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7.29.2013

Nine

I am typing this post from the back office at Delancey, where I’m holed up, working on a deadline, while Brandon and Co. prepare a five-course meal for forty-five in celebration of a gorgeous new book. Deadline: I will destroy you. In more ways than one.



But I had to take a break to pop into this space, and to send up a cheer - if you can, in fact, hear me from back here behind the Essex walk-in - that it has been nine years today since this site was born. Nine! I was a delinquent graduate student then, giddy to be creating a space to write about things other than Michel Foucault and discourse analysis and anything described by the word liminal, and if you had told me what would happen in the nine years to come, I would have told you to stop teasing, that it was cruel. NINE years! I said to Brandon the other day that, oddly, I still feel like the same person I was that summer, when I was twenty-five and newly single and energetic and very eager to bake cakes, listening to a lot of Ted Leo and living in an apartment that overlooked a grocery store parking lot. Will I always feel like that person? I hope I will. I also hope that I will always feel as grateful as I do today, when I think about what has happened, and who has happened, in the last almost-decade.



Today, as it happens, is also our sixth wedding anniversary. And this morning I started planning a party - just a small one, mostly family and carrot cake and nothing remotely Pinterest-worthy - in celebration of June’s first birthday, which is coming up soon. It’s been a big day today, and also a happily ordinary one: a baby, a babysitter who showed up with new barrettes for the baby, a dog with an injured tail, a lot of work to do, a visit with a good friend, a lot of great food.





I took the pictures in this post on July 9 at Skagit River Ranch, where Brandon and his team spent the day cooking a dinner for Outstanding in the Field.  I am so proud of Brandon - that he was asked to do it, that he and his sous chef Ricardo "Regulator" Valdes made the most insane brisket I have ever eaten, that they managed to douse the flames when the smoker caught on fire with all of the pork inside, that the pork was perfect anyway, that he didn’t fall asleep on the long drive home. I somehow took no pictures of him that day, but he was there. Let the record show.


I started this blog for myself, because I needed it.  But because of it, I got a Brandon, and then a Delancey, and then an Essex, and this back office that I’m sitting in, and a June, and days like today, and nights like the one in these pictures - and along the way, you’ve been here, too.  Thank you.  I’m so glad for all of it.  And before I get any sappier tonight, I’m heading home to bed.

See you back here in a couple of days.

7.19.2013

A rare benefit

I’ve started this post four different times now, on five different days. I’m already tired of it, and I still haven’t figured out how to start. Does that ever happen to you? Do you do what I do and take a "break" to raid the walk-in at Delancey for chocolate chip cookie dough? Do you tell yourself, What harm could it really do if I listened to Freedom '90 again? Do you ever wonder if you’ve missed your chance to be a dancer in a Janet Jackson video? Shall we start this thing already?

First, I want to tell you that I was elated by your response to Delancey. Totally elated. Ecstatic. Even slightly stoned. I’m still coming down from it. Thank you so very, very much. And HURRY UP, MAY OF 2014!

Now, speaking of Delancey: when I was cleaning up the office there a couple of weeks ago, I found a large container of shredded, unsweetened coconut.  We’d been using it to make macaroons that were served with a key lime mousse, but the mousse was no longer on the menu, and the coconut wasn’t flagged for another use, or not yet.  So I took it home - a rare benefit of being the unfortunate person charged with maintaining the office!  I WIN THIS TIME - and made something with it that we liked so much, and ate so quickly, that I made it again less than a week later.  The recipe I’m talking about comes from Heidi Swanson’s wonderful Super Natural Every Day, a title that has recently joined the select group of favorite cookbooks that I keep on top of our refrigerator. It’s called a macaroon tart.


(For the record, June did not eat any, but she wished she could.)

What we have here, or what we had before we ate it all, is a buttery crust that tastes and crunches a little like shortbread, topped with hunks of soft summer fruit and a blanket of chewy macaroon. Heidi’s original recipe calls for studding the tart with blackberries, but I had some beautiful apricots on the counter, so I used them instead. I also threw in a few raspberries, but I preferred the apricots.  I loved the apricots. In fact, I want to call this an Apricot Macaroon Tart.  I think I will. And while I’m in the business of making bold statements, I should say that I also took liberties with the crust. I hope Heidi will still call me a friend. Her recipe calls for white whole wheat flour, but my niece Hillary is living with us this summer, and she’s gluten-intolerant, so I gathered up my courage and tried making a gluten-free version of the crust. I used a mixture of buckwheat, brown rice, and tapioca flours, and though I don’t know what the tart would taste like as Heidi intended it, I liked the toasty, nutty flavor of the buckwheat so much that I now can’t imagine the tart without it. Apricot, coconut, butter, buckwheat. I’m in.

Happy weekend.


Apricot Macaroon Tart
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day

A word (or many words) about flour: using Shauna’s 40/60 ratio for gluten-free baking, I whisked up a batch of all-purpose flour mix from 100 grams of buckwheat flour, 100 grams of brown rice flour, and 300 grams of tapioca flour.  (I then used 170 grams of this mixture in the recipe.)  I have no idea how well this mix of flours would work in other recipes, and I probably did everything wrong, but it worked nicely here, yielding a crust with a crunchy, slightly nubbly texture and great buckwheaty flavor.  The one thing that I will say, however, is that the crust wept a not-insignificant amount of butter onto the sheet pan.  I have to assume that this had something to do with the mix of flours I used, and their properties? Anyway, I doubt that the original recipe, as Heidi conceived it, has a butter-weeping problem.  In any case, consider yourself alerted. If your crust leaks a little butter onto the sheet pan, don’t worry.  That’s why the sheet pan is there.

