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.
I taught a cooking class last weekend and Sam and Oliver came to visit right at the very end. Oliver wore his favorite red moccasins and quickly made some new friends; Sam helped us eat leftover asparagus tart; and I boxed up some brownie ends and corners to eat later in the evening. I’m here to advise: brownie ends and corners taste their very best at about 11 p.m. As we were leaving, one of my students stopped me and asked how we possibly balance it all. This question always strikes me as tough (and I no longer ask it of people for that reason): Of course we feel like everything is immensely unbalanced and are constantly searching for time to exercise, eat better, cook something for dinner, procure something to make for lunch the next day, read the baby book on sleep habits that’s been sitting on the dresser for 2.5 months, read a non-baby book, water the lawn, figure out what’s killing the lawn, listen to Beyonce’s Lemonade — the list goes on. As it does for you. The stuff of daily life. The reason I bring it up is because the answer to her question is really that we tag team it so well. We have a pretty rigid weekly schedule where we trade off caring for Oliver, and Sam’s sister Christa helps us a few days each week. This way, we can aim to get most of our work done, and then we plan to fit the other things in later in the evening or on the weekends. And Oliver gets to chill in his own house with his own people.
The interesting thing about this tag-teaming is that we all have very different days with Oliver. It’s easy, when you’re talking about your baby, to think anyone’s experience would be similar: he sleeps about this time, he eats this much, he loves this toy, he loves walks in the carrier, white noise when he naps … and so on. But really a new person brings an entirely different layer to the unfurling of his days. When I’m with Oliver, we usually go for a long walk. We often make it to the grocery store, read books, eat avocado, practice crawling, sit in the backyard. When Sam’s with Oliver, they go pop in on Liz and her chickens, swing upside down, visit museums and the library, and walk to Essex in the early evening to have a quick drink before bringing home a takeout burger. Despite the fact she only lives four blocks away, I’d never known of Liz and her chickens until we all walked over that way recently. And I’d never thought to swing Oliver upside down. In his early fussy baby days, I didn’t have the guts to bring him to a museum. Christa’s days are different, too: she was the first to introduce him to the swings at the playground, and they go and visit her dog during the day and her son Kevin’s cat. She sings Row, Row, Row Your Boat and is trying to teach him to wave goodbye. We all have our things. And for that, I know that Oliver is so lucky.
Sam was out of town this past weekend and when I told him we were planning to go to the pool with our parents group, he said: “make sure you dunk him!” He likes getting Oliver used to the water by dunking him all the way under a few times, and I guess deep down I know that’s a good thing. But I can’t bring myself to do it. That’s not our thing. For that, he’ll just have to wait until his Papa gets home. I’m sure Liz and the chickens