All winter I have been dreaming of winter. I know: most of you are ready for it to be done. You’ve had snowmageddons and polar vortices and ice storms and all kinds of ridiculous, frigid, challenging weather. In California, there’s been hardly any winter to speak of, owing to a different kind of ridiculous: our crazy, record-breaking drought. It’s been weird: record strings of dry, warm days that make typically cool and foggy San Francisco feel almost like the perennially warm Los Angeles. Many fruit trees need a dormant period of cold to bear fruit the next summer. Perhaps I am the same. A sense of the seasons makes the passing of time feel right.
That’s part of why I went to Montana: I ached to feel a deep sense of winter in my bones. And I got it in spades. It snowed every day. It was cold, and windy, and snowy, and invigorating. I snowshoed, cross-country skied, explored the snow-packed roads with big winter boots on, took my camera everywhere, witnessed a lot of magnificent wildlife, experimented with gluten-free sourdough (more on that soon!!!), and was really, really happy to have brought this soup along with me, where its flavor increased exponentially with the plummeting temperature. The cold and the challenges of winter bring the little luxuries of our lives into such sharp focus. I like to be reminded of these things.
There’s something lovely in having a period of time dedicated to rest, even if our culture hardly allows for it. I think that’s where winter becomes frustrating: when we have to function at the same level against circumstances that ask us to stay put and to pause. Soups are, I think, a celebration of slowing down, resting, and hibernation. A few weeks back I had a version of this at one of my favorite restaurants, Nopalito, and I was smitten. What I’m most blown away by is the simplicity and richness of the broth: it’s just vegetable or chicken stock in which dried chipotle chiles are soaked, and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes is added for good measure. Caldo Tlalpeño typically has carrots, chickpeas, and green beans, along with chicken and avocado to finish. Nopalito smartly added winter crucifers: cauliflower and brussels sprouts. I followed their lead with an abundance of leafy winter vegetables: magenta-hued orach (a wild spinach cousin), baby rainbow chard leaves, and baby rainbow carrots. Way to bring the color in winter.
Yield: about 6 servings
This soup is a little bit of a mash-up between caldo tlalpeno and sopa de tortilla. (Caldo Tlalpeno doesn’t traditionally have tortilla strips.) It does typically have chicken, but I made this version vegetarian. The framework is so forgiving. This is definitely a kitchen sink kinda soup: throw in the last of whatever’s in the crisper drawer. It’ll likely all taste good in there.
2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, rinsed and thinly sliced crosswise (or use diced onions)
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
6 cups vegetable or chicken broth
4-6 whole dried chipotle chiles
1 (15 ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried epazote
2 large carrots (or 1 small bunch of petite rainbow carrots), rinsed and sliced 1/2-inch thick on the diagonal
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon sea salt
4-6 cups winter leafy greens, such as: orach, baby chard, baby kale, spinach, collards, etc
6 corn tortillas, cut into thin strips, optional
1 or 2 limes, sliced into wedges
Cotija or Feta cheese
In a large stock pot, melt a little butter or olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for another minute or so. Add the vegetable broth, chipotle chiles, tomatoes, and epazote. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add the carrots and chickpeas, and cook at a simmer until the carrots are cooked through. Add the leafy greens in the last couple minutes of cooking and turn off heat when the greens are soft. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the tortilla strips in a toaster oven at 300 degrees, or in a large pan over medium heat with a little oil, until crisp.
To serve, ladle soup into bowls, garnish with the cheese, cilantro, and tortilla strips. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
I’m making my way to Montana, my power state, my spirit animal, my place. I have always wanted to go there in the winter, to experience it outside of its easy summer glory. This year Montana is my valentine. I will bundle up, go snowshoeing, and bear witness to its winter splendor.
I made some muffins for the road. I wanted something with fresh fruit involved so it didn’t feel too cake-y, something befitting winter, something with a note of chocolate, and a nod towards the wholesome. I love what the right balance of buckwheat does in a baked good. Here it feels like winter incarnate: they’re dark, and just sweet enough, with a hint of bitterness and crunch from the cacao nibs, and they’re earthy and rich and fragrant with spices. Share them with everyone you love.
