Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Well hello, January. Here I am, nine days in and still trying to catch up and wrap my brain about 2013 and what it means. At the moment, we're all about packing up Christmas (we just said good-bye to our tiny twinkly tree this morning), organizing the books and closets and doing a massive de-cluttering. 

This curried cauliflower soup, from Andrew Weil's newest cookbook, True Food, is the perfect complement to all that external tidying and organization. It's simple to make and so delicious you'd never guess its vegan. When I eat it, it helps me feel healthy inside and out, like I am perfectly attuned to  both my body and my physical world. I hope it makes you feel just as good. Happy New Year, may your days be merry and bright.

Curried Cauliflower Soup
In the headnotes to this recipe Andrew Weil recommends using orange cauliflower if you can find it. I couldn't, but discovered that the added spices turn the soup a lovely orange color. I also found that when using a Vitamix it wasn't necessary to strain the homemade cashew milk (oh the glories of the Vitamix!) Enjoy.

1/3 cup raw cashews
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large head of cauliflower, cut into one-inch pieces
1 (14 oz) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Garnish: caramelized onions, chopped cilantro

Put the cashews in a blender and blend until finely ground. Add 3/4 cup water and blend for two minutes. Pour the cashew mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, pressing on solids with the back of a spoon. Discard the solids. 

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over low hear. Add the onion and saute until golden. Add the cauliflower, coconut milk, strained cashew milk, curry powder, tumeric, and cumin and salt as needed. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a low boil, reduce the heat, and simmer till the cauliflower is tender, about 10 minutes. 

Blend the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. Ladle into bowls and serve garnished with a pile of caramelized onions and chopped cilantro. 

Makes 10 cups, 4 to 6 servings

Thursday, January 03, 2013

How to Write a Thank You Note

Do you send handwritten thank you notes for the gifts you get over the holidays? 

When I was a little girl, thank you note writing was a must and it is a habit I haven't grown out of. Many years I'll find a pretty packet of cards in my Christmas stocking and I'll spend part of the afternoon on Christmas day curled up by the fire and writing a few notes. This year, we visited my favorite hometown bookstore for their New Year's Day sale. I picked up a set of small cards embossed with a traditional looking gold THANK YOU and when I got home, I pulled out a good pen and got to work. The steadily growing pile of handwritten cards filled with thanks and a few holiday memories gave me a lot of satisfaction and seemed like a great way to start the new year. 

This year, one of my resolutions is to send hand written acknowledgement whenever possible. Texts are immediate and emails are too, but they still seem vaguely impersonal. But even the simplest hand written note or postcard is enough to make someone feel good on a so-so day. 

A Few Quick Tips for Thank You Note Writing:

Don't be afraid to keep it short. My father loves to send postcards, a habit I've adopted too. There's no better way to say a quick, colorful thank you for a homemade meal or thoughtful treat. 

Be yourself. The handwritten note is highly personal. There's no spell check, and no real way to delete something if it didn't come out exactly the way you intended. Don't worry about this stuff. The recipient will be glad to know that you received the gift and happy to know it was appreciated even if the ink is smudged. 

Send a thank you for every gift, even if it wasn't a perfect fit. It's the thought that counts, remember?

Be genuine. The cold, impersonal thank you note is almost worse than no note at all. 

Make the writing enjoyable. Take the time to carve a bit of space in your brain. The handwritten note demands you sit down and devote your attention to one person and one gift, that you say (or try to say) exactly the right thing. But the truth is, you don't need to say exactly the right thing. You just need to send a genuine thank you that lets people know you appreciate the effort put forth on your behalf. 

Inspired? Some of my favorite sources for beautiful thank you notes are: Egg Press, Oblation Papers & Press, Anemone Letterpress, and Rifle Paper Co. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Year New You {Giveaway!}

I know, I know, there's two weeks left in 2012 but I am already thinking about the New Year. Two winters ago I enrolled in a program at my local yoga studio in an attempt to clean up my diet (and my act) in the new year. The premise was simple: Do yoga for 40 days straight. Cleanse (no alcohol, coffee, gluten, sugar, meat), a meditation practice, and a lot of journal writing. I emerged a happier, healthier me. In those 40 days, life-changing things happened.

