You often hear how women begin to nest towards the end of pregnancy. This looks different for different people — some staying up late at night finishing painting projects, others buying new furniture, stocking the freezer or spending time on the nursery. Next week I’ll be entering the third trimester and I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of nesting and of spending time at home. In truth, nesting isn’t something that’s new to me: I come from a family of nesters. My dad opened a furniture store the year I was born in Northern California and during my childhood it slowly grew to be a larger chain. He cared about the fixtures in our house, and would sit with me on our front stoop pointing out examples of good and bad taste — mostly in cars that would drive by but I seem to recall this with passerbyers and their attire, too. I realize this probably sounds a bit pretentious or maybe even downright snooty, but we grew up pretty humbly in those days; it was more a matter of strong opinion than a reflection of, say, having more than anyone else on the block. Those opinions, of course, were contagious and today I care very much about the way our house is situated and how we spend our time at home (although I don’t sit out on our stoop and talk to Sam about who I feel has good and bad taste on the block).
My mom also cared a great deal about our home life: she always had fresh flowers in the kitchen or on the dining room table and insisted we all sit and eat dinner together each night. Even today, if you have a hard day or things feel a little off, she’ll suggest fresh flowers and I’ve come to realize she’s right: they really can fix many of life’s very minor problems. In addition to bouquets, my mom was always an enthusiastic consumer of seasonal wreathes and colorful holiday decorations (and still is). She loves a good throw pillow and clean-burning taper candles. My people care about their surroundings.
So as I start looking toward the things I want to complete before Sprout (our temporary name) is born, I wonder if the nesting urge will grow stronger. I imagine it may not, really, and will consist largely of freezing meals and getting the baby’s room ready. Or maybe it will kick into high gear as I’ll be naturally spending more time getting ready for Sprout and less time doing granola deliveries and shipments. Who knows? Much like the weeks of pregnancy that are now behind me, I can say that the one constant is you just don’t know what any of it will look like. In a way it’s reassuring as you can’t worry too much about things you don’t yet understand. It’s a one step at a time endeavor and if you’re lucky it’s filled with ice cream cones, long neighborhood walks in the evening when it’s still light at 9:30 p.m., and lots of fresh salads that make you look forward to lunch the next day.
Heidi Swanson’s Cucumber Salad from her new book Near and Far is one such salad. I just made this recipe last weekend as Sam and I were lingering at home on a Saturday listening to records and going through old newspapers. It’s the first recipe in Heidi’s beautiful book and the one that most called to me: it looked fresh and snappy yet substantial and interesting (lemongrass! lime! red pepper flakes!)
Heidi’s newest book comes out on September 15, and I think you’re going to get lost in it as much as I did. It’s organized around the theme of place — of recipes that are inspired by her hometown of San Francisco and others that were kickstarted thanks to her travels to Morocco, Japan, Italy, France and India. This particular salad is from one of the San Francisco sections; I made a few tweaks to the recipe, opting to use pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts and I added in some thin-sliced radishes. I also served mine on a little nest of soba noodles but you could instead fold in additional greens or leftover grains as Heidi suggests. Not that you need to serve it with anything at all: it’s perfect just the way it is. And while I would’ve loved to have this recipe in my back pocket for the July heatwave we had in Seattle, I’m thankful to have it now to help fuel me through the third trimester. Fresh flowers, home projects, business to-do lists (maybe even a seasonal wreath?!) and all.
Ever-so-slightly adapted from Near and Far
Place the cucumbers, onion, radishes, kale and tofu in a large mixing bowl.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the lemongrass, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, and salt and simmer for a couple of minutes — long enough for the honey to dissolve fully. Remove from the heat and whisk in the red pepper flakes. Let cool for 5 minutes and pour over the cucumber mixture. Toss gently but thoroughly and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Toss again and adjust the salt and red pepper to taste.
If you’re serving this salad with soba noodles, cook them according to the instructions on the package. Drain off any residual liquid from the cucumber mixture into a small bowl. If serving with the noodles or with grains, toss them with this liquid. Top with pumpkin seeds and a good squeeze of lime. Serve the remaining lime wedges at the table.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.