A Homemade Life

On the heels of Wednesday's post about Delancey, I thought today would be a good time to talk about Molly's book, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table.

When my copy of this book arrived in the mail, I plowed through it in just a couple of days. Though it is one part cookbook, each essay is accompanied by a recipe or two, at first I was most absorbed by the stories and hardly noticed the recipe details. Having read many Orangette posts, I had gathered the basic framework of Molly's background. But, as often happens in conversation, (and what is a blog if not an extended conversation, albeit often one-way?) the Orangette version of the story jumps around depending on the events of any given day. So I loved the book for allowing me to sit down and read the stories start to finish... Or from start to time of publication, I should say.

Now I pick up the book frequently to reference a recipe and, like any that I've used from Orangette or the Cooking Life column in Bon App├ętit, they are simple, seasonal and comforting. But whether I'm checking the ingredients for Sliced Spring Salad with Avocado and Feta or looking for instructions on making Chana Masala, I always find myself re-reading the accompanying story... They're a bit addictive that way.

I won't say too much else about the essays themselves because, to be honest, the descriptions that come to mind are a bit too sentimental for print. I will say that there is something magnetic about Molly's writing, and that I would absolutely recommend this book. For those of you headed to the beach soon*, you could read it there. Or in your kitchen while waiting for your potatoes to roast, or on your couch when it's cold outside, or wherever. What matters is that you read it. That, and turning to pg. 312 to bake The Winning Hearts and Minds Cake as quickly as you can.

Seattle on my mind.

It's a fairly quiet day in my neighborhood, but when I woke up this morning I couldn't help thinking about what I imagine is a considerably less quiet day in a neighborhood across the continent. Today at 5pm West Coast time, a favorite food writer of mine, Molly Wizenberg, and her husband, Brandon Pettit, are officially opening the doors to their restaurant, Delancey.

The restaurant will be a pizza place, an apparent nod to Brandon's deep love for New York style pies. But according to Molly's blog, Orangette, the menu will be a mix of both his and her cooking styles. I'm guessing this will mean plenty of Molly's fresh salads and beautifully rustic desserts to complement Brandon's pizzas and pickles.

Now I don't want to be biased, but Molly, with Brandon at her side, has been guiding and inspiring my cooking since the moment I discovered her blog over two years ago. The woman has yet to lead me astray on a single recipe. So it's hard to imagine the restaurant NOT being fantastic... And the kind of comfortable place where you want to spend time with friends. All of that said, I wish there was some way to be in Ballard around 5pm this evening. For any of you in the Seattle area, I'm sure you have already made plans for pizza at Delancey at the first opportunity.

But though I can't eat there tonight, I can bring a couple of Delancey recipes to my own table. Since stumbling across this post a couple of summer's ago, I have made very few special meals that didn't include one of Molly's recipes. Tonight is no exception. We're celebrating a family birthday, and on the menu will be her caramelized cauliflower with salsa verde (though I'm going to try it with this version, as opposed to the one in her book) and, in an effort to use up the bounty of slicing and cherry tomatoes that we got in our CSA share this week, a tomato corn salad with shallot dressing that was on an earlier soft opening menu at Delancey.

Molly's writing has played a huge role in building my confidence in the kitchen, and I owe both her and Brandon a huge thank you for opening up so many new culinary doors for me. Wishing them the best as they open their own new doors tonight...

Aww, honey... You baked.

I consider myself insanely lucky for my family and friends. Really. You all should meet them sometime. They're good people. Among them, mi amiga Grace.

Grace, or GEG as I call her, is many things. An amazing friend for one. I feel like I've known her forever, when in reality it has been less than a decade since we lived down the hall from each other in the Syracuse dorms. She's laid back and smart as a whip with a fantastically dry sense of humor. And she's always up for anything. Grace would be just as likely to accept your invitation for a casual walk around the neighborhood as she would go sky-diving with you... In Brazil... Tomorrow.

{ Classic GEG & Cat, captured by another wonderful friend and foodie, Miz Kate Duke }

Grace also happens to be a fantastic home cook and baker; the kind that can take the solitary apple, wilted lettuce and half-dozen eggs from your barren college fridge and turn them into something that tastes good. A painting major in school, I always felt like Grace's skill in the kitchen came from her creative side. The dishes she came up with in our skimpy Syracuse kitchenettes blew me away. While I was struggling with scrambled eggs, Grace would be whipping up Inari with edamame salad or a mean lentil soup. It may not sound like much, but we were 19 and most of our peers, myself often included, were subsisting off campus Burger King and Sbarro. At the time preparing edamame was as foreign to me as serving Lobster Thermidor would have been.

