I might as well rename this blog to "Melissa Clark recipes I've made." Honestly, just when I think I'm ready to venture into new cookbook territory, I always fall back into her Cook This Now book. But I do really like her approach to recipes - they're not fussy, the end product is almost always delicious (my one stinker is her recipe for paratha bread, but I think that was because my whole wheat flour had gone rancid), and they don't take forever to make (except for mallobars...worth the effort). I also like that at the end of each recipe, she lists ideas for how to alter the recipe and/or use what you have on hand. And they all have that air of elevating an ingredient that keeps me excited about eating and cooking.

I made this cake this past Sunday. I have found that one of the best ways to beat the Sunday blues is to make sure there's cake at the end of it. Yes, you have to go back to work tomorrow, but first: cake. You see? You must eat your cake before you return to reality.

For this cake, I used the last four black plums available at my neighborhood grocery store. I probably could have used one more, but it still turned out great. The cornmeal shone through, even as the brilliance of the plums took center stage. It was really a treat to turn this rightside-up to reveal the congealed masterpiece underneath.

Upside-down Polenta Plum Cake
adapted from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

My notes: I used plain low-fat yogurt and cultured unsalted butter and loved the result. I also would recommend taking the yogurt/sour cream out of the fridge along with the eggs a half hour beforehand, along with the butter, to take the chill off so as not to re-harden the butter when you're beating it together. If you don't, however, it will still turn out OK. Just a suggestion.

4-5 large plums, red or black, pitted and sliced into 1/2-inch slices
1 1/2 c. sugar
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 c. fine cornmeal (not coarse polenta, strangely)
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 c. unsalted butter, room temp.
4 large eggs, room temp (ideally)
1/3 c. plain yogurt (low fat or whole milk, greek or regular, or sour cream), not super cold
2 tsps. vanilla extract
Whipped cream or ice cream, for topping

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9-inch springform with parchment paper and butter the entire interior well.
2. In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the plums, 1/2 c. sugar and 1/4 tsp. salt, stirring occasionally, 15-20 min., until the plums are tender and the liquid begins to reduce and the whole thing looks like something syrupy you'd drizzle over pancakes. Spread the hot fruit (carefully) into the prepared pan.
3. In a small-ish bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt.
4. In your mixing bowl, cream the butter and remaining 1 c. sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat completely before each addition. Beat in the yogurt and vanilla.
5. Fold in the dry ingredients by hand with a spatula and pour over the prepared fruit. Bake until the cake is golden and springs back when you gently press with your finger, about 45 minutes.
6. Cool the cake for 10 minutes before releasing the springform and inverting it to a serving plate. Serve warm, at room temp, or cold with desired creamy accompaniments. Good plain, too. Store in the fridge for a few days if necessary.


Catching up

I've written, like, five posts about why I haven't been blogging lately and they're all crap, and I'm realizing that blogging about not blogging is the number-one reason I haven't been blogging. Because it's really boring.

The short version of those scrapped posts: insomnia is the pits. I've spent over a month now with an epic case of insomnia that is just now starting to become manageable, thanks to a book with a super-cheesy title and a supportive partner. I have almost gotten to the point now where I'm actually thankful to have to face this - particularly the root of it - because it's teaching me a lot about stress and anxiety and life beyond insomnia. I'm meditating and changing my internal dialogue and all sorts of other calming things with the power of my mind. Better yet, all this introspection and mindfulness seems to be building a tremendous urge to be creative and active and social and to open myself to new things, if only to refocus my energy and attention on that which is life-giving, and to prevent myself from Googling insomnia forums.

