And just like that, it’s December. The days are brisk, the cats have put on extra fluff, and all I want to do is read cookbooks and bake nice things. Babs and Kitty find any opportunity for lap time (including meal times—what have we become?) and Babs has even decided to grace Jonji’s lap with her presence now and then, rather than only mine.
About a month ago, Mom, Bailey, Emma, and I hosted Kerry’s bridal shower in Mom and Dad’s sunny garden before the weather turned cool. I spent the day before baking pumpkin tea cake and whipping up a giant batch of tabouli, then headed over early Sunday with the food riding in the back seat. It was a lovely party with a fantastic group of women, plenty of food and drinks, fun games, and lots of love for Kerry.
The following weekend, the fourth cousin wedding in two years was held in Morgan Hill. The day before, the bridal party went through the rehearsal at the venue, then hopped over to a lovely winery for an early dinner, after which guests were invited for drinks and dessert. The bridesmaids and Kerry retired at 9pm so as to get a decent amount of sleep before the wedding day (we had to be at the venue for hair and makeup by 8am). Bailey, Shauna, and I shared a room, so of course we talked in the dark for another hour, during which Bailey reminded me why she wouldn’t share her beef sticks if we lacked food the next day.
We were ready to go on time the next morning, and arrived at the venue to see Auntie Trudy setting out a breakfast spread that included Manresa pastries, leaving Bailey and I literally laughing and hugging each other, nearly crying with glee and relief (no beef sticks needed). Once full, we joined the rest of the women getting ready. We were done by noon and Kerry looked absolutely amazing, like a Vogue cover girl circa 1950.
The ceremony was perfect. Kerry and Max spoke eloquently and sweetly, eliciting laughter and tears from everyone. They even shared an impressively large glass of Vitamin J, sparking quite a cheer from those gathered. Finally, they retreated down the aisle, officially joined together in marriage. The toasts after dinner were heartwarming and hilarious; at one point Jonji’s name was mixed up with Benji’s in reference to Max’s special walks, which everyone got a huge kick out of. The rest of the evening passed quickly, with drinks and dancing aplenty. I couldn’t be happier for the Kerry and Max—as everyone at the wedding said, the nicest two people found each other and will clearly live happily together for the rest of their lives.
A few days after the wedding, Jonji and I flew to Mexico through the choking smoke that cloaked California. We made it past the smoke and a fair bit of nerve-wracking turbulence, landing in Puerto Vallarta where the sun shone bright and hot. After battling through the crowds to the taxis, we found ourselves trundling through the city and out the other side, along the coast, until we reached the magnificent house where the rest of the Barber family was already staying.
The following few days were lovely, spent mainly eating delicious food, watching the ocean sputter and churn far below the infinity pool, and relaxing on the beach while happy dogs lay in the shade of our chairs. We got massages on the beach, laying fifteen feet from the water’s edge, drank tropical cocktails, and generally had a grand old time. We celebrated Jason’s birthday with a special dinner in town and a cake back at the house.
One highlight of the trip (this won’t come as a surprise) was the food tour we took on our last day. Our guide was knowledgeable and entertaining, and at one point we somehow ended up inside the house of one of the food vendors, attempting to copy the woman’s deft tortilla making as she pressed, then neatly plopped, tortillas on the hot griddle. Each of us tried, to various degrees of… success. Each failure was met with howls of laughter from everyone watching.
The rains finally came just before Thanksgiving, washing clean the smoke-clogged air from the devastating fires. We even got some thunder and lightning late one night, while Jonji was working a night shift. The cats and I weathered the storm in our cozy room, listening to the wind howl. The last of the clinging leaves were whipped off now-bare branches, nature preparing for the renewal of Spring.
Fawkes Barber was born the following week, just a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Jonji, being on break, went over there multiple times before I got to. We stopped by their house for a little while on the morning of Thanksgiving. Little Fawkes is adorable, with a perfect little nose and quite a lot of hair. Taz, Pat, Oakes, and Arrow seemed at ease with their newly grown family; their house felt full of quiet contentment.
The rest of Thanksgiving was, of course, all about food. I prepared two apple pies, one with crumble topping and one without, to satisfy all gathered. The flaky pastry was lauded by all and, truly, it did turn out incredibly well—I’ll be updating my Apple Pie recipe shortly.
