Each Monday, we go to a parent’s group where we get together with 7 other couples who live in our neighborhood and compare highs and lows from the week, ask each other questions, and chat about an organized topic. I was a bit skeptical before signing up for the group, thinking maybe it’d feel like a waste of time or maybe just too difficult to attend consistently. But so far we’ve loved getting the babies together and having an excuse to get out of the house and talk to other parents who are dealing with similar issues. Last week, one of the other moms described how she’s started to feel like she’d like a little distance from her son. Her comment resonated with me although I bet it may not have with everyone: I think it’s one that we’re not really encouraged to feel or discuss at this stage in the game.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told to savor every second — that it goes by so fast. To enjoy those baby snuggles all day long. And all night, too. And don’t get me wrong – I get a big ol’ kick out of hanging out with Oliver. He’s started to smile and giggle and I’ve turned into that crazy mom who is clucking and cooing in the middle of the grocery store aisle in response to his laughter. He clutches his weird toy chicken for dear life as I carry him around the house, one arm draped lazily over my shoulder. Sam’s been playing folk songs on the guitar for him, and I’ve started to read to him in the rocker, and talk him through how to make a good cup of coffee and a decent egg each morning. But there are certainly moments when I’d perhaps like to savor Oliver just a little less and, say, do something for myself. Popular sentiment or not, it’s just the truth.
If I think too hard about how maybe we’ve now passed the newborn stage, I become really sad because it did go by so quickly — but the reality is that I think we have. Oliver is sleeping longer, we’ve got feeding pretty under control, we’re able to cook simple meals again and I’ve been slowly handling some work tasks. Things are starting to normalize a little, but with that has come a new challenge as we both try to find that little nook of space for ourselves. And that challenge came to a head last weekend.
We had planned on driving to the Methow Valley with a few friends and were looking forward to introducing Oliver to the snow. I borrowed a tiny, puffy snowsuit for him, we researched renting snowshoes, and procured bad hot chocolate (a longtime weakness of mine). I’d made a big pot of salmon chowder and laid out the ingredients to make these bars for afternoon refueling. But Sunday morning didn’t find us in the car headed to the snow; instead it found us in separate rooms of the house, taking turns entertaining the baby and formulating a lot of questions for each other. How can you give your partner some free time and space without feeling resentful that you’re doing more? How do you then not feel guilty when taking that space or that opportunity outside of the house? Is it possible to find the time to do the things that make you really feel like you again? When working for yourself, how on earth will you ever be able to clock a full work day again? Big Questions with a capital B.
I can’t say that we’ve solved them all yet, and I also recognize they’re not unique to us. But they are new to us and as we dip each toe into the waters of parenthood while negotiating looming work obligations and the desire to see friends and do things for ourselves and as a couple, we realized that sometimes you’ve just got to stay home and hash things out.
We’re learning a lot. Those of you reading this with kids know that this is just the beginning … and intuitively we do, too. What grounds us is Oliver and creating a really good, sweet life for him. Eventually showing him the snow, introducing him to bad powdered packets of hot chocolate, and taking weekend road trips. All things we now have to look forward to. Along with so much else. All while we’re savoring the moments and stealing a few for ourselves along the way.
I had lofty goals for these granola bars: first I wanted them to be nice and chewy with a good bit of crunch from the grains and nuts. I wanted to get away with as little sweetener as I felt I could and eek in some interesting grains. And the main goal was to really pack them with sesame flavor. Those of you who have been around here awhile know that Sam is Lebanese and we visit the Middle Eastern grocery what feels like every other week to stock up on tahini, olives, feta, good olives, pita, dates, halvah and cheap avocados. We have a huge container of tahini in the fridge, so I decided to go all out with it in these bars, and the result is a very addictive, sesame-forward snack. I decided not to call them granola bars as I always think of granola bars as being comprised largely of oats and I think the oats take a backseat to the seeds, nuts and other grains here. I hope you like them. They’d be great fuel if you find yourself headed to the snow this season. But I can also attest to their greatness while snuggled up on the couch with a sleeping baby. It’s all good.
Using all tahini in these bars gives them serious sesame flavor, but if you’d prefer to use a different nut butter (almond or peanut), that would be great, too. And as with many granola and granola bar recipes, these are extremely adaptable so if you are not a fan of a few of the seeds or grains, just swap them out for something you have on hand. Chopped dried fruit or chocolate bits would be a dressy option; different nuts like pecans or walnuts would be great, too. Just keep the proportions of wet and dry ingredients the same, and you should be all set. An added bonus: these actually freeze brilliantly, too. Just wrap them individually in plastic wrap and freeze. They only take about an hour to thaw on the counter — perfect timing for a second breakfast.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9×11 inch pan with coconut oil (or butter).
Mix the tahini, coconut oil, brown rice syrup and maple syrup together in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a low simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and set aside while you prepare the dry ingredients.
In a large bowl, mix together the oats, millet, quinoa, oat flour, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, salt and cinnamon.
Pour the warm syrup mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well; I use my hands at this point to make sure everything is fully incorporated. Press the mixture into the prepared pan using the back of a rubber spatula. Bake the bars until the edges are just turning golden brown, about 28-32 minutes (the bars will feel a bit soft to the touch at this point which is ok; they firm up as they cool). Let them cool completely in pan before slicing, about 2 hours.
Once cool, slice into squares. Wrap the bars in plastic wrap for easy snacking or store, covered, at room temperature for up to 5 days. You can also freeze them (see headnote for instructions).
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.