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Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread

Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Brown Butter Pumpkin Bread | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

It has been a time of changes around here lately. Just as the fall weather peeked its head in Portland, Jonah and I were off to Chicago, where summer raged. There we got married: in his parents’ backyard, under the chuppa, crying and laughing and dancing. It was everything that a wedding is supposed to be. The days before and after were packed with events, with tooling around the city seeing friends and gathering with family. The sense of joy and celebration, the high from all the love, felt like it would last forever.

And then, two days after the wedding, it came to a halt: we got a call that Jonah’s grandmother had passed away. At the wedding she had looked so beautiful and strong. She sat chatting with the other grandmothers and blowing bubbles. She stuck to her values, walking right past the dance floor and saying to my now sister-in-law, “Did you see that? I’m a good Mennonite.” The morning after the wedding, we sat with her and unwrapped a beautiful quilt that she had been saving for us, called “Around the World.” We hugged and kissed her goodbye and said we’d see her at Christmas. You see, Jonah’s grandparents lived in a small town in Minnesota and, despite over seven years together and many Christmases with his family, I had never been. Jonah wanted me to see it, to see the town covered in snow, to take part in the holiday traditions his family holds so dear. I told him that this would be the year to go, since I didn’t know how much longer Grandma would be with us.

We balanced the rest of our time in Chicago – friends distracted us, even continued the celebration while being sensitive to the loss. We made plans with Jonah’s family – when was the service? Should we go straight from Chicago? We decided, in the end, to fly home on our previously scheduled flight, and then flew out to Minnesota a couple of days later. I didn’t know what to do, how to help. In situations like this, when I feel helpless, I turn to the kitchen, to something I can have some control over. I went back to my traditions: when we celebrate, we eat; when we mourn, we eat. The slight nip in the air in those two days at home settled in my belly, and while I picked the last hauls of sungold tomatoes from our garden, I started to crave soups, roasted chicken, and squash in all forms. So I decided to bake this pumpkin bread. It is a bread of changes too: pale gold butter becomes a caramel, nutty, liquid. A soft, sparkly batter turns into a moist, dense loaf with a perfect crunch on top. It may not have been much, but it was what I could offer. Grandma, I promise to keep my new family well-fed.

When we heard the news, I emailed our wedding photographer to see if she could send any photos of Grandma from the wedding. She sent a handful of beautiful pictures, but this for some reason stands out to me. That’s her on the right, talking to Jonah’s other grandmother, as they watch the dancing.
Photo credit: Anna Zajac.

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Tomato and Ricotta Galette

Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tomato and Ricotta Galette | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

There is a weird thing about being a food blogger. You compose pictures just so that none of the mess in your kitchen shows. You (mostly) never write about all the recipe testing and research. And you definitely don’t write about the failed attempts. And then there’s the stuff like, I made this and took pictures about 2 weeks ago, but am writing the post in Chicago. It all feels a bit weird, you know? Like I’m pretending, or I’m creating this fantasy world where everything is clean, and everything works perfectly the first time I try it. But I want you to know, that’s not true.

Another weird thing is knowing where to draw the line between keeping the writing here light and fun and ooh look tomatoes! Do I talk about my personal life? How far do I go? Last year when I was traveling, I certainly wrote about being homesick, and that got personal. But do you really want potentially heavy, personal stuff amidst pretty pictures of pastries?

The point of all this, I suppose, is that I’d like to be a bit more real. I want to not worry about there being a mess in the background of my pictures. And I’d like you to know some of those things about myself, and I’d like to feel safe writing those things in this place. So in that spirit: I’m getting married in three days! It’s big and exciting and for some reason scary and also very normal at the same time. What is really changing? Nothing. It feels like such a big step, but for now most things will stay the same, except that I’ll wear an extra ring on my finger and my taxes will change. We’ll still eat dinner too late, I’ll still listen to my favorite Pandora station when I bake, he’ll still take me out to dinner where the restaurant is a “surprise” but I’ll actually give him a list of three to choose from. And you’ll still be here, maybe, reading about all of it.

