Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn’t there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. ‘Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner.
In truth, before we had Oliver, we’d often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) ‘expats’ now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what’s good for you, they’d all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn’t where our priorities are this year, and I’ve found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let’s not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle’s no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can’t wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it’s warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about how to get back into the kitchen and cook. Everyone said that it would all change after a baby and I read posts touting the magic of meal planning and Quick Weeknight Dinners, assuring myself this would not be us. How hard could it really be to find time to cook again? Hard, it turns out. You were all right, alright? And it’s clear I’m not the only one thinking about these things (did you all see Molly’s post on Cooking with a Young Child? Kasey’s recent post on Cooking These Days?).
I knew in the weeks after having Oliver things would need to shift. Other people would visit and cook for us, friends would even deliver food. We’d order in. I would take a huge step back. But much sooner than I’d expected I began yearning to take a step back in, despite having neither the time or, frankly, the mental clarity to do so. While I realize that the discussion of cooking with a baby babbling on the kitchen floor isn’t for everyone, I do think, baby or not, we all deal with slumps and hurdles in trying to stay motivated in the kitchen, so I thought I’d share a few tricks that have helped me get back into cooking. Okay, not every night. Hardly. I probably cook a homemade meal either from a recipe or by instinct / feel about twice a week, the other days pulling something quick together with Sam, like a big salad, quesadillas or some sort of whole grain or pasta situation. But, much as our stormy blossoming season, or this little light of mine learning to sit up, I think we’re on our way there.
A Tiny Bit of Gear: I was very, very weary of buying a bunch of baby stuff when we learned we were pregnant. To be honest, I can’t stand clutter and I just hated the looks of most of it. But we’ve slowly acquired a few more things and some of them have proved to be indispensable in getting things done in the kitchen. Oliver has a Bobby Lounger Pillow where he sits happily playing with a toy or two for a good ten or fifteen minutes (twenty if the Gods are favoring you). If you race, you can get some serious chopping done in this time. It helps if you sing in low tones and do some crazy lady dancing antics. Tap dancing works, too. For days when Oliver isn’t feeling the Boppy, we love the Solly Baby Wrap. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy to wear, keeps your baby close and allows you to be hands free in the kitchen. Now that Oliver’s become more aware and interested in what’s going on around him, I generally talk him through the recipe steps and what will come next. Then if things start really going south, we turn to our trusty pacifier-with-clips, a lifesaver sparing me from constantly bending down to pick the pacifiers up when Oliver inevitably spits them out (I love these not-ugly ones from Madeline’s Box).
Menu Planning: I remember probably about a year before Oliver was born, we were at a friends house and she had a dinner menu for the next two weeks posted on the fridge. I was part in awe at her organization and part horrified at the lack of spontaneity in their weeks: what if you don’t feel like taco night next Thursday? Now after having Oliver, I totally get it. Sometimes, it’s all about just putting a plan in place and eating some damn tacos, whether you really feel like them or not. So while we certainly don’t plan out a two week menu (or even a one week menu), I’ve been trying to be really deliberate about picking two recipes or things to make at the beginning of the week so that we have some cornerstone meals and then we fill in the rest with quick, easy dinners or leftovers. Or occasionally a pizza from Delancey.
Cook the Night Before: One of the only ways I’ve found that I can actually cook something even slightly involved for dinner is to cook the night before. Usually this is long after Oliver goes to sleep and long after we’ve eaten dinner … so we’re talking 9 or 10 p.m. At first, I felt really bitter and unhappy doing this, and could think of 99 things I’d rather be doing. Of course my mind wandered to ‘this is what life is now: I’ll never cook dinner at a normal time again.’ But! Come the next day when we have beef carnitas all ready to go or homemade tomato sauce and braised greens, the day feels much more under control. A friend recently lamented that she was having a horrible time cooking dinner because by the time dinner time rolls around, the babies (she has twins!) are fussy and the countdown to bedtime has already begun. I suggested this trick to her. For me, it seems the only truly sane way to do it the way I want to do it. A late night cocktail helps, too.
