As you can imagine, I haven’t had a great deal of time to sit down and write much for this post. I’ve been recovering from labor, we’ve had family and friends visiting, and we’re getting the hang of our new sleep “routine” — all thanks to this truly sweet baby boy that arrived exactly one week late on the afternoon of November 18th weighing in at a healthy 8 pounds 15 ounces. We named our son Oliver Stephen Schick (we simply liked the name Oliver, and Stephen is my Dad’s name) and for the first week or so after bringing him home, I couldn’t look at any of the photos our doula took without being truly overwhelmed with emotion. I think it’ll still take some time to process that day and the experience of labor, how incredibly supportive Sam was, and how incredibly hard it all was. I can look back at photos now and find myself doing so during Oliver’s late night feedings or when I have a spare moment to lie down on the couch. I can tell he’s changing already — his cheeks and arms not quite as chubby — and we’re spending lots of time snuggling and rocking him, and trying to notice it all.
The things people tell you when you’re pregnant about not being able to prepare for labor are, as it turns out, true. I still gave it a real go, packing a hospital bag with everything from a heating pad and ginger candies to birth books and energy bars. The day we were heading home and I was getting things ready for Sam to bring to the car, I chuckled as I stared into the bag — the thought of me taking a pause from pushing to consult some of my notes from birth class made me smile. I didn’t touch a thing in that bag, choosing instead to wear the ill-fitting hospital gown for our entire stay, and eating cottage cheese and breakfast burritos from the hospital cafeteria. Oh and that ice cold apple juice! But everyone was right: there is no way to tell what you’ll need, how you’ll feel, and how it will all turn out. I think I probably knew that deep down, but having those ginger candies and birth books made me feel as if I was doing something right.
Arriving home with Oliver for the first time was surprisingly emotional for me. The house wasn’t how we normally leave it, and staring at the living room brought back memories of the hours of painful contractions and moving furniture around to find a comfortable place to labor (it turns out I did a lot of the hard work at home, arriving to the hospital already 8 centimeters dilated). Once we unloaded the car and got settled in, Sam helped bring some order to things around the house and his sister Christa brought us over a hot dinner. We wanted to crack open a bottle of champagne but I think both realized we wouldn’t make much of a dent in it, so we made tea and cranked up the heat instead.
We all slept in our bedroom that night and woke early the next day (after many wakings that night), the first full day as a new family in our own house. I wish I could remember what we did that day, but time all seems to mash together into one long chunk peppered with meals from friends, Sam’s scrambled eggs, many cups of tea, hot showers, a trusty white noise machine, short naps, eggnog, and records in the living room. Sam is already a natural Dad — as I knew he would be. He’s been reading Phillip Larkin and The Odyssey to Oliver, singing him elaborate made up songs, and soothing him like a pro. I look at him and feel so lucky to be doing this together, and I look at Oliver realizing that right now he has no idea what a selfless, cool Dad he has.
When I said earlier that there’s really no way to prepare for labor or the experience of having your first child, that’s certainly true. So all you can do, really, is trust in yourself and the things you’ve put into place. I guess that’s all we can ever do with new endeavors or adventures, isn’t it? And once you do that, you settle into it, hope for the best, and try to envision it all. For Thanksgiving this year, we joined a big group of friends and all sat at a long, communal table sharing dishes we each contributed and turkey that our friend Natalie worked hard on. There was a true abundance of food, two other babies there besides Oliver, warmth and good conversation. I had a hard time eating my meal as I kept thinking about the occasion and what it meant: coming together and giving thanks. We had talked so much about baby Sprout for almost a year … and here he was. Here was Oliver. Here we were. We couldn’t have prepared for any of it, but we’d hoped so hard for it all.
Winter Comfort Food
I intended on baking holiday cookies to share with you today, but when I sat down to brainstorm all I could think about, truly, was the morning porridge I've been making and how that's really what I wanted to send you away with. The holiday season always seems to zoom on by at its own clip with little regard for how most of us wish it would just slow down, and this year feels like no exception. We got our tree last week and I've been making a point to sit in the living room and admire the twinkle as much as possible. I have lofty goals of snowflakes and gingerbread men and stringing cranberries and popcorn, but I'm also trying to get comfortable with the fact that everything may not get done, and that sitting amongst the twinkle is really the most important. That and a warm breakfast before the day spins into gear. This multi-grain porridge has proved to be a saving grace on busy weekday mornings, and it reheats beautifully so I've been making a big pot and bringing it to work with some extra chopped almonds and fresh pomegranate seeds. While cookies are certainly on the horizon, I think I'll have this recipe to thank for getting us through the busy days ahead.
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).
If I asked you about what you like to cook at home when the week gets busy, I'm willing to bet it might be something simple. While there are countless websites and blogs and innumerable resources to find any kind of recipe we may crave, it's often the simple, repetitive dishes that we've either grown up with or come to love that call to us when cooking (or life in general) seems overwhelming or when we're feeling depleted. While my go-to is typically breakfast burritos or whole grain bowls, this Curried Cauliflower Couscous with Chickpeas and Chard would make one very fine, very doable house meal on rotation. The adaptations are endless, and its made from largely pantry ingredients. I never thought I'd hop on the cauliflower "rice" bandwagon, but I have to say after making it a few times, I get the hype.
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.