This meal was one of those ideas that was marinating in my head for a while. I’m trying to get better at making a few blog recipes at a time so I have content ready to publish, but it can feel overwhelming. He has been ever supportive, asking while we’re making dinner, “Wait, do you want to photograph this? Go grab your camera!” He waits while I set up the shot, he oohs and ahs over the pictures after I edit them, and he still proofreads almost every post. This galette was the epitome of summer to me, and the last recipe I photographed before we came to Chicago to get married in his parents’ back yard. I made it while he was at soccer, and waiting for him to come home and eat it, I realized how cool this all is, how cool he is: encouraging me to continue to write and cook and photograph, pushing me to try new recipes, offering me a safety net when things don’t go as planned.  This tomato galette? It’s my love note to him.

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Parfait Parfait: Peach Parfait with Graham Cracker Crumbs

Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

We give each other a hard time in my family. Really. Nothing is off limits, and boy do we know how to push each others’ buttons. My sisters, for example, can get me more angry than anyone in the world. But the other side of this is that when we give each other compliments, it really is the most heartwarming thing. Getting a sincere compliment from my sisters or my parents is one of those things that gives me the warm and fuzzies. But back to the giving each other a hard time thing. My dad has all these -isms. These things he says and we give him quite a hard time for. I won’t share all of them here because he might kill me (if he happens to read this post), but one of my favorites that is relevant to this story is when he says, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.” This is almost always in reference to some intricate, fantastic dish he has cooked. It goes like this: either we are on the phone or sitting down to dinner, and he tells me all of the steps it took to make the dish in front of me or that he made for dinner last week. And then, no matter what I say, he follows it up with, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.”

When I was in Seattle last month, he and I were at the store shopping for dinner, and he mentioned he wanted to pick up whipping cream for leftovers of a dessert he had made a couple days before that, you guessed it, “wasn’t actually that hard.” I, of course, did not believe him. Especially when he claimed it was called a parfait parfait, which in his often jumbled speech, became farpait farpait. Imagine the two of us, wheeling our cart up and down the aisles of the store, giggling and spouting “farpait farpait” at each other – it was a sight. But we got home, ate dinner, and then were treated to this dessert. The sautéed fruit topped with salty, sweet, buttery graham cracker crumbles, and freshly whipped cream convinced me quickly that this dessert was worth whatever effort it required. It was so tasty that I made it for a dinner party last week to find that he was right: it really was one of the simplest desserts I’ve ever made. Did you hear that Dad? YOU WERE RIGHT.

The beauties of this recipe are two-fold. First, it can be easily adapted with whatever seasonal fruit you have on hand. In the coming weeks, I’ll be making it with plums, then apples, then maybe even some grapefruit wedges, rhubarb, berries, you get the idea. Second, having this graham cracker crumb on hand, I’ve found is both tempting and useful. Being able to just sauté some fruit and whip some cream and voila, dessert, is pretty great. Plus it isn’t so bad sprinkling a tiny bit on my morning yogurt, fruit, and granola either.

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Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Grilled Tomatillo Salsa | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Grilled Tomatillo Salsa | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Grilled Tomatillo Salsa | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Grilled Tomatillo Salsa | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

In summers past I have felt disappointed in myself. I wake up to find that Labor Day has arrived and I haven’t made enough pies, snuck rhubarb into enough desserts, or eaten enough berries. I didn’t take advantage of the deep red tomatoes or experience that joy that washes over you when you cut into a melon to find that *yes it is perfect*. This summer has not been one of those summers. This summer I am oh so proud of myself. Maybe it’s finally having a garden that really got me in the summer produce spirit. Maybe it’s the fact that, now that we don’t have roommates, I have a whole fridge that I can pack full of these beauties. I have been stuffing our meals to the brim with whatever is seasonal and bright.

I’ve started hearing the rumblings. I’m sure you have too, or maybe you’ve been the one whispering about your excitement for sweaters, for long pants (which I’ll admit sounds appealing), for changing leaves. And while I am definitely ready for my apartment to not be 90° every afternoon (thank goodness for the air conditioner we got last week), I am not ready to let go of all this beautiful produce. So I’ll keep relishing it until you can’t smell the peaches the moment you walk into the produce section at the grocery store, until the tomatoes are no longer juicy just under their shiny skin. But while you have the tomatoes and the heat, I recommend breaking out your grill to make this grilled tomatillo salsa to snack on on those hot afternoons. The spice will make you sweat, but I hear that’s cooling anyway.

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