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.
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.