This January, I've committed to the New Year New Rules online wellness program with Prescribe Nutrition--  two whole weeks of taking care of my body and feeding it wholesome foods. It's not a detox or a cleanse (which is great, because I found that intense restrictive thing really messed with my mind & emotions). But it is an opportunity to look carefully at my diet, see what foods I overly rely on out of habit, and have the chance to reboot and take healthier habits into the new year. 

I'm super excited about this and very glad that Katie Jasper gave me the nudge I needed to convince me to do something good for myself in the new year. And now, I'm nudging you! 

Enter today to win your spot in the 2013 New Year New You online wellness program by leaving a comment on this blog post with one healthy resolution for the new year. I'll pick a winner on Friday, December 21, and you can sail into the holidays knowing there's something wholesome for you on the other side. 

Need more info? Check out: Prescribe Nutrition, New Year New You, or the web pages of Katie and Megan. Next, enter to win your spot in New Year New You, or register right now (and save 20%! Just use the code NYNR20 when you sign up).  

Hop to it!

UPDATE: Congrats, Sylla! You won! Stay tuned for more info. xo

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rosemary Walnut Shortbread

This rosemary walnut shortbread is a bit different from the usual holiday cookie, which is typically very sweet and bedazzed with sparkles and frosting. I like them because as much as I adore cookies and fudge and cake, as I've gotten a bit older, I crave something less sweet after dinner. These are nice because they are still a little sweet, have a lovely slightly sandy texture from the sugars and ground walnuts, and are really nice to eat one after another with the remnants of whatever was in your wine glass or a nice tumbler of cognac. 

Normally I fashion these into logs and do the slice and bake thing, preferring the round, minimalist cookie to something more adorable. But today it seems like what the world really needs is love. So hearts there are, dozens and dozens of hearts. 

Rosemary-Walnut Shortbread
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground walnuts
1 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon raw sugar for sprinkles - optional but lovely

Preheat oven to 300
Whisk flour, nuts, rosemary, and salt. Place butter and sugars in a bowl. Mix on medium speed until light, about three minutes. Mix in vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together and is smooth, about three minutes. 

Turn out dough into parchment and fashion into a 1/2 inch thick log (if you want slice and bake shortbread) or a disc (if you want to roll and cut cookies). Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes, or place in freezer for a week. 

Before baking, remove dough from fridge or freezer and let it warm up just a bit. Slice into cookies or roll out and use cookie cutters to cut into desired shapes. Sprinkle with raw sugar and bake until just golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Makes about two and a half dozen cookies. 

Here's a tip: As I said above, I typically fashion the dough into logs and pop them into the freezer in early December. When I'm ready to start my holiday baking, the dough is finished and ready to go -- all I have to do is slice and go (and maybe add 2+ minutes to the bake time if the dough is really frozen). 

Another tip, just because: These cookies are a fantastic hostess/neighbor/yoga teacher/bookstore owner gift. I like to wrap mine in small boxes or little cellophane bags. Tying them up with that sweet red & white baker's twine is a must. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Extravagant Gifts.

For M.F.K Fisher, a good holiday was characterized by “lots of books for Christmas, stockings, candy, and nice gloves.”

I can’t help you find the best assortment of candy and charms, but if you’re still shopping for books, you’re in luck. Here, some ideas for the hungry-thirsty-globetrotting (M.F.K. Fisher loving) readers on your list:

{The biography about the hidden life of the woman who was considered “the finest writer on food now using the English language.”}

{A beautiful pocketbook sized collection of lesser-known Fisher works -- it makes a great hostess gift!}

{New in June 2012, a gorgeous hardcover book with lots of photographs!}

If you’d like a signed copy, email me at to buy one directly from me. If you like, I’ll even wrap and mail it to the recipient. Or, buy these books in store (from your local bookseller!) or online.

May you have the happiest of holidays and thank you for supporting books, bookstores, authors, and me!


P.S. Looking to up your creative quotient in 2013? I’m teaching nonfiction book writing at Stanford this winter (it's online, there's no excuse not to sign up!) and an afternooncourse on food writing in at Book Passage in Marin on January 12th. Share! Sign up! Write!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Capturing Fall: The Other Side

All you really need to know is that Tara sent me gorgeous Seattle leaves in the mail. 

Ok, I could tell you a little more. Like how once, in college, I boy I liked very much and who I had liked very much for a very long time brought me a whole bag of autumn leaves that he had collected. It sounds really romantic, right? Nothing else happened. 