So it was with Grace that I began my own explorations into the world of food and cooking. While the campus around us was buried in snow, we occupied ourselves with soups, frittatas, breads, bruschettas and brownies smothered in unmentionable layers of peanut butter and toasted coconut. She affectionately nicknamed my cooking creations (the results of a Barefoot Contessa recipe for turkey loaf became Loafy) and quietly exchanged my chosen recipe ingredients when I made an error in judgement. Whole evenings were spent at Wegmans, sampling the olive bar and "browsing" the candy bins (I know they appreciated our patronage). When graduation arrived, I was distraught at being without my personal in-home chef. But, as it turns out, Grace didn't let me down.

{ Me and Grace, enjoying a little cake at graduation. Pretty typical. }

These days, though we're separated by an entire continent, Grace sends a beautiful package of her baked goods every year for my birthday. It's hard to explain how excited I get when I see her familiar handwriting on a package marked for me. Justin, who also became an addict of Grace's baking during our time at Syracuse, looks forward to the package as much as I do. Each year, the contents vary, and so I get to spend time guessing what she sent and then, inevitably, swooning over the treats. Over the years there have been hazelnut pralines, white chocolate pistachio cranberry cookies, mascarpone brownies and cashew butterscotch bars to name a few. But a consistent favorite in the King household are the WhiteChocolateGingerCoconut Bars (you have to say it fast, so not to waste time talking when you could be chewing on one). Lucky for all of us, Grace has agreed to share the recipe here... Hopefully it will be the first of many.

Thanks a mil GEG, you really know how to treat a lady.

{ WCCG Bars with a delightful cashew concoction and the beautiful birthday card by tall cow hand printed greetings. The card makes me think of this song, which I love }

Grace's Whitechocolategingercoconut Bars

1 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. brown sugar (i also like to use cane sugar, palm cane sugar, or raw brown sugar)
1 t. vanilla
1 egg
1 c. flaked coconut
3/4 c. candied ginger, minced
1 bag of high quality white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350. Prepare 8x8" pan by lining with parchment paper or foil. Easy cleanup is key.

Combine first 4 ingredients in separate bowl.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Once melted, take off heat and add half of white chocolate chips to saucepan, not stirring, until mostly melted (about 1 minute). Add in sugar and vanilla. Stir until sugar is mostly dissolved and mix is cooled. Beat in egg. Stir in flour mix until just combined. Then add in coconut, candied ginger, and remaining half bag of white chocolate chips to dough. *Please be wary, dough is heavenly and highly addictive.

Pour dough into pan. Dough will be super thick, so you will probably have to pat and smooth to get flat and even. Bake 25-30 min. DO NOT OVER BAKE. I generally take them out at 24-25 minutes unless they are totally mushy in the middle. Then cool and try to maintain control. Cut into 1" blocks and enjoy!

Weekend update.

The past few days have been filled with great reading material, and I would like to start the week off at Fresh by sharing a few interesting links.

• Russ Parson's column for the LA Times on the often blurry meaning of the word organics. This latest was actually a follow-up from an earlier piece which he had begun with the statement, "I don't believe in organic."

• Newsweek's recent article on urban farming. Philadelphia's own Greensgrow Farm made a well-deserved appearance.

Fast Company's June 2009 issue profiled the top 100 creative people in business. Milwaukee urban farmer and former basketball player Will Allen made the cut.

Michael Pollan's article in the New York Times Magazine about our increasing affection for watching people cook on television, while we're cooking less ourselves at home. Personally, I find this article more interesting than I do depressing. It's not that I doubt Pollan's research, his findings are hard to argue... We're definitely eating more processed food in lieu of the real thing. But at the same time that marketing numbers show that the number of people cooking at home is down, I watch the customers at busy farmer's markets stocking up on fresh veggies, cheeses, fruit and meats. I can only assume that they're taking these items home to, if not cook, than at least carefully prepare. And on my favorite food blogs, hundreds of comments discuss the results of the latest recipe. So while we may currently represent a minority, home cooks are holding strong. And I truly believe that, while we probably aren't headed for a return of catching and plucking our own chickens (thankfully), home cooking will make a comeback.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts about this last one. Do you all like cooking at home, or it is just one other thing to fit in? What do you all think, is home cooking really on its way out?