Since my last blog entry, a lot of life-giving summer has happened. We enjoyed a weekend of baseball and family time in Seattle. While there I got to visit both Essex (for cocktails) and Delancey (for pizza), which had long been on my list due to my appreciation of all things Molly Wizenberg. I picked a bunch of cherries, completed my first (and only, so far) canning project, and made bread with my own sourdough starter. I visited my family in Boise. I went to a David Bazan show, and an art opening for my friend and former professor. I finished knitting a pair of socks. I read "The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler while finding the title hilariously ironic since I read most of it during sleepless nights. We over-nighted at the lake; we picnicked by the river. We rode our bikes to Sunday brunch and around downtown. We celebrated many family birthdays. I embroidered a shirt for my dad. I planted dahlias, which are now blooming, and tomatoes, which I'm now harvesting. We started watching Stranger Things. We revisited our favorite spots at Bowl & Pitcher. We went to friend's wedding, and to a beer festival. I invented new recipes with my CSA haul. We've taken many walks at sunset, and have driven along the Palouse. We are watching the summer Olympics.
David Bazan

Home from our morning walk - magical June when both peonies and roses are blooming

I love the smell of my hands after touching a tomato plant

A bottle of wine and a piece of river to ourselves

Sourdough starter

Pizza at Delancy

Father's Day present

Making cookies with my niece

Cocktails at the lake

Luna loving life


Boutique pensione bathroom in Seattle
 A few things yet to happen: a roadtrip with the dog (Boise again), a river float/paddle, swimming (!!), and a Spokane Indians baseball game.

Aside from that, there's that festering need to be creative I mentioned above. The other day I challenged myself to commit to a Creative Hour each day. It could be 20 minutes, too, but an hour is a good goal for me. This helps me think about my creativity each day and gives me freedom in how I want to explore it, depending on my mood. This could be anything from trying a new recipe to picking something from a Pinterest board to continuing on the sweater I've been working on. To be honest, I probably already spend an hour on a lot of these things without really thinking of it, but having that "creative hour" lens really makes me feel that much more intentional and willing to branch out.

So that's that. I hope to check in here a bit more, use a camera that is not always my phone, and show proof of my work. That's what I always intend to do, but in summertime, it's sometimes nice to let these things just sit in reflection mode a bit longer. Speaking of reflection, Joel said something perhaps unintentionally profound to me the other day when we came home after a bike ride. He said, "You can ride up any hill as long as you're in the right gear." I thought about this later and how much that spoke to what I'm going through right now. I've had to do a lot of adjusting lately to account for variations in sleep and energy, but I feel like I'm finding a mode and frame of mind that is helping me get through this chapter, however long it lasts. Our ability to adapt is a gift.


Good habit: Head to the bar

Nearly every Tuesday and Thursday after work, I head home real quick, say hello to the gang, change my clothes and head to the bar. I usually find myself there first thing on Saturday morning, too. Now that I've possibly made your eyebrows rise in judgement/horror, the bar I'm referring to is not my local watering hole. This is the kind that's bolted to a wall, one that aids in balance and stretching and is at the center of a complete workout at Bar Method. Har har.

Last spring, finding myself lacking the personal motivation and time to exercise outside of my daily walking routine, I thought maybe what I needed was a Pilates class...or something. I loved taking classes at the Y when it worked for my schedule - there's something about the camaraderie, accountability, shared misery, encouragement and the variety that helps me actually want to go. So last April, after noticing a few different studios pop up around town, I signed up for a barre class. I had googled it a bit and decided it was my kind of workout: a lot of micro-movements that build long, lean muscle and maybe just a light layer of sweat. Barre studios are similar to ballet studios in that they're usually lined with mirrors that have bars affixed to them. There's a lot of work at the bar itself, but also a bit of floor/mat work that is akin to Pilates. Many classes use light weights and small exercise balls, too.

When I got to my first class, I instantly went into comparison mode. For me, the comparing is not so much about my fitness level as it is about what I'm wearing. Fortunately this studio's website had a "what to wear" section, and also a heads-up that it was a barefoot studio, so you don't have to worry about what's on your feet. Still, when I got there, I felt a bit out of place. I was greeted by a super-perky 20-something who instantly made me feel old. The other women there were, for the most part, younger than me. They wore long spandex tights with no panty-lines, their hair was expertly wrapped into messy buns, and they were stretching at the bar like they've done it their whole young lives. Among these Lululemon all-stars, I felt pretty frumpy in my outfit that I probably spent no more than $30 on seven or so years ago. At least my hair looked awesome (I told myself), albeit too short for a messy bun.