Or,  how the day that I got the leaves was Sunday, not a weekday because we had been in LA for Thanksgiving with Sean's mom who is very, very sick

And on Sunday when we got home I was bustling around trying to make the house warm and cozy, and I must have gotten a bit too zealous because I slipped in the kitchen (new boots, wet floor) and fell and hit my head hard on the counter. And I didn't cry because it was one of those days that if I cried I would really cry (like, buckets and buckets of tears). And Sean thought this was very weird, so he left me there on the floor, in the kitchen, and just said, "Take it easy, ok?" as if he really didn't know what to do with me at all. 

So a bit later, while fingering the large tender lump on the side of my head, I decided to open my mail. There was a big stack of it: catalogues, bills, a few belated birthday gifts, and a small package from an address in Seattle I couldn't quite place. 

Tara had said she was going to send me leaves. And it sounded charming but I didn't quite believe it. I've only met her once, in a bookstore, in Seattle when I was promoting my book. It was a great conversation, but hardly the stuff that inspires such thoughtful gift giving. 

But here they were. Tara sent me gorgeous Seattle leaves in the mail, and they arrived on an afternoon when what I needed most was color and warmth and friendship. 

The leaves maintain their natural hues because they've been carefully dipped in wax, a process you can read more about here. And what's great about this is that means I can save them, packing them carefully  in the box they arrived in and squirreling them away till next autumn

It's just the kind of reassurance I need right now. 

P.S. And because this got a little (ok, a lot) deep and you might be feeling a bit mournful, I thought I'd pass along a recipe for pie! Pumpkin pie with pecan brown butter strusel! This was my favorite dessert on the Thanksgiving table and quite possibly my most favorite pumpkin pie ever. Make it. Feel better. The End. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Pumpkin Leek Soup

After I posted last week about ways to bring autumn inside, I got a lot of comments about soup. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to know why I hadn't said anything at all about the autumnal comfort a simmering pot of soup on the stove provides.

But what you may not have realized (though Tea smartly blew my cover on Twitter!) was that the real driving force behind this post was my attempt to create the cozy smells and sights of fall in San Francisco -- a place where there's nary a colored leaf to be found. It has also been hot. On Monday, it was nearly 80 degrees. A simmering pot of soup on the stove in 80 degree heat? No thank you.

But, those cold, foggy days do come. And Halloween night was one of them. So I had the tiniest of dinner parties, one where I fixed my normal weeknight stuff, but maybe a wee bit fancier, and invited my dear friend Meg over to share in a hearty bowl of pumpkin leek soup.

I was secretly hoping that we might actually get a trick-or-treater so I could hand out one of the small bags of m&ms I had at the ready, but it was not to be. All the cool kids ring other people's door bells, I guess.

But we did have meat and cheese plate, with a bright orange, super salty cheese from France and sliced salami from Fino In Fondo, a salumi operation run by friends-of-friends in McMinnville, Oregon. And we had a salad bursting with CSA goodness: roasted yellow gypsy peppers, apple chunks, spiced pumpkin seeds, and greens. And we had soup. Soup that was made from a small, gnarled, knobby green pumpkin that I roasted in the oven, scooped out the sweet insides and mixed, along with broth from the freezer and a few spices and some cream, into a slightly-lumpy-in-all-the-best-ways, thoroughly autumnal soup. Are you happy now?

After we finished, Meg taught Sean the basics of Instagramming and we ate pumpkin shaped sugar cookies, blondies, and candy corn. Pretty autumnal, yes? 

Pumpkin Leek Soup
From Savor the Memories by Marguerite Marceau Henderson
4 Tablespoons butter
2 large leeks, white part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups pumpkin puree (I roasted and scooped the meat from a small pumpkin that yielded almost exactly two cups flesh). 
4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
2 Tablespoons brown sugar (optional -- my fresh pumpkin was quite sweet)
1 and 1/2 cups half-and-half

In a large saucepan, heat butter and saute the leeks for 8 to 10 minutes on low heat, stirring often. Leeks should be soft and golden. Add the thyme, nutmeg, salt, pepper, pumpkin, broth, and sugar (if using). Stir, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Add half-and-half and simmer another 10 minutes. Serve with garnishes of sour cream, chopped green onions, and grated white cheddar cheese. 

Serves 6-8