Last Saturday we felt the whisper of fall for the first time — it was an ominous grey morning with pretty intense wind and light rain, all interspersed with bouts of that saturated, golden September light that I look forward to each year. We had friends staying with us from out of town, and their toddler son Leon sampled an apple from our tree in the front yard (many an apple fell in the storm); suffice it to say, the apples didn’t get rave reviews. I had a feeling this would be the case. Sam made coffee and eggs, and later that morning our dear friends Brandon and Molly hosted a baby shower for us at their restaurant Delancey so we all headed out, looking forward to a day celebrating Baby Sprout with our people.
When we walked up to the door, Natalie was stringing these amazing colored flags she’d cut by hand across the restaurant, and Molly and Brandon were busy setting out bagels and spreads from Eltana, a tasty green bean and tomato salad, fresh fruit (thank you, Keena!) and Ashley’s addictive brownies. We busied ourselves hanging photos on the wall from when we were babies, and Sam raced around in typical Sam fashion chasing Natalie’s son Eero. I’ve been to many baby showers in the past where it was generally all women and there were games and gifts and the like — but we wanted to have a co-ed shower that wouldn’t feel too shower-ish, a comfortable gathering on a blustery Saturday afternoon with really good bagels and many of our friends.
I’m often asked questions about the baby and sometimes I have an answer right off the bat and other times I realize it’s something I haven’t thought about at all (oh, right, I probably should find a pediatrician for the baby, I suppose). Occasionally these things will end up as a conversation starter between me and Sam at home; other times, they’ll simply cause a minor personal panic attack while I’m driving to work (ohhhhh, the to-do lists!). But this question, “what are you most excited to teach your child?” had me thinking for awhile.
I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer right away. I’m used to this with many questions — whenever the old ‘what’s your favorite movie?’ talk comes up, I always remind myself I really need to think through favorite movies, books, meals because in the moment I never have an answer. And I’ve grown ok with that. I usually just blabber on and on about how it depends on the mood, the day, the season. But this question! As a former teacher who comes from a family of teachers, how could I not have an immediate thought about what I was most excited to teach our child?
I just finished the book Bringing up Bebe which, if you haven’t heard of it, is a great read that essentially compares American and French parenting styles. In it, author Pamela Druckerman talks about how American parents often enroll their kids in so many activities — from sports to music to dance — and drive all around town, often exhausting themselves, to make sure their kids experience as many activities as possible. French families, on the other hand, tend to let their children lead a bit more; parents aren’t as eager to exhaust the calendar with multiple activities, play dates, and commitments and instead wait to see how their child’s interests unfold.
Part of me thinks that my uncertainty about how to answer the teaching question is explained a little bit in Druckerman’s research: While of course I’m so looking forward to reading to our child and going on walks around the neighborhood, I haven’t thought much beyond that as I truly can’t wait to see what really excites Sprout — what he or she is interested in and attracted to. That must be one of the cooler things about earlier parenting: discovering your kid’s interests and proclivities, some that possibly you never shared yourself.
So call it more of a French approach or call it ‘too overwhelmed to ponder that question right now’, but we’re both looking ahead to November when we’ll have the chance to get to know our kid as a person slowly — part following, part guiding as we go. That’s all I know for sure right now.
Photo note: Our friend Gabe Rodriquez took these photos for us at the shower. He does amazing work, so if you’re in the Seattle area (or beyond!) and are looking for a photographer, he’s your man.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.