Wendy, Daniel, Myles, and Nolan arrived around 4pm, and soon the kitchen was full of sound and smells. Dad kept everyone supplied with cocktails, and Wendy shared her delicious kombucha. The gathering in the kitchen moved to the dining table, and soon everyone was patting full bellies and lamenting their limited capacity.
Jonji and I got our first ever 5-foot tree last weekend (we’ve usually gone for the 3-footers). The place on Stanford’s campus was pretty pricey, but as we turned to leave in search of cheaper options, one of the guys who worked there cornered us and eventually insisted that we pick one out at the price we wanted to pay. A few minutes later, we’d chosen a gloriously bushy tree and I went to accompany the little girl helping us fit the tree in our little Honda. My suggestion of putting it horizontally across the back seat with the top poking out the window was met with, “Well, that’s the first one of these I’ve had today.” It fit perfectly, and we drove the short way home with the tree top dancing merrily out of the window.
Jonji and I recently hosted a cousin and cousband (pretty proud of that one) dinner, which was as fun as I imagined it would be. There was a point at which Kelly, Kerry, Bailey, and I were dancing in the kitchen while making up strange scenarios about people we barely knew, and I remarked that if we subtracted 10 years (or more) from that moment we would probably be doing the exact same thing.
Another stand out moment from dinner was this focaccia. I always jump at the opportunity to make some because it’s delicious and an all-around crowd pleaser. My dad used to make it for Thanksgiving, often plaited and always studded with rosemary. Sometimes he made it for Halloween, shaped like a big spider or even like fingers, upon the ends of which he would place almond “nails.” I remember watching him paint the puffy, risen dough with olive oil, awaiting my chance to tear soft, pillow-like chunks out of whichever shape he’d chosen.
I hesitate to even call this focaccia, because it doesn’t have the traditional open, irregular crumb structure that focaccia usually has. Plus, traditional focaccia dough is way too wet to shape it into anything other than an amoeba. But I grew up calling this bread focaccia, so for the sake of simplicity I’ll keep it that way; whatever it is, it’s delicious.
However you decide to shape your focaccia, whether it’s the classic Italian rectangle or something fun, I guarantee it will taste exceptional. I’m providing a version with fresh rosemary because it’s my favorite, and the one my dad stuck to over the years. Serve it slightly warm, with a bowl of olive oil for dipping, for best results.
Braided Focaccia with Rosemary
Makes 1 plaited loaf or 1 9×13-inch rectangle • adapted from Field of Greens by Annie Somerville
60g (¼ cup) warm water
1 packet active dry yeast, about 1 tsp
8g (2 tsp) sugar
50g (¼ cup) olive oil
15g (3 tbsp) chopped rosemary, plus an extra sprig
180g (¾ cup) warm water
390g (2 ¾ cups) all-purpose flour
6g (1 ¼ tsp) fine sea salt
olive oil, for brushing
coarse or flaky sea salt
Stir the yeast and sugar into 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, until the yeast has turned foamy. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and salt and set aside.
Add 50g olive oil, 15g chopped rosemary, and 180g warm water to the foamy yeast and stir to combine. Add the flour mixture 1 cup at a time, stirring as you go. Place the bowl on the stand mixer and, using the dough hook, mix on medium speed for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add a little flour as you go if it sticks to the bowl too much. (Alternatively, knead by hand for about the same amount of time until it reaches the same consistency.) Place the dough in a bowl lightly coated with olive oil, turn to coat the ball of dough, then cover with lid or a damp towel. Leave to rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2-2 hours.
For the traditional rectangle: lightly oil a 9×13 inch baking dish. Place the risen dough in the dish and gently press down until the dough reaches the edges of the dish in an even layer. Cover with a towel and let rise for another 30-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Using three fingers (like you’re counting) dimple the dough of rectangle from top to bottom, length-wise, down the left edge. Repeat on the middle third and right edge of the dough. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with plenty of coarse or flaky sea salt (plus some more rosemary leaves, if you want). Reduce the oven to 375°F and bake for 25-30 minutes, until light golden brown.
For the plaited loaf: instead of the 9×13 inch dish, lightly oil a large baking sheet or line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the risen dough into thirds and shape into long, roughly 12-inch “ropes.” Create a traditional braid, tucking the top and bottom (the beginning and end of the plait) slightly under the rest of the dough. Cover and let rise for 1 hour, until puffy. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky salt, then follow the same baking instructions as above.