Around the room were framed inspirational posters with shabby-chic lettering with sentiments like, "Embrace the shake." I learned during my googling that "the shake" happens when  you work your muscles so deeply that they start to give out. The way you "embrace" this is that you keep pressing through them, despite the fact that your legs and then your entire body are a little bit out of control. Like convulsing.

Ready to begin?

The music started and the instructor came out and got us right into it, and though it was a bit fast-paced, there wasn't a lot of coordination needed. (Good news for me.) As we worked through the first few muscle groups, the one I dreaded most was yet to come: thigh. This was where the shake tends to happen violently. Since most of these exercises are repetitive, isometric movements, it's easy to begin confidently because it seems easy. One of the thigh exercises involves standing with your feet hip-width apart, on your tip-toes as high as they can go, with your tailbone tucked in. From there, you hold onto the bar with one hand, your other hand on your waist, and bend your knees to about a third of the way down from standing, and from there you bend your knees down an inch, then up an inch, and repeat. Simple. You got this. But after a 30 seconds or so you start to lose your mind with the shaking and burning that is happening as you're staring yourself down in the mirror, clinging to the bar for dear life. They tell you if you're shaking a lot, don't even worry about moving up and down. This is the time to - you guessed it - embrace the shake. It's almost laughable. After an hour, I left feeling well-worked, refreshed, and shaky for several hours. My muscles had never been worked quite in that way.

And...surprise. I loved it and felt empowered. I just wasn't totally sold on that studio. I looked up a different place a little further from my house called Bar Method. It's a franchise and there are hundreds of them across the country. Where the first studio had more of a cool downtown loft aesthetic, the Bar Method was more like a spa, thoughtfully built for flow. You walk into a reception area, where there is a sign-in, then a waiting area with an assortment of magazines and a bouquet of flowers, a mini fridge with bottled smoothies and water, a Keurig machine, etc. You keep walking through to a curtained-off area to find the changing room and lockers - all very clean, all very white. Truly, you walk in here and you feel like you've escaped from the grind. They also offer stuff like daycare and even have a monthly bookclub and some incentive programs, like earning "Bar Star" status (which earns you your own locker and monogrammed towel), and lavender socks after taking a certain number of classes. This place is a socks-ON studio, which was great news for my foot joints, because that means it's also carpeted (which I thought would be gross, but isn't).

Here were the young 20-somethings (but they tend to wear their hair in high pony tails and also have giant diamond rings), and even some teens, but also ladies more my age - professionals and working moms - as well as women who are nearing retirement if not already there. But what I ended up appreciating most was the level of attention by each of the instructors. Each one learns every person's name. Throughout the class, they may correct your form or they may cheer you on - out loud, on their mic, in front of everyone. I am usually the kind of person for whom this would be mortifying, but strangely, it's a nice reminder that I'm seen and cared for and working hard. I also like how we "thank our bodies for working hard for us" at the end of class. The whole thing is a surprisingly mindful experience. And then we clap and cheer for ourselves. It all sounds a little silly but gosh darn it, I'm into it.

Bar Method folks are sure to tell you you're building long, lean muscle. It's true. The muscles are there and some are kinda visible! I aim to go 3 times a week, thus fulfilling one of my original Day Zero goals. I rarely make excuses to not go because I know how good I always feel at the end - better than I'd feel if I didn't. I even went on the Saturday morning of my birthday, just so I could wear the birthday tutu. Who knows how long I'll stick with this particular mode of exercising, perhaps long enough to earn those coveted lavender socks. Either way, whatever I do, I'm just gonna thank this body for working hard for me.

Birthday tutu


Shortbread: an appropriate pre-summer bite

And suddenly, it's pretty much summer around here. With a big vacation behind us, I'm kind of looking forward to a pretty chill summer spent mostly in my city and within 400 miles. To a fault we've always kind of been last-minute summer planners, partly because summer is not always equated with time off or school vacation for us (though it's easy for people to think I get summers off because I work at a college). No, it's more like a really nice time of year to be working, a time to take advantage of all the weekends and everything that happens after 5 p.m. on weekdays. I'm cool with that.

