On Being Fed (+ The New Chocolate Chip Cookie)

The New Chocolate Chip Cookie | A Sweet SpoonfulA few months ago, I spoke here about the meals I was planning to make before the baby arrived. I made beef carnitas and pulled pork, and cooked and froze lots of whole grains. I prepared a few different soups and froze a handful of brownies and blondies. Ziplock bags were neatly labeled and freezer shelves were organized by type of food. Clearly, I wasn’t messing around. About that time, a friend emailed me and suggested we do a meal train and even offered to organize it. My initial thought was that we really didn’t need it and could take care of feeding ourselves on our own (apparently, I’m not big on asking for help). The freezer was stocked and we had family visiting who would surely cook … but the more I thought about it, I knew our friends would want to swing by and having a little structure would probably make them feel more comfortable.

Taking the uncertainty out of it (What time should I bring food? Is now a good time? Should I text or call? What if I wake the baby?) turned out to be a good thing for everyone and before we knew it, we were getting little email notifications from friends who had signed up to bring us meals. Some indicated what they’d bring (quiche! lentils! “something delicious”!) and others left it as a surprise; some stayed for a cup of tea and others dropped a bag at the door. Regardless of the meal, the gesture felt overwhelming and I realized that we needed that almost as much as the roast chicken, soups, homemade pasta sauce, and pints of gelato. In the midst of the insular, exhausting and all-encompassing weeks of caring for a brand new baby and trying to care for ourselves, we needed to see our friends, some who had had kids and understood what we were going through and others who could relate to just generally feeling overwhelmed and not quite yourself. I was so glad we’d said yes to it all. 

The New Chocolate Chip Cookie | A Sweet SpoonfulThose that know me very well know that I can be a little controlling when it comes to food. Maybe I haven’t spoken much about that here — while in my teen years and my early twenties that manifested as more of an eating disorder, now it looks much more like a general concern that most meals be well-rounded. Or at least that the day as a whole looks this way. If we have a heaping stack of pancakes for breakfast, I’ll try to make a big salad for lunch. If Sam makes pasta for dinner, I try to sneak in something green to go with it. Maybe even some protein. It’s all quite mundane to talk about, really. I even bore myself in thinking too hard about it let alone writing about it here, but after I had Oliver I realized how deeply ingrained this had become in my day to day life. All of a sudden I wasn’t able to control what we’d eat or even when we’d eat. The meals were definitely not always well balanced. Breakfast often consisted of a few leftover holiday cookies or half of a burrito from the night before. It was more survival mode than leisurely meal planning.

I remember breaking down sobbing one night as I sat eating while Sam rocked the baby across from me, his plate of food sitting on the coffee table getting cold. I worried it’d be months (years?!) before we got to sit down at the table and actually eat dinner together. He assured me it was just temporary. That we were eating together, just not taking bites at the same time. Things were different. Things are still different and will be for a very long time. Mostly in good ways, of course, but also in ways that have taken some getting used to. Oliver is two months old today and has graced us with big toothless smiles and occasional six hour stretches of sleep (!!!). Lately he’s also graced us with good chunks of time where he’ll lounge on his funny elephant pillow on the kitchen floor and just hang out listening to A Boy Named Charlie Brown while Sam and I sit and eat dinner together. It feels like a coup.

I recently wrote about Alana Chernila’s newest book, The Homemade Kitchen and in it she has a chapter on feeding people in your life when they’re sick or there’s a death in the family or a new baby. Of this she says, “It can be easy to talk yourself out of bringing dinner. Particularly when there’s a birth, death, or illness, walking into someone else’s experience can feel awkward. We want to give space … But on the whole, we usually think people want more space than they actually do. You don’t have to visit, or to fill the house with conversation. You only have to bring dinner. The presence of that little box, the pot, the food into which you put care — it will remind them they should eat, and it will make them feel taken care of when they need it most …When we bring dinner, we say: I’m your community. I’m here for you. Eat.”

When I think back to why the meal train felt so significant, it really came down to this: feeling cared for by our community. On days when we wouldn’t leave the house and would be lucky to shower, it made us feel less alone. And it also allowed me to completely focus on the task at hand — Oliver — and relinquish all cares and thoughts about the smaller, more mundane parts of the day … like whether or not we’d have a green vegetable for dinner. I didn’t know what dinner would be until it arrived on our stoop. Or even when it would arrive. But all of a sudden, it really didn’t matter.

 *                                         *                                       *

As with most things related to pregnancy and babies, there is a wealth of advice online about what foods to bring to families after they have a baby. Some of the advice is good, some not as much. I really like this Kitchn post because it touches on other elements of a meal or parts of a day beyond casseroles and soups. There were a few friends who would throw in a little something extra for a snack, and others who sent a favorite breakfast treat. When our families weren’t in town, getting to the grocery store was a challenge so fresh snacks and fruit were really nice, too. And cookies. It was certainly the season of cookies and they never seemed to get old.

