“I wondered what imagination had to do with it. Cooking, it seemed to me, was mostly a matter of organization. ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘it is only because you have an imagination that you say that.’” - Ruth Reichl
It happens every year, the way fall slips in and takes you by surprise, as though someone somewhere has flipped a giant switch. Weekend plans begin to feel less urgent and no one has any qualms with a quiet night in. The last of the camping trips have passed and instead, my friends and I look forward to weekend potlucks of stews and anything baked in little cocottes. My reading appetite is beginning to grow and I anticipate a winter immersed in many a cookbook. A long stop at my favorite bookstore yesterday left me yearning for far too many. Ruth Reichl, Nigel Slater, and David Lebovitz all hover, waiting to be opened and explored. I will admit, however, that in the short time I’ve been writing the day has turned into an eighty degree beauty. Maybe, just maybe, I’m the one trying to flip the switch too soon!
This past week’s meals seemed to do the same as the weather—quickly rushing in, leaving me full and pleased. A quick zucchini and red potato frittata with dill and Romano cheese, tamarind pork with the lightness of mint and the crunch of peanuts alongside an acidic cucumber cilantro salad, warming carrot ginger soup and fluffy thyme biscuits. It was a glorious week of kitchen rituals to leave me feeling grounded. Of course, not all goes as planned. Sometimes you forget that your beautiful purple and orange carrots will yield a brown soup and other times, the bottom of your perfectly browned frittata decides to make your skillet a permanent home. But this hardly matters—the flavors and textures were still there and we still laughed a bit too hard about the aesthetics of our near perfect meal.
Especially this week, I am grateful for those in my life who assume homemade meals are a part of the day. There is no search for shortcuts when only the rhythmic chopping of potatoes will do. With an unhindered curiosity in the kitchen, there is no need for extensive planning or for some time-saving, end-all-be-all tricks. Simply finding a recipe that sounds delightful and spending time with the flavors you know you enjoy is enough to open the door to culinary curiosity. What you like is what works—it is a pragmatic truth, no doubt. But do not let anyone tell you what you ought to do in the kitchen; this is your space, your time. Find what works for you.
For example, this morning required a leisurely breakfast, as is obligatory for Sunday. I wanted something that was light, easy, and felt elegant without trying too hard. A way to start the day that would leave me relaxed about the impending week. I settled on a Dutch baby, the sort of odd baked pancake that is so simple, it doesn’t even seem like it should work. With a few autumn spices and the last of the summer berries on the side, this little delight sits on the cusp of a new season. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and drizzle on a little Grade A maple and you’re set to begin the day anew.
Spiced Dutch Baby
Serves two – adapted from Deb Perelman’s “the smitten kitchen cookbook”
This is an unbelievably simple breakfast that can bake while you fry some bacon and brew some coffee. Alongside fresh fruit or drizzled with chocolate, this versatile breakfast can be made anytime and for any palate. Alter the spices or reduce the sugar and go savory—Dutch babies are sure to please.
2 large eggs
1 T. dark brown sugar
1 t. molasses
1/3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ t. cinnamon
¼ t. ground ginger
¼ t. ground nutmeg
¼ t. salt
1/3 c. whole milk
2 T. butter
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Crack both eggs into a blender and process until they are a pale yellow. Add all other ingredients except the butter and the powdered sugar and process until well combined.
Over high heat, melt butter in an oven safe skillet (cast iron works wonders here). Once melted, pour batter into the skillet and place in the oven. Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Slide Dutch baby onto serving plate, dust with powdered sugar, and serve with maple syrup.