Right now, my running list consists of picking strawberries at Greenbluff, riding bikes to new breweries, keeping the flowers properly watered, finding some new hikes with the dog, watching baseball, going swimming, sleeping with the windows open, eating al fresco, going to the movies, figuring out if we can redo the deck, visiting family, paddling down the Little Spokane, turning on the air conditioning, staying up late, getting up early, reading some lighthearted books (I seriously need this), making sorbet and freezer jam, and sweating. 

And baking when it's not unbearably hot.

Still reflecting on my Whole30 experience, I've reincorporated pretty much everything back into my diet, but eating isn't quite the same. It's enjoyable, but I'm finding that I'm more annoyingly discriminating. I'm almost back up to my normal weight (and normal is fine), and while it's possible some of this could be muscle, I'm hoping I didn't just screw up my metabolism. So I'm being a little more careful than I might otherwise be for a little while, which is probably good anyway. 

What this means: I'm back to making very small cookies. 

This recipe for Sprouted Kitchen's Chocolate-Drizzled Oatmeal Shortbread is delightfully simple and another one of those recipes that I almost always have the ingredients for. The recipe, as written, makes 20 cookies, but with my "make it smaller" mentality, I was able to churn out about 33 cookies by rolling the log a bit thinner, more like 2 inches thick instead of 3, before cutting it into 1/2-inch thick cookies. I just kept a closer eye on the oven, but the timing worked out to be about the same. Refrigerated dough logs are also nice because you don't have to bake it all at once, and if you decide that it is, in fact, too hot to turn on the oven, just wait for a different day.

Chocolate-Drizzled Oatmeal Shortbread
adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook

1 1/2 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 c. sugar in the raw (turbinado sugar)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 egg
3/4 c. all-purpose flour (or rice flour for GF)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
2 1/2 oz. dark chocolate
Flaked sea salt, for garnish

Pulse the oats in a food processor to create a course flour, not completely smooth. Place oats in bowl and set aside.

Wipe out the food processor bowl and add the butter and sugar. Cream until light. Add the vanilla and egg and mix, scraping down the bowl as necessary. Add the oats, AP flour, salt and nutmeg and pulse a few times to combine. The dough should be fairly tacky.

Carefully turn out the dough onto the counter. Using your hands, roll the dough into a log, 2-3 inches in diameter (per my note above). Roll up the log in plastic wrap or parchment paper and chill in the fridge at least an hour, if not more.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Working quickly, slice the log into 1/2-inch cookies and place them on the baking sheets 1-2 inches apart (mine didn't spread that much). Bake until the edges just begin to brown, 14-16 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

As the cookies cool, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. When cookies have cooled, place them back on the parchment paper used for baking (you can keep them on the cooling rack, too, with the paper underneath). Using a spoon or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, drizzle the melted chocolate over the cookies as you'd like. Sprinkle the flaked salt. Let the chocolate firm up completely before storing. 


Paul Simon life goal

He was with me during the sentimental awkwardness of high school when we sang "Old Friends" in jazz choir, when we were too young and not self-reflective enough to appreciate the words until our choir director told us to stop thinking so hard about the harmony (that we were butchering) and listen to the lyrics. He appeared after 9/11, singing "The Boxer" on Saturday Night Live and gave me a lump in my throat. He was there, with Art, to help me through a tumultuous college summer with the help of the entire Bookends album, gently letting me know there was a world to be explored; my own life's poems were yet unwritten. He sang "Still Crazy After All These Years" to me from the other room while I wallowed in heartbreak and bathed in self-care. He accompanied me on a windy trip down Chuckanut Drive in "American Tune," a moment when I had never felt so happy.

