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).
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.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.