I spend a lot of time thinking about connections.
Not the creepy kind, like the US Probations Officer who wants to join my LinkedIn network (um, eh?).
But the odd and completely unlikely connections that occur and persist, despite time or distance. Coincidence, happenstance. Fate. Serendipity. Whatever you want to call it.
Like this: After my mom passed, my brothers and I had the completely daunting task of clearing out my parents’ house. They were quite tidy, my parents, but after 85 years, you collect a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff.
One Saturday afternoon, alone in their house, packing random things into random boxes, I settled my exhausted self on the floor in front of a small bookcase. My mom’s wind chimes rang a soft, improvised tune from the window nearby. Lovely and melancholy. Pulling my dad’s high school year book from the shelf, I opened it to the inside cover where my eye caught a small notation in my dad’s perfect design engineer’s handwriting: “M.R. p 42″
That’s odd. “M.R.” is my mom’s initials. But, my mom didn’t go to my dad’s high school — they lived across town. I flipped to page 42 anyway, and there she was, my mom, a sophomore at my dad’s high school. This was news to me, her attendance at this school (and, sadly, is a mystery that will never be solved since any relative who could explain why my mom was at this high school that year have long since passed).
But, I was completely fascinated. It was 1942. WWII was raging across the Pacific, and my father, a senior, was concentrating only on graduating so he could enlist. He wasn’t thinking about marriage and jobs and mortgages and kids. He was thinking about gun ships and the Army Air Corps.
My parents did not meet that year — they would not meet for another 15 years, actually — but I can’t stop imagining how many times they must have passed each other in the halls — perhaps even uttering a polite ‘hello’ once or twice — completely unaware that they were fated to marry and grow old together.
Connections. This post is about connections, both made and missed.
Last June, through the twisty, clicky magic of the interwebs, I stumbled on a blog post containing a recipe for something called, delightfully, Nettletown Salty Seeds.
Now, I already knew about Nettletown – the small, cutting-edge, well-regarded restaurant located in, of all places, a Seattle strip-mall, owned by Christina Choi. But, I have no idea how I knew about Nettletown. It’s a tidbit of information I had no reason to know (I don’t live in Seattle), and no memory of acquiring. Still, I knew about Nettletown.
So this post and its Salty Seeds, drew my attention that day. I clicked the link. The blog author had developed the recipe, with Christina Choi’s permission, for the special seasoning that Choi often used in her fried rice dishes. An amazing spectrum of seeds, from sesame to pepitas to fennel. Toasted and salted. Intriguing — a must-try.
I bookmarked the page that day in June, hoping to invent an appropriately intriguing wild grains recipe — a nod to Nettletown’s love of wild and foraged ingredients — whose sole raison d’être was to be seasoned with Nettletown Salty Seeds.
But summer, as it usually does, flew by, ending on a very black note with my mother’s death. No Salty Seeds for SoupAddict.
It’s October before I finally hit upon the news that Nettletown had closed at the end of August. Christina wanted to pursue other projects. Friends say she was tired. This news was not, of course, about me in any way, shape or form, but I felt wistful nonetheless. I hadn’t yet tried the Salty Seeds, and I was fairly certain that I would be heading out to Seattle in 2012 and was tucking a visit to Nettletown in my back pocket.
November, at last, a recipe takes shape. Thanksgiving break is coming soon — perfect time to do some testing. It’s good, but not quite there. More ideas form, but time slips away, as often happens with the holidays.
2011 winds down, Christmas comes and goes, and one evening shortly before January, I’m scrolling through my Twitter feed. I don’t remember who sent the tweet, I just remember being stunned, saddened, confused.
A mere four months after closing her restaurant, Christina Choi died from complications following a brain aneurysm. She was 34.
Connections, made and missed and those that persist.
It’s fascinating to me, the forces that drive them. How did I come across that Salty Seeds recipe? I don’t remember. And why did it sit burning in the back of my brain for 6 months, when other recipes were dropping clear off the memory abyss?
With the deluge of information that overwhelms us every day, why did the name “Nettletown” always catch my eye?
