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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.