This past weekend I was with him, watching him perform from a rain-soaked field, drinking wine and celebrating the life that brought me to that place with hundreds of other people who have their own Paul Simon moments. I'm pretty sure many of them are now finding that "Old Friends" lyric, "...how terribly strange to be seventy..." all too true.

An older man standing next to me took one look at me and said, "You're too young to know these songs!"  I said, "Paul's been part of my whole life!" He looked at me, smiled, and gave me a high five.

To sum up how I felt at the end of it all: in love with the soggy world and those people who share in the joy of this music. And thankful to Paul for bringing us all together.


And the heavens rejoiced

While doing the Whole30 thing, I felt like a part of me died. I'm talking about the part that could spend hours looking through cookbooks, marking recipes I want to try, and then resolving to cook or bake my way through each day of my life, because there are so many recipes. Over the last month, though, I tried to shut that part of my brain off, or refocus it on all the wondrous things I could do with nuts, vegetables and meat. But there was a certain sadness I got each time I opened the pantry and glanced down at my baking drawer.

Now that I'm done with all that restriction, I feel like I can do anything. I'm trying to hold myself back a bit, but the other day I was mad with newfound freedom and thus decided to make a tea cake. Because something was missing with my afternoon tea, after all.

Maple and blueberries seemed wholesome enough (I know, it's still sugar), as did whole wheat flour (yes, it's still flour). It's a Melissa Clark recipe, and I can count on her to develop recipes to my level of sweetness (i.e., not too sweet). It's not mind-blowing, as I've made many loaves over the years that look a bit like this one. But for now, one slice of this for the day and I am happy with my lot in life.

Maple Blueberry Tea Cake
Makes one loaf

3/4 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. plus 2 T. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
2/3 c. maple syrup (grade B, if you have it)
1 egg, lightly beaten
6 T. butter, melted
1/2 c. milk
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries (see note if using frozen)

2 T. maple syrup
2 T. butter
3 T. powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease an 8- or 9-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Stir the wet into the dry until just combined. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 40-50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool completely in the pan. Loosen the sides and invert it from the pan to a plate, then back onto a rack on top of a parchment-lined pan.

Make the glaze by melting the butter with the maple syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the powdered sugar, then drizzle over the cooled cake.

Note: if using frozen blueberries, do not thaw. Reserve a spoonful of the flour mixture and combine it with the frozen berries in a small bowl before folding in.


Whole30: Complete

I know the feeling, Margot

When I started Whole30, I had these goals:

1. To test myself on whether I had the stamina to change my lifestyle for 30 days.

2. Confirm whether eliminating certain foods could do certain things for my energy, sleep and mood; and to understand my emotional connection to food.

3. To develop greater sympathy for people who have legitimate allergies and health concerns related to food, and to help me add to my repertoire in finding great recipes in those situations.

On the first point, I'm patting myself on the back.  I didn't slip once in the grand scheme of things, unless you count that bag of veggie chips I desperately needed that one time (I don't). I have to especially thank my mom who kept me encouraged and checked in with me along the way as she was doing it herself. I got through the worst days, and there were quite a few.

On the second point, that was a yes in certain ways. I wasn't overwhelmed by any changes - maybe just delighted by a few subtle differences. Overall, my energy stayed pretty even throughout the process. I developed a greater understanding, which I already knew, that when I eat protein, I didn't get hungry as quickly and I didn't feel sluggish at certain points in the day. However, I never felt like my body ever fully adjusted. My headaches continued throughout the challenge, and during the last few days I had some serious digestive issues that made me wonder if I had a virus.

In terms of sleep, this was a good experience in that when I fell asleep each night, I didn't ever get jolted awake and spend an hour trying to go back to sleep, which happens frequently. I woke up each morning and felt ready to get up.

As for my mood, it was altered for the better in certain ways. But can I truly attribute it to what I was eating? Or the fact that the weather is changing? Or that I was getting a better night's sleep (which I suppose could be related to diet)? Or that I was finding other ways of spending my time rather than snacking or drinking, therefore contributing to a better day overall?