PEAR + CACAO NIB BUCKWHEAT MUFFINS
Yield: 12 muffins
3/4 cup buckwheat flour
3/4 cup almond meal
1/2 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup demerara cane sugar, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup sliced almonds, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup cacao nibs, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup almond, soy, or regular milk
1 1/2 ripe red pears, cut into small dice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, eggs, yogurt, and almond milk. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry. Fold in the diced pear.
Evenly divide the batter among 12 paper-lined muffin tins. Top each muffin with a sprinkle of demerara sugar, sliced almonds, and cacao nibs. Bake at 350 degrees until the center is firm, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. The muffins will hold for a number of days, but the almonds and cacao nibs will lose their crunch over time.
There’s a hike that I try to get to once a week. Nestled in the dramatic, golden Marin headlands, it starts above the Pacific coast just south of Stinson Beach, and makes its way determinedly up the mountain into Mt. Tamalpais State Park. Most of the time, it is the same tangle of trails that I fall into, instinctively. For a while I felt like I ought to explore new trails, step outside my familiar routine, understand the nuances of the park a little more deeply. Then I started to really appreciate going to the same place weekly. There are so many little details that are different, especially if I miss a week or two: the angle of the sun through the dark canopy of trees that I pass under as I make my way into the woods; which flowers are blooming, or not; the colors and textures of the forest floor; the hues of the grassy hills; which animals I might see or hear. (At dusk, I hear owls, other times, frogs, and often, seasonal cycles of birdsong; I’ve seen a young deer leaping out of the canopy; and once, a small, surprised bobcat.) And something else happens: because I don’t have to worry about where I’m going, I just get to be there. The mind relaxes differently when it’s not thinking about the how. Some weeks I go up there with so much angst from my life that I am not very much there at all. Others, I’m so deeply immersed in the shady cocoon of woods that I am caught off guard as dusk falls. Always, I leave feeling so much more like the me that I want to be.
Lately I’ve been fiercely grabbing on to these rituals, those familiar, everyday acts that fill the pockets of our days. Walking through my neighborhood in the evenings, often along the same few roads, or making that same, satisfying preparation of my favorite vegetables, week after week. I think some of it is because so much of my life – especially my work life – is about the new and the unfamiliar, so much of it is me in at the deep end, that I need the anchoring that comes with familiar habits.
Oatmeal falls very much into this camp for me: it’s comfortingly familiar and it is very much a ritual of the morning. It’s one of perhaps three breakfasts in rotation most mornings of the year. To all the naysayers out there, give this a try. It’s got the texture and the sweet/salty balance that is sometimes lacking in this most everyday of breakfasts, and the nuttiness and toothsome qualities of steel-cut oats really redeems it. I like to mix it up a little, depending on what fruit’s in season, and vacillating between the ease of quick-cooking oats and the deeper satisfaction of steel-cut. I love what Megan has done with the initial toasting of the oats in butter; it’s kinda genius and the simplest little step for the depth of flavor that it adds. Make a big batch at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge. And add nuts, fruit, cinnamon and cardamom generously, and maple syrup and even some toasted coconut flakes. These details make it feel both like you’re taking care of yourself and treating yourself. It’s a perfect ritual.
STEEL CUT OATMEAL WITH APPLES, PECANS + TOASTED COCONUT
Yield: 4 servings
adapted from Whole Grain Mornings, by Megan Gordon
I’ve been so excited for this gem of a book to be released. Now that it’s here, I’m smitten. Breakfast is such a rich subject, and Megan’s aced it. Steel-cut oats, I learned long ago, benefit from a little salt to bolster the sweet – don’t be shy here. Do whatever you like with them to finish, but give this method a whirl to start. The toasting of the oats is an awesome first step.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup steel cut oats
3 cups water
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (use whichever kind of milk you prefer, of course)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
For each bowl:
1/2 firm apple, diced
In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat, warm the butter until it is frothy. Add the oats and toast, stirring often, until they’re golden and fragrant, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the water and almond milk, along with a generous pinch of sea salt and as much cinnamon and cardamom as suits your fancy, and bring to a boil, partially covered. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, stirring often enough to prevent burning, until the liquid is absorbed, about 25 to 30 minutes more.