And as it happens, these cookies from Samantha Seneviratne’s book The New Sugar and Spice are the first thing I’ve baked for us “just because.” After flipping through the book for a few minutes, I was immediately intrigued with her focus: in short, she discusses how so many American sweets really rely on sugar for flavor, resulting in overly sweet cookies, cakes, breads. Samantha has long been really interested in the way spices amplify flavor in baked goods, so she set out to create a baking book that experimented with bold spices and less sugar. Of these cookies, she notes “They are unique enough to be strikingly delicious and familiar enough to please the staunchest traditionalist.” And while we really loved them, I decided to bring a plate to my book club earlier this week to share. It was cold and rainy and the first time I’ve left Oliver to do something social on my own. I showered and actually put on jeans. And as the night ticked on, I looked around at our growing group of ladies, all sharing cheese and wine and lentils and cinnamon rolls and cookies and all manner of conversation not related to the book we were supposed to have read, and found myself thinking again about my community here. It really, truly feels like a coup.

The New Chocolate Chip Cookie

The New Chocolate Chip Cookie

  • Yield: 12-14 large cookies
  • Prep time: 15 mins
  • Cook time: 12 mins
  • Inactive time: 5 mins
  • Total time: 32 mins

I was intrigued by these cookies when I noticed that they call for coconut oil instead of butter. This makes them a little lighter than a traditional chocolate chip cookie. I made a few tweaks, using half spelt flour and turbinado sugar instead of granulated sugar. Certainly use all-purpose flour and granulated sugar if you’d prefer. But I think these cookies are pretty forgiving and a good chance to experiment with a whole grain flour if you’d like. If you don’t have pistachios, any nut would be great here. I’m aiming to make these again with walnuts or pecans and an additional handful of coconut.

Slightly adapted from The New Sugar and Spice 

Ingredients

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60-70%), chopped (about 1 cup)
2 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) shelled raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
1 cup (3 ounces) shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
Flaky salt, like Maldons, for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, combine the coconut oil, brown sugar and turbinado sugar together until creamy. Stir in the vanilla extract and the egg. Add the flour mixture to the coconut oil mixture and stir to combine. Fold in the chocolate, pistachios and coconut.

Scoop the dough in 2-tablespoon scoops and place on the prepared baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart. Sprinkle each cookie with a bit of flaky salt. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Let the cookies cool on the sheets on racks for about 5 minutes. While these cookies are best eaten the day they’re made, they can be stored covered at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Comments

  1. Nicole

    Aww, Megan, you WILL get to all sit down together and eat a hot meal again (granted, it may be quick, as toddlers are known for losing interest quickly ;)) even though it seems impossible in the first months. I used to save a cup of coffee and a little treat or late (second?) breakfast for myself to enjoy during nap time. It felt like such a luxury to have a hot cup of coffee! And it really helped make up for those other slapdash meals. Many xoxos and sleep to you.

  2. Kris

    Loved reading this post -- reminded me of those early days when my daughter was first born (almost 2 now)! It's was an emotional time for me, everything seemed off-kilter dinner/diet wise. It took time to get it figured out but that time goes by so quickly, before I knew it we were all together at the dinner table. It's all good. (What kept my mornings going was your Hasty Pudding! Such a treat! Such a comforting dish).

  3. Goldie

    Megan:
    Your post was beautiful and so true, and it really hit home for me. Our second daughter turned 3 mo old on the 11th. Our first will be 3 shortly. My husband and I are on opposite schedules at work, as well. Any time we get to share a meal as a family is so special and significant. Thanks for writing what I think about a lot. Enjoy Oliver and the (sometimes) crazy and/or quick dinners. Even those are so special.

    1. megang

      Thanks, Goldie. And congratulations to you on your growing family. I hear 3 months is a time when they start to "even out" a little ... who knows. I've learned all babies are so different! Having opposite schedules at work is hard, I imagine. I think this is our biggest hurdle right now: time management with the baby and with each other. But you're right that even the rushed meals or standing meals will be something we'll look back on fondly, I think. Hope you had a great weekend, and thanks for the sweet comment. ~Megan

  4. Rachel

    I have a two-year-old, and your post was an excellent reminder of what it was like for us when she was an infant. We sat down together with plates of food at mealtimes, and would alternate with one of us eating while the other held and bounced our daughter. Now that she's a toddler, she wanders, coming back to the table to eat a bite or two, while we eat together. Dinners are different, but still happen as a family!