The emotional connection thing was perhaps the best revelation. In my mind, eating and drinking is ceremony, celebration, communing, but these 30 days reminded me of the times I just quickly grab stuff to eat out of the pantry without much thought, or pick a couple Corn Chex off the top of Joel's cereal (I know, weird), or drink a half a glass of wine without really appreciating it. After Whole30 and adding back in my regular foods, I hope to be able to apply this knowledge a bit more in making conscious choices, thinking about how the food I'm about to eat is really wonderful and meant to be savored, otherwise it isn't worth my time. And I do need to drink less. I think this is the number one reason I have problems sleeping, and it does affect my mood.

On the third point, yes, yes, yes. Those days that people brought treats to the office were difficult days. I instantly thought of my friends and family with celiac disease to whom this happens all the time - something delicious sitting right in front of them that they are unable to partake in. Or going to a restaurant and just trying to find something - anything - that might work on the menu, while not completely trusting that what you're eating really doesn't have gluten or dairy or whatever it is. Not to mention the high likelihood that the only thing you can eat isn't all that appetizing or filling (hello, undressed arugula salad with almonds and a squeeze of lemon). I am so much more aware now of these realities. And yes, I am glad I have more recipes in my arsenal that really are delicious without the offending ingredients.

In thinking about adding foods back into my diet, I have been nervous about my body's reaction. Will I discover that bread makes me bloated? Will dairy make me break out? Will I get tired around 3 p.m.?

But now that I'm here, I can honestly say I am okay with all of it. As I said in the beginning, I love food too much to do this all the time; and really, Whole30 is a bit extreme by design and is only to be done for 30 days. However, on a more personal level, this experience was a good time to evaluate some skepticism I've been struggling with over the years, which Whole30 has fit right into, and that is how eating is becoming more and more a personal, scrutinizing journey of input-output, sometimes to the point of eating disorders in more extreme cases. I've been concerned about how we're losing the concept of eating as a communal experience, a time to savor and share with friends (dinner parties are so much more difficult to plan these days when you're trying to work around everyone's varied diets), and that we instead are plagued with fears that what we're eating is evil and will do damage to our bodies to the detriment of having a well-balanced life.

I came across this piece a week or so ago, and it captures much of this skepticism for me. It's a longer read, but definitely worth the time.

In the end, I do think that processed food has become too prominent in many of our diets, that sugar is indeed added to so many things that don't need it (it's kind of incredible, actually), and that food manufacturers are keenly aware of how to market and engineer food to play to our emotions. That knowledge is power, but it shouldn't paralyze us or make us feel horrible for eating a few things we simply want to eat. Calling sugar or gluten the devil, or "cheating," as the article discusses, is kind of a mixed-up view of our relationship with food.

In conclusion, I did learn a lot - about food, about myself, about how much meat I can handle in 30 days, about my bad habits. I am very, very glad I did this. I encourage anyone to do it, and to stick with some version of it if it makes them feel better than ever before. It's a great diet jump-start, an effective education, and it can change your life for the better with the choices you make down the road. I did lose about five pounds and am feeling really great about that added benefit, too. But I'm really tired of preparing and eating meat every day. I never thought I could get sick of avocados, or that the smell of coconut oil could be off-putting, but I need a break. I'm ready to be a true omnivore again, to take pleasure in every single thing that nature has given me to wield in the kitchen and over the grill - which may or may not include sugar, gluten, dairy, legumes, etc. - and adhere once again to my personal food mantras from Michael Pollan ("Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.") and Julia Child ("Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything.").

I started a couple days early with the dairy reintroduction (I figured I'd rather start over the weekend in case I feel horrible). I started with Old Amsterdam cheese (my favorite right now) and some milk in my coffee. No ill effects. And I also partook in a real aperitivo hour, with a real beverage, and did get a headache shortly thereafter, as can be expected. We had wine with friends last night, too,  and I also had a couple bites of bread. I'm trying to be as sensible as possible so I can still monitor my reactions to things, but this could be a rough week of choosing what to try next and being patient as I count the days to pasta or a sandwich.