And one more word about flour: even if you do eat gluten, as I do, you really should consider using some buckwheat flour. The next time I make this tart, I might try using a mixture of buckwheat flour and standard all-purpose flour - maybe one-third buckwheat and two-thirds all-purpose?  Not that white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour are not interesting enough, but I really love what buckwheat brings to this crust.

Oh, and if you find yourself without pistachios and are contemplating a trip to the grocery store: don’t worry about it.  I’ve forgotten to add the pistachios both times that I’ve made this tart, and though I imagine it would be prettier and maybe a little, little bit tastier with them, it’s wonderful without.

Finally, if you live in Seattle, I strongly recommend the apricots from Bill’s Fruits, a stand toward the Ballard Inn end of the Ballard Farmers’ Market.

For the crust:
1 ½ cups (170 g) white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or a mixture of flours (see above)
¾ cup (60 g) unsweetened finely shredded coconut
½ cup (100 g) sugar
½ tsp. fine sea salt
10 tablespoons (140 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

For the filling:
2 cups (140 g) unsweetened finely shredded coconut
1/3 cup (70 grams) sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
4 large egg whites
8 ounces (225 g) fresh apricots, pitted and quartered
1/3 cup (45 g) pistachios, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch round removable-bottom tart pan, and set it on a rimmed sheet pan.

To make the crust, combine the flour, coconut, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir to mix. Stir in the butter, and mix until the dough no longer looks dusty and all flour is absorbed. Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan: it should form a solid, flat layer. Bake for 15 minutes, or until barely golden. Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

While the crust bakes, prepare the filling. Combine the coconut, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir to mix. Add the egg whites, and mix until well combined. When the crust is baked, evenly distribute the apricots over it. Drop dollops of the filling over the fruit, using your fingers to nudge it into the spaces in between.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the peaks of the filling are deeply golden. Cool completely before topping with pistachios, slicing, and serving.

Yield: 8 to 12 slices, depending on how much you like dessert.

7.08.2013

This thing is on

Maybe you will remember a day, more than two years ago now, when I announced that I was writing a new book, and that, if all went according to plan, it would be out in the spring of 2013?  And then maybe you will also remember that nothing went according to plan, in ways that were hard and good-but-hard and then great and really, really great, and here we are, with no book, in July of 2013. Maybe you will join me, then, in heaving a giant sigh of relief - more than that: a great wind, a hurricane-force gust - that Delancey is not only done, donedonedone, but that it now has a cover.  A cover!  This thing is ON.



I will tell you something: the process of arriving at a book cover is, as an author, somewhat harrowing. First, you write a book. You do this by huddling over your computer for a while, alternately feeling like a Nobel laureate and something lower than a bacterium, eating a lot of peanut butter (on bread, on toast, on a spoon) and making mental lists of what you wish you were doing instead of writing. When you can’t stand your manuscript anymore but can’t think of anything else to do with it, you send it to your editor, and she edits it and sends it back, and then you revise it, and you repeat these last steps a couple more times - or three, in my latest case. Then your book goes to a copyeditor for fine-tuning, and you crack open a beer and start doing all that stuff you had wanted to do back when you were lashed to the desk, writing, and then, just when you’re starting to relax and think about filling up the kiddie pool and sitting in it all evening, you get an e-mail from your editor with a proposed cover attached.  Dun dun dun dunnnnnnn.

Before I wrote my first book, and before we opened Delancey and Essex, I was briefly a book publicist at a university publishing house. We mostly published scholarly monographs, the kind you would use in a graduate school course, and my job was primarily to drum up reviews and other media attention for them - not an easy task, and one at which I did not excel - but one tiny part of my job was also to weigh in on potential covers for our books. This usually involved me and my colleagues in the marketing department staring at a wall of mock-ups, our chins in our hands, trying to figure out which cover a) best fit the book in question, b) would be legible online when reduced to the size of a thumbnail, and c) would appeal to readers and, most importantly, sell.  Striking that balance was a tricky proposition, and that was even before the author, who would have her own very strong opinion, was consulted. Now, as the author in that equation, I feel slightly queasy when I think about the negotiations and the back-and-forth that go into producing a book cover. I try not to think about it - kiddie pool kiddie pool kiddie pool - until I have to.

So it was with trepidation that I opened the e-mail from my editor with "Delancey jpegs" in the subject line, and with relief that I saw the cover up there, the one with the photo of the exterior of Delancey, warm and glowy, chalkboard in the window, people on the bar stools, chipped paint on the facade and ugly doorknob and all.  I had no idea what kind of cover this book would get, but this one feels exactly right.  Delancey is not really a cookbook, though it does contain twenty recipes, and it’s not really a book about opening a restaurant, per se, although it is.  It’s a book about a man with a big idea and a woman (hi!) who wasn’t entirely sold on that idea, a book about learning to work with yeast, fire, heavy machinery, and each other.  It’s a book about muddling through, figuring it out, eating a lot of pizza, making the most of what we got.  And though there were many moments when I wished the book would just write itself and leave me out of it and hurry up, I can now say that I’m glad the writing took as long as it did, that it was interrupted the way it was, that I was granted time to live the story and tell it in a way that feels honest and complete. I am now so excited, and totally terrified, to share it with you.  Of course, it won’t be released until next May, but after all this time, that’s nothing. Nothing! Right? (RIGHT.)

Thanks, always, for being here.

Update: In the days since I posted this, I have learned that the photograph on the cover was taken by a fellow blogger who came to Delancey as a result of reading my first book and this blog. Incredible! I love that. Thank you, Conni, for taking such a beautiful shot, and for letting us use it.