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.
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.