I am officially on maternity leave and it feels stranger than I’d imagined. I thought it’d be all about catching up on novels, leisurely baking and maybe sewing a little something for Sprout. Going on lots of walks with friends and out to lunch. The reality is that most people are working during the week and can’t just sneak away for lunch dates, and sitting around the house aimlessly reading seems to make me antsy. Instead, I find myself deciding that certain tasks have immense and immediate purpose (when they never seemed to before): repotting our house plants, researching new insurance plans, and planning a new product line for Marge for 2016.
In the midst of all of this though, I’ve found some time to catch up on Netflix movies (any recommendations?), went out to Lebanese food with Sam, and finally made it to a cafe on Capital Hill I’ve been wanting to try for quite some time. It’s gotten a bit chilly in Seattle this week so I’ve been making lots of cider and chai in the afternoons for an energy boost, and there certainly doesn’t seem to be a shortage of soup-making or baking — which brings me to these not-too-sweet, protein-packed blondies that I’ve taken quite a liking to.
This blondie recipe is from Tara Desmond’s wonderful cookbook, Fully Belly: Good Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy, which has been a great resource while I’ve been pregnant (in addition to actual recipes, there’s valuable nutritional information and tips on alleviating common pregnancy symptoms, along with stories from real women). In truth, it’s a keeper even if you’re not pregnant — Tara’s approach to food is similar to mine: she tries to minimize too much sugar, experiments with whole grain flours in her baked goods, and goes heavy on the protein and seasonal fruits and produce. I made her Beef Stew a few nights ago to freeze for the baby and then figured it was only fitting to balance that endeavor with something sweet.
These blondies turned out a little cakier than I’d expected which led me to the conclusion that they seemed most suitable for breakfast as well as dessert (I’m easily swayed on this count). If you like a super dense, sweet blondie, these may not be your favorites. But I love how they’re really packed with roasted almonds and bits of good chocolate, and how they have a good hit of protein from the almond butter, almond meal and actual nuts. They’re a great little snacking bar — which I’m really appreciating as I spend more and more time at home. I ended up slicing and freezing half of these for when the baby comes and we’ve not-so-slowly enjoyed the remainders.
For those of you who wrote in with tips for recipes to make ahead and freeze for baby: thank you! They were so helpful, and I still have a few bookmarked. So far, we’ve stocked the freezer with Tara’s aforementioned beef stew, Heidi’s delicious farro soup (you guys must make this!), a simple butternut squash soup, Italian braised pork, shredded beef for tacos, a bunch of pre-cooked whole grains like quinoa and farro, and rye brownies from my last post (as well as a few of these blondies). I think it’s safe to say that we will not starve.
Tara calls for white chocolate in these blondies, but I opted to use dark 70% chopped chocolate instead — certainly use whichever you prefer. And if you don’t have almond meal or almond flour at home, you can pulverize raw almonds in a food processor until they reach a coarse flour-like texture; just be careful not to overprocess or you’ll have almond butter. I used a little more salt, and vanilla extract instead of almond extract (which the recipe calls for) simply because it’s what I had on hand.
Loosely adapted from: Full Belly
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with a square piece of parchment paper, tucking in the corners so that the paper is flat against the bottom and up the sides.
Put the almond butter, butter, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer to beat at medium speed until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and the eggs one at a time and beat until smooth, about 3 additional minutes.
In a medium mixing bowl. whisk together the whole wheat pastry flour, almond flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Sprinkle one third of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix for about 20 seconds. Repeat this twice with the remaining dry ingredients. Add the chopped chocolate and almonds, folding them in completely.
Scrape the thick batter into the parchment-lined baking dish and press it out evenly and into the corners. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops and sides are light brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Take care not to overbake, which will dry them out. Let the blondies rest in the baking dish for at least 10 minutes before lifting them out. Let cool completely before slicing into large or small squares / bars (whichever you prefer).
Store in an airtight container or wrap tightly in plastic or parchment paper for up to 5 days.
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.