I scroll past death notices all the time. Why did Christina’s give me pause?
Why is the Universe so damn mysterious?
I wonder if Christina ever thought about her recipes being bookmarked, shared, printed and hovered over — amazing dishes invented by her, creating happy times for far-away people she’d never meet.
And I wonder if her loved ones will ever stumble on this blog and learn that their daughter’s/sister’s/friend’s culinary legacy had reached Ohio, where a jar of Nettletown Salty Seeds remains a fixture on this random nobody’s sunny kitchen counter.
Nettletown Twists with Salty Seeds
By now, you’ve no doubt noticed that this is not a wild grains recipe, but rather a bread recipe. It formed over the past few weeks and would not be denied. A soft, nutty crumb, a chewy crust, and a puffy disposition makes it the right vehicle for a thick topping of Nettletown Salty Seeds, the star of the show. The braids make an apt metaphor, I think, as life is twisty and unexpectedly bumpy, but also golden and warm and worth savoring.
If full-on yeast bread-baking is not on your agenda, try the Salty Seeds on quick bread recipe (like this one). Delicious.
Prep Time: 3 hours (plus an overnight rest; also includes hands-off resting of the dough)
Bake time: 25 minutes
Yield: 6 large rolls or 8 medium rolls
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons wheat bran
1/2 cup water, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons uncooked farro
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
All of the starter
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons yeast
all of the farro mixture
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder (or non-fat dry milk)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 2/3 cup lukewarm water (90 – 100°F)
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup Nettletown Salty Seeds (recipe below)
To make the starter: The night before the bake, combine the ingredients of the starter in a small bowl. Stir to form a loose, craggly dough. Cover and let ferment overnight.
To make the farro: Bring water to a boil in a small sauce pan over high heat. Add the farro and sesame oil, stirring well. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until grains are puffy and tender. Drain and set aside to cool. Chop lightly.
To make the dough:
Combine all of the dough ingredients except water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low until roughly combined. Slowly add 1/2 cup of the lukewarm water and turn speed up one notch until combined. Switch to the dough hook, and let the machine knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes. The dough should be smooth and soft. If dry, add water one teaspoon at a time, allowing to mix thoroughly between additions.
Place the dough in a greased bowl (I use olive oil spray), turning to coat. Cover and leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for 90 minutes, or until doubled.
Punch down dough and move to a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times and form a ball. Divide the dough into six equal pieces; set three of them aside.
Roll the first three pieces into equal ropes about 1/2″ thick and 20″ long. Braid the ropes, then slice the braid into 3 or 4 pieces, gently scrimping the ends so the ropes don’t unbraid. Place the twists about 2″ apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining three dough pieces. Cover with a towel and leave to rise for about 45 minutes, or until nice and puffy.
Towards the end of rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F. Thoroughly whisk the egg and water, and brush each twist generously. Sprinkle seed mixture evenly over the rolls. Press lightly to help the seeds adhere to the eggwash. Go over each roll again with the eggwash, gently dabbing with the tip of the brush.
Bake twists for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden. Remove twists to a wire rack to cool.
Nettletown Salty Seeds
from Tea & Cookies Blog (no changes made other than to cut the recipe in half)
1 1/2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons pepitas
1 tablespoons sesame seeds (a mix of black and white is nice)
1/2 tablespoon flax seeds (brown or golden)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt (a finish salt such as Maldon’s or coarse gray sea salt is nice)
To make the seeds: Toast the sunflower and pepitas seeds in a large dry (no oil or butter) pan over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring or shaking the pan constantly. Add the sesame seeds and flax seeds and continue to stir for another 2 minutes. Finally, add the cumin and fennel seeds and continue to stir another 2 minutes. If any of the seeds begin to brown, remove the pan and turn the heat down slightly. If the seeds begin to crackle or sputter, do the same.
The seeds are done when they smell fragrant. This should take about 8 minutes. Remove to a plate and spread out to cool. Mix in the salt before using. Store leftovers in an airtight jar.