To serve, top with the diced apple, a generous sprinkle of coconut flakes, and a small handful of pecan pieces. Finish with maple syrup – this is truly among the greatest of vehicles for this fine sweetener. Or start with the method above and finish with your favorite fruits and nuts. Regardless, enjoy.
Happy New Year, all! I was stoked to be on board again this year to shoot Bon Appetit’s Food Lover’s Cleanse. As always, it’s an inspired collection of recipes and it’s approach to cleansing is very un-cleansy. It’s really about celebrating whole foods and taking a break from processed foods, most dairy, and most sugar. A great way to head into the new year.
Follow along with author and recipe developer Sara Dickerman’s daily cleanse diary here!
A few of my faves:
Omelet with Red Pepper-Walnut Spread. This spread is so crazy good, on almost any protein:
The Greenest Tahini, perhaps my new favorite dressing:
The lunches are all composed of leftovers from the night before’s dinner. Great inspiration for incorporating vegetables and protein into big, hearty salads. Carrots, Watercress, and Chickpeas with The Greenest Tahini Sauce:
And this ridiculously good chocolate bark! Seriously amazing stuff, and so easy to make. Coconut, Pistachio, and Cacao Chocolate Bark:
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Maybe the holiday magic is in the mess. I read this late on December 24th, and wished that I had read it earlier. Wished that I had been carrying it around with me throughout the month, reminding myself of this every damn time things got messy. Because it was a messy month.
Christmas brings out an exuberance in me unique to this time of year. I love everything about the season: the deep universality of celebrating light in darkness; the jolly, rotund figure of Santa and all that that merriment embodies. I love the pagan roots connected to the winter solstice, and the Norse influence of stern, fatherly figures and fir trees. I love how wild and ancient it feels to bring a living tree into the home, and dress it up, and make it bright. I love the lights and the glitter and the sparkle and the glass ornaments and the profusion of sweets and cookies. I love the connotations of the season, the pageantry, the use of story to convey the big stuff. I love the sappy sentimentality of Christmas carols, and I love to imagine Santa’s journey across the globe, impossible as it is. And because I love all of that so much, I wanted this year to be motherfucking perfect. I wanted to have the time and the space to do it on my terms.
What comes next is likely obvious. My plan to have the schedule cleared after the 13th, to dedicate myself to holiday spiriting, cookie baking, card writing, and general magic: totally didn’t happen like that. I got lost in a stressful tangle of interpersonal challenges, unexpected piles of work, getting sick, feeling raw and tired and kinda ragged. I got all sad and sorry for myself. I declared, privately, that I had lost the holiday spirit this year.
And then, on Christmas day, cooking with my stepmother, quietly in sync in the kitchen, feeling relief that the storm had passed, I finally grabbed onto that holiday spirit a little bit. My family is so kind. They took such good care of me. And perhaps that’s what I needed: some nourishment, some care. We had a mellow, lovely, unmessy feast at the table. And we finished our Christmas dinner with this cake. Their enthusiasm for it made me blush.
This cake is very much of the season but wouldn’t be out of place as part of a quiet January brunch. It’s rich with the hallmarks of December: heavy on the spices (inspired, in fact, by gingerbread cookie spices), tangy with tart bursts of fresh cranberries (go buy them now while they’re on sale and before they’re gone!), laced with citrus notes from fresh orange zest and juice, warm with toasted almonds, and a little fancy with that powdered sugar finish. But make no mistake: this is an easy cake, and a little messy, just like the holidays, and perhaps because it’s flourless. It tastes equally good with a cup of coffee or a glass of champagne, which is to say, eat it as enthusiastically at breakfast as you would at dessert. I had intended to get this cake to you before December 25th, but, you know, things got messy. Blessedly so.
A SPICED WINTER CAKE WITH CRANBERRIES
Yield: 8 slices
2 cups almond meal or almond flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, room temperature, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
Zest of two oranges
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder and soda, and sea salt.
In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together the beaten eggs with the melted butter, and orange zest and juice. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry, mixing just until everything is thoroughly incorporated. Fold in the fresh cranberries.
Thoroughly grease and then flour a round 9-inch baking pan. Pour the batter into the pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (Save for a little cranberry juice.) The cake will become very fragrant when it’s nearly done. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes, then sprinkle with powdered sugar. Slice into 8 portions. The cake is a little crumbly when you slice it; roll with it. :)