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).
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.