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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.