    1. megang

      Thanks, Rachel. Yes, different is the word for sure. We've gotten good at eating while standing, eating with one hand ... and heck, I even eat breakfast on the floor while hanging out with Oliver on occasion. It is different, but we're starting to settle into it. Thank you for taking the time to comment! ~ Megan

  5. Kaitlin

    So love reading your posts, Megan. I vividly remember the comfort of receiving a home-cooked meal from friends when my son was born, down to the exact dish, even though it was four years ago. There is something so incredibly wonderful about having a true community to share in that strange, wonderful time with a new baby. Yesterday my son and I made these cookies together. He has a newfound interest in helping with all the steps of the baking process, including cracking eggs (yikes!!). It's only a matter of time before Oliver will be whipping up granola with you! Of course, you have plenty of wonderful baby time left-not to rush that along! Thank you for sharing your delicious recipes with us and taking the time to write thoughtfully. Glad you got some time out for you, also!! It feels good to feel human for a while :)

    1. megang

      Kaitlin! I'm so glad you had a chance to make the cookies ... and with your son no less. That's so wonderful. I hope you liked them. It's possible I may have made them three times now. Yes, I have a feeling I'll remember the dishes people brought for a long time, too. They really made such an impact, as simple and uncomplicated as some of them were it meant so much. Hope you have a great week ahead, ~Megan

  6. JLM

    First, I just want to say how great it is so see pictures of Oliver on instagram. This whole social media thing is so strange-sharing pictures with strangers-but I really love seeing his philosopher's face! This post really spoke to me. This week, a friend was sick, and I decided to make her family dinner and drop it off. I had a plan and bought all of the ingredients, but even so, I almost talked myself out of it! What if they don't eat cheese, I wondered. What if they hate pasta? What if my bread comes out misshapen (even though I make the same bread every week!) The only way I can think to justify these thoughts is to say that making this meal for them felt so intimate that I worried it was borderline intrusive. I recently read that you've never truly been a friend unless you've done something that someone cannot repay. I think that's true both of being the giver and the recipient. It takes a good friend to be a giver, and an equally good friend to accept help graciously.

    1. megang

      This is so true! It's so, so hard fighting through all the doubts and wonders in reaching out to someone in need ... and just doing it. Always so much easier to come up with a reason why it may not work or may not be the right time. I love that sentiment about not truly being a friend until you've done something that can't be repaid. I'll remember that one. And yes, it is hard to accept help, too. That's my biggest hurdle -- I always feel like I can do it all alone and I'm slowly realizing that's just not the case. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, ~Megan

  7. Ashley

    We had the same "dinner will never be the same, why didn't they tell us" moment when my daughter was a few weeks old. At the time I thought we'd never have a normal meal together again, but thankfully (with time) we all get to eat together again.

    1. megang

      Thanks, Ashley! Glad to hear (phew). ~Megan

  8. Jennifer W.

    I've never posted before, but your description of the decreased importance of what/when you are eating with a new baby resonates for me. I ate practically nothing but cookies for the first two months (I comforted myself with the fact that they were lactaction cookies and consequently served some purpose). For me, I re-found my love for cooking and my focus on making balanced healthful meals when we started feeding our daughter solids. It can't hurt that at six months I finally felt like I had myself together enough, physically and emotionally, to start really caring about cooking again. Nevertheless, it's been a wonderful experience to see how we are slowly but surely transitioning to family meals and to watch her acquire a taste for the foods we love. I wish the same for you and your little family.

    1. megang

      Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and sorry for my delayed response! I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one surviving on cookies for awhile ... I used the holidays as an excuse but really it could've been May and I think it would've been the same scenario. I really can't wait until we can start feeding Oliver solids. I think it'll be so sweet to discover things he loves (and hates?) and will make cooking a bit more gratifying and interesting. Hope you had a nice weekend and a good week ahead ~ Megan

  9. Heidi - Apples Under My Bed

    Beautiful, heartfelt and true post. That TheKitchn link - yes!! I have friends who are about to give birth and I am so acutely aware of things now that I wasn't before having a baby. Things I should do, things they will need... I was so thankful for the people who "got it" when Joan was a newborn. Ben and I are still in the phase of eating dinner oddly. What I relish are those breakfast dates, when we eat in or go out and I'm wearing bubs in a sling and she's asleep and we can actually eat at the same time with two hands and have a conversation about the other things in life. Dinner still seems a long way off. Thank you for the cookies, too. x

    1. megang

      Thanks, Heidi! Yes, isn't it amazing the things you learn / pick up after having a baby that you want to do with friends who have their own. I realize all the things I maybe should've done differently with pregnant friends in the past ... You bring up a really good point about breakfast. Mornings are definitely Oliver's best time of the day and sharing a morning meal is a treat. This is usually reserved to weekends at this point, but still so very nice. And yes to slings! Magical. Thanks so much for your sweet comment. Hope your sweet little family is doing well. xox, ~Megan

  10. Carla

    My local store doesn't carry spelt flour, you make it sound so good... Is hemp flower something similar? Thanks

    1. megang

      You know Carla, I'm not super familiar with hemp flour. I would say if they don't carry spelt flour, doing 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 all purpose flour should work just great. And you could certainly always use 100% all-purpose flour. But spelt flour is really great and acts much like all-purpose flour in recipes but has much more nutrition - easy to find online if that's something you're interested in. Good luck! ~Megan

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