We’ve been waking up early these days with baby Oliver. I’ve always been a morning person, so this isn’t particularly challenging for me — although the middle of the night feedings have proven to be really tough. There has been a lot of finessing of sleep schedules and figuring out how Sam and I can both get enough to function well the following day. And just when we think we have it down (“gosh, aren’t we lucky we have a baby that sleeps?”), everything changes. When I was in the final weeks of pregnancy and would talk about how I couldn’t wait for the baby to be here, all of my friends with kids would advise me to sleep as much as possible — and now I get it. I should’ve napped more. I should’ve listened.
In getting up at odd times throughout the night with Oliver, I’ve had the chance to occasionally see some really brilliant sunrises (although not this past week which has been a particularly dark one in Seattle); I’ve made up some wacky baby tunes that I’m happy no one else can hear; and I generally have a good hour in which I can put him in the sling and walk briskly around the house trying to soothe him back to sleep while also putting away a dish or two or making a quick cup of coffee. In that hour, I can usually get something productive done and this past weekend that something was pear gingerbread.
We’ve let many holiday traditions go this year and for a very good, bright-eyed and just-starting-to-smile reason. At first I was disappointed that we wouldn’t have time to put Christmas lights up outside the house or dress up and go to the bar at the Sorrento Hotel like we’ve done in the past to address Christmas cards (or do Christmas cards at all, frankly). But this year is just different, Sam is good at reminding me. It won’t always be as it is now with so much time at home on our couch — we’ll go out again in good time and dress up and have cocktails and write Christmas cards. And I think I can see that he’s right. But even in letting a lot of holiday traditions go this year, I decided there still must be gingerbread.
Now I’m a bit biased when it comes to gingerbread. My favorite recipe is the Whole Grain Gingerbread from my cookbook. I worked on that recipe for a long time to get it just right, just to my liking. It’s deeply spiced and fragrant with citrus and molasses, relies on whole grain flours yet is light enough for morning snacking. With fresh ginger, candied ginger and dried ginger, to me it’s the real deal. But lately I’ve been very much in the spirit of trying other people’s recipes — it feels a bit like letting them cook for me, and there’s nothing more comforting these days than letting others cook for you. I have a lot to say about this after having so many friends bring food by for us after Oliver was born, but I suspect you are all busy preparing for the holiday weekend, so I’ll save it for a very-soon-to-come post.
If you aren’t familiar with Alana’s work, I’ve so loved her first book The Homemade Pantry (remember these crackers?). In it, she has straightforward, delicious recipes for many things we often buy at the store but can easily make at home. She talks about cooking for her family and her life as a home cook and you very much entrust yourself in her hands — she knows what she’s doing and will guide you so that you will, too. The same is true with her new book, The Homemade Kitchen. It has even more narrative than her first book, with sections devoted to discussions on feeding others, feeding yourself, being a beginner cook, slowing down … and so much more. It’s a really rich cookbook, and when I stumbled upon her pear gingerbread at the very end of it, I felt like it was a direct invitation. It was time to try a new-to-me recipe and let Alana cook for me, so to speak.
Megan’s Notes: In Alana’s recipe, she calls for 1/2 cup honey but I wanted to eek in a little molasses so I opted for 1/4 cup honey and 1/4 molasses (instead of the full amount of honey) and it tastes wonderful and plenty sweet. I also used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour (certainly use all-purpose if you’d prefer and if you do, Alana calls for 2 cups) and added a few tablespoons of milk to account for the extra moisture that the whole grain flour needs. In general, you’ll want to be very careful not to over bake the gingerbread — the pears add a bit of moisture and the very top may look a touch wet when you pull it out of the oven for this reason. That’s good! It’ll be super moist and flavorful when it cools and firms up a bit.
Alana suggests to serve this with whipped cream, crème fraîche or caramel sauce and boy would those all be delicious. I suppose it’s a testament to her great recipe that I found it was just right all on its own. As with most gingerbread, it’s even better the second day.
Lightly adapted from: The Homemade Kitchen
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch square or equivalent pan.
In a small saucepan, melt together the butter, honey, molasses and brown sugar over low heat. Gently stir to combine as the mixture melts. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour the butter mixture into the flour mixture and combine with a few strokes of a wooden spoon, taking care not to over mix.
In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, yogurt and milk. Add the egg mixture to the batter and whisk to combine. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.
Lay the pears on top of the batter in a pinwheel shape. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the cake, about 30 minutes. Store, covered, at room temperature.
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.