Be Cool With Less: Another reason I initially felt defeated during the dinner hour was in looking at our plates and feeling like we were failing: it was so different than how we used to eat. These days we often reheat soup and thaw a baguette. Sometimes we make grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. We eat a lot of scrambled eggs. Sometimes if we’re feeling fancy we dress them up with chevre and chives. But as with most things Baby, I remind myself it’s not permanent. Right now, it’s all about just getting something to eat before it gets dark. I try to look away from all of those glossy articles and blogs promising recipes and tips for new moms on How to Live Your Best Life in the Kitchen every darn night of the week: it’s possible they’re all living on Mars. We all do our best.
Give Yourself a Break: For nights when shopping and preparing a meal from scratch just isn’t an option, we’ve fallen for this new healthy meal delivery service called Sunbasket. It’s currently available in a handful of states including Washington and California (check their site to see if they deliver to your state) and much like the dozens of other services out there, the meals can all be pulled together in 30 minutes or under and they offer options for specialized diets including paleo, gluten-free, and vegetarian. But beyond all this, I think Sunbasket really stands out for one reason: their approach to waste. They actually include a shipping label so that you can mail back the shipping box along with all of the packaging and they reuse it for a future shipment. So when things start feeling too busy or overwhelming, it never hurts to go the easy route and have someone deliver the ingredients for your dinner to your front door. We recently tried their Spring Vegetable Tofu Stir Fry and loved it. And it actually made a generous enough portion that we had it for lunch the next day. If you’re interested in ordering a Sunbasket box of your own, they’re offering A Sweet Spoonful readers $30 off your first order.
Another great tip that I didn’t formally build into this list is doubling a good recipe and freezing some of it, which is exactly what I did with this recipe for Power Greens Soup. I made this soup late at night and ended up photographing it the next morning while Oliver was bouncing away in his heinously ugly jungle jumper contraption that we’ve exiled into the corner of the kitchen. It’s a soup that started out of necessity: on a very rainy day last week I ended up going to Costco with Oliver because, to be honest, I needed a destination. We usually go on long walks in the morning but with the awful weather, I was at a loss for where to go. So we got in the car and strolled the aisles of Costco, picking up some odd things: a ton of goat cheese, a ton of almonds, a ton of cheddar cheese, a ton of greens and a ton of broccoli. I got home and judged myself, wondering what we’d now do with a ton of said items. And as the days ticked on, I started to worry that the greens and broccoli were going to go bad, so I sat down and pencilled a recipe for a soup packed with greens — a soup that would feel like spring even though spring produce isn’t quite available yet. A simple, rustic soup that I could brighten with a bit of lemon and sop up with a slice of the olive oil brioche our friend Mataio recently brought to our house when he stayed the night.
It turns out there are lots of recipes for green soup out there, most relying on a combination of greens, lemon, onion and potato – or sometimes rice. I wanted to incorporate broccoli and celery simply because we had them on hand, really pack it with hearty greens and fold in nutty Parmesan at the end. While it may not win Best Looking Soup of the Year award, I think it’s a winner. I hope you find the time this week to get into the kitchen at some point and cook something that makes you and your people happy, baby or not. Soup or not. Just something good that speaks to you.
Like most rustic soups, this recipe is super adaptable. While I give pretty precise measurements, there’s no need to be too strict here. Worst case scenario if you start to futz with it: you’ll need a little more liquid or perhaps a little more seasoning. When you shop for your greens, many of them now come in 5 ounce bags, so if this is the route you’re going, you’ll need to grab three of those when you’re at the market. Otherwise, simply weigh out the greens on your kitchen scale or estimate in handfuls. I know it seems like a ton of greens but they do cook down quite a bit and diminish in size. Again, going by feel isn’t a bad thing.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Fold the chopped broccoli and potato into the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook down until vegetables soften, about 7-9 minutes.
Add the vegetable stock. Stir well and bring to a boil. Add the greens and stir until they wilt, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Using a food processor or blender, puree the soup in batches. Pour back into the pot. Add the lemon juice and stir. If the soup feels too thick, add a bit of water to loosen until it’s the consistency you like. Stir in the grated Parmesan and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve in your favorite bowls with an extra sprinkling of Parmesan.
Note: Sunbasket has sponsored a portion of this post and Madeline’s Box and Solly Baby Wrap kindly sent along their products for us to try. All opinions are my own.
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.