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.
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.