A DECLUTTERING EXPERT once told me to photograph the things I loved but had to live without. She said the picture would evoke the same memories and emotions as the real thing.
That’s proved useful advice for a lot of things that have left my life — willingly or regretfully on my part — including, most recently, the favorite restaurants we lost to the pandemic in numbers as astonishing as everything else since March 2020.
With restaurants, luckily, we have the advantage of not just photos, but recipes that light up an extra sensory path. Cookbooks are bringing me great joy, seeing images of the places we loved, and then tasting some of those same flavors.
One of my favorite ways to treat myself and the kids for several years was an off-peak visit to The Wandering Goose on Capitol Hill — off-hours to avoid a complete crush of bodies in the welcoming but narrow little rectangle of a restaurant. Now when I look at owner Heather Earnhardt’s 2016 cookbook, “Big Food Big Love,” pictures of Wandering Goose transport me right back to wooden tables on 15th Avenue East, beautifully imprinted with wistful sentences of love and loss. I can make her mile-high biscuits and preserves (she used soft winter-wheat flour from Boonville Flour & Feed Mill in North Carolina, the cookbook tells us), and my own batch of the Charlie Brown chocolate peanut butter cookies I’d often get to go. (Who had room for cookies immediately after a Wandering Goose brunch?)
It’s a little unsettling traveling in this new landscape. On a recent Portland trip, our old tradition of Tasty n Alder for dinner (put your name on a list, and browse at Powell’s Books during the wait) was gone, along with the restaurant. But there’s the 2017 “Hello! My Name is Tasty” cookbook to put myself back in those days, picturing my now-big kids as their younger selves delighting in skillets of shakshuka and plates of chocolate-potato doughnuts. Our leaving-Portland lunch of Pok Pok is now only a bookmark to its signature Som Tam papaya salad in founder Andy Ricker’s 2013 cookbook of the same name.
In addition to my overflowing shelves, here’s another bright spot: The people who remain and the good new things they create. In the case of The Wandering Goose, an expanded version has been reborn on the Washington coast. Earnhardt and her husband still run the Tokeland Hotel, which they bought in 2018 as a part-time project, and the restaurant was re-imagined as a much bigger Wandering Goose in November 2021.
The evocative Seattle tables are still in storage, but will be used in upcoming projects, Earnhardt tells me in an email. But the biscuits and jam? “Absolutely” there, along with the mile-high cakes, my favorite cookies, maple bars and cinnamon rolls, and quiche and pie. “The pastry case is even more full, if you can imagine that.”
The hours are longer at the new Goose. There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, fried chicken and Boonville grits, plus Willapa Bay oysters and razor clams and other seafood that’s suddenly hyperlocal to Earnhardt. There’s a full bar and farm animals on the grounds and historic hotel rooms to sleep in afterward.
I love making a big batch of Charlie Brown cookies at home, but hearing her enthusiasm is enough to crowd out my nostalgia and plan for new memories.
Charlie Brown Cookies
Makes 2 dozen 4-inch cookies
1 pound bittersweet chocolate chips
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons baking soda
6 large eggs
4 cups sugar
1½ tablespoons vanilla extract
3 (10-ounce bags) peanut butter chips
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Over a saucepan of simmering water, stack a metal or glass bowl, making sure it fits snugly, and the water doesn’t touch the bottom. Put the chocolate and butter in the bowl, and stir until fully melted and smooth. Set the mixture aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda, and set aside.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the melted chocolate. Reduce the speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture. Fold in the peanut butter chips. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
5. Working in batches (you’ll have to complete this process twice), use a 2-ounce scoop to drop scoopfuls of dough on the lined baking sheet, gently pressing down the cookies to flatten them a bit. The cookies will spread when baking, so evenly space 6 cookies per baking sheet. Bake until the cookies are starting to crack and lose their shiny appearance, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
— From “Big Food Big Love” by Heather Earnhardt (Sasquatch Books, $24.95)