a seat for at least three quarters of the project’s writing. The book’s circle will close next week in New York, when I’ll give my last book to a tester coming to the event there on Monday night, and I’ll hug her in person and say thanks for the invisible hours she put into it, too. Only then, to me, will the book be finished.

Yesterday morning, as I twisted the doorknob to put the book and the bread on the bench on the porch, my husband announced that our cantankerous gas stove had shot up a plume of blue large enough to trigger the gates on the emergency stove-buying portion of our bank account. We’ll be getting a new unit (suggestions welcome!), which means we’ll have to saw away the two-inch granite apron securing the existing stove in place, which means we’ll need to call our contractor. I put the banana bread on the dining room table.

“Maybe I’ll just leave him the book,” I told Jim. “Otherwise it would be bribery, right?”

No, it was most certainly not appropriate to leave the contractor a book and banana bread before calling him in again. And, well, clearly I’ll need strength for stove shopping.

IMG_1096

Pumpkin-Seeded Banana Bread (PDF)

In the world of zucchini breads, Renee Erickson’s rules all. This banana bread, made by adapting the zucchini bread from The Whale Wins that appears in A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, has the same sweet, spiced background that makes the zucchini bread so addictive—plus a crunchy layer of shelled pumpkin seeds that, for me, act as a harbinger of deep fall. Note that at The Whale Wins, the zucchini bread is pan-roasted in butter and served with crème fraîche and sea salt. That’s not going to hurt this banana bread, either.

Use a good extra-virgin olive oil for this recipe; you’ll taste it in the final product.

Active time: 30 minutes
Makes one 9- by 5-inch loaf

Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
2 cups (about 256 grams) bread flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 very ripe bananas
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt, and set aside.

In another bowl, mash the bananas with a large fork until only pea-sized pieces of fruit remain. Whisk in the eggs and the vanilla. Add the olive oil in three stages, whisking it in until completely incorporated each time.

Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until no white spots remain. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top evenly first with the demerara sugar, then with the pumpkin seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 70 to 80 minutes, or until a skewer inserted between seeds in the center of the loaf comes out clean. (It should rise right to the top of the pan.)

Cool the bread in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before cutting into fat slabs.

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Enough

It’s been a very delicious year in my house. I worked with Renee Erickson on A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus: Menus and Stories, due out in September, which has been, hands down, the most rewarding, most thrilling work experience I’ve had in my career. (I’ll take spot prawning and crabbing as a day’s work over fact-checking any day. Same for traveling to Normandy to learn about oysters. Ditto for working with and writing about a chef who is as devoted to beauty, writ large, as she is about where she sources her ingredients.) In cookbook terms, we worked hard and fast–at least, it seemed fast to me, until I started Passionate Nutrition, which was the writer’s equivalent of running a marathon with no training. The overall effect feels like swimming to the ocean’s surface after being released by a submarine far, far below.

Now, though. I’m back at the surface, after a year under water. Boat comes out in September, and Passionate Nutrition comes out in December. I’m intensely proud of and excited for both books, and feel so lucky to have been chosen as the writer for each. And now, theoretically, I have time to pick my head up and look around for what’s next. (I’ve had time to read, which in and of itself is cause for celebration.) Only, reading The Map of Enough made me wonder what I’m really trying to see.

The Map of Enough, by Molly May, a woman three or four silky threads over on the web of life that seems to connect us all, is a lovely memoir about the significance of place and self-exploration. The book sees life through the eyes of a woman who spent her childhood and young adulthood identifying as a happy nomad—a person whose soul craved travel and adventure—who decides to build a yurt by hand with her now husband. After growing up in a constantly mobile family, she’d always needed to move. In fact, for the first part of the book, I didn’t think I’d be able to identify with her at all. I was born all settled down. I can’t take a two-hour car trip without unpacking myself properly into the front half of the car. To me, the concept of building a house you could just pick up and move anywhere seemed antithetical to the concept of having one in the first place. If you build a home, it means you want to stay right where it is, right? Building a yurt is pretty close to the bottom of my lifelong to-do list, right down there with visiting the Arctic (where my husband is now) and riding a bicycle across the country (which is where you’ll find my sister soon). I’m the girl who always had all her school supplies lined up and labeled a week before school started. If I’m going somewhere, I want to know when, why, where, and for how long. I make reservations. People who build yurts by hand aren’t reservations people.

Reading is funny, though. The more I read about Molly’s need (or lack thereof) to pick that yurt up and move it someplace new, the more I associated her Montana life with my own work habits. Every time she flashed back to childhood memories, living in Spain or in Mexico, I saw myself–but my in my working life, instead of my personal life. I saw myself jumping from project to project the way she’d jumped from country to country, sometimes, like Molly, self-defining more by the jumping (Higher! Faster! Over a new stream!) than by the projects themselves. It threw me into a tizzy over the definition of one word: enough.

I don’t want to go anywhere, like Molly did. (We also remodeled our basement in the last year, so we’re not moving anywhere.) But I have been wondering, the way she did, how to know when I’ve had enough of something. And what’s the difference between getting enough, in the sense of being full, like when you eat, and having enough, as in being sick of something? It’s a fine line.

For me, clearly, enough relates to cooking and writing and writing about cooking. Of course it does. We all want to do well in our work, and as a freelancer, there’s no annual review. There’s the wave of self-satisfaction and pride that washes over when the mailman brings a big blue cookbook to your doorstep, but there’s no promotion. There’s no real benchmark. There’s no paperwork that says, Well, Jess, that’s enough for this year, well done. I guess I’d like an owl to fly through the window with a letter that reads: There, now you’ve got three more until Success. Walk down Greenwood Avenue. Take your third left, then the first right. Your next idea will be hiding in a small box in front of the red house. Books bring me pleasure, but these two offer no more of a path forward–and no more real sign of enough–than the first did. Is it enough to write someone else’s story, rather than my own? Is it enough to work during the school year, but not much over the summer this year? Is it enough that I’m writing recipes for this blog every week or so, but that they never seem to make it onto the screen? Is it enough to make money writing for a corporate magazine no one reads?

Enough seeps across the cracks to the rest of life, too. I’ve declared this The Summer of Graham, because before our kiddo starts kindergarten, we’re doing an intense amount of various therapies with him. There were three weeks in leg casts designed to increase his ankle flexibility, then a week in California for an alternative therapy, and now, where I sit writing and pretending not to watch at all, he’s working with his favorite physical therapist, learning how to use the crutches he’ll have inside his kindergarten classroom. Is it enough? Right now it’s three hours of therapy every weekday. Is it too much? Where’s the line? The kid clearly has the capacity to learn, physically, and in that sense the therapy is “working.” He can make sideways steps now while hanging onto something, which means he’ll be more successful going to the bathroom by himself. (Huzzah!) But he also needs to be a kid. It’s summer. He needs to run through the sprinkler and eat sand and fall down the stairs. (Check. Check. Check.) He needs to play Candy Land until he drives his parents crazy. (Check.) But are we summering enough?

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You have issues with enough, too, I’m sure. They’re different issues. But they’re there.

There’s a habit Molly has, explained in the book, of getting in the car and just driving when she’s feeling the need to move. Ultimately, to me, the habit was helpful; it signified that while we’re always looking to define enough, the definition changes when we step away. Last spring, I thought for a bit that I’d had enough of food writing. (Well, that, or I thought I’d never find a project as great as A Boat, a Whale, and a Walrus again, and I got depressed.) In the cracks, I wrote a story about skiing, and a story about noise, and a story about cycling, and now, food seems pretty lovable again. I got in the car and drove away–metaphorically, anyway. I came back, and now food seems like enough.

Now, I think, I need to explore–not just how to define enough, and how have enough, but how to not have enough, too. The other day, sitting on the couch while a random batch of fig jam bubbled away on the stove and Graham played happily, I got a little bored. I had a moment of (dare I say it?) summer. It felt so, so good. And in that small moment–hanging out with my kid, with the windows open, and only vague plans on the horizon but all Graham’s school years in front of me to work on whatever comes next–I felt like I’d found the recipe for enough.

Now, if I could just get that small moment of enough to last longer.

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The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, v. 5.0

Uncle Josh uncling

The family I was raised in is not, by any stretch of the imagination, one based on coddles and cheerleading. We give gruff pats and solemn nods instead of hugs and high fives. We send each other photos of our gruesome cycling injuries. We make fun of each other and throw each other in the snow. But every year, no matter how close together or far away we find ourselves, we are silently united by Passover–or, more specifically, by the knowledge that we are all reading from the same proverbial book, laughing at the same jokes, stumbling over the same Hebrew words.

Each year, for now five years running, my brother Josh puts together a politically-inflected Haggadah that both shortens the Seder–because who are we kidding?–and makes it interesting and relevant. This year’s version tackles Obamacare and gay marriage (but, I noticed, avoids addressing the Super Bowl, which was hard for the family’s Bronco fans).

Enjoy, however you see fit. This year, my parents will be in Idaho, and my sister will be in Montana, and my brother will be in Oregon. We will introduce an uninitiated family to Passover here in Seattle, as we often do, and they won’t know how much we bastardize the blessings and possibly won’t care. We’ll drink plenty of wine (no way will it be Kosher), and enjoy a menu I’ve yet to plan, and children will run screaming, and we’ll remember, as we do every year, to simply be thankful for what we have–namely, for our families, and for those that step in as family when family can’t be around.

Click on the link below for the full Haggadah, 2014-style.

The Uncle Josh Haggadah Project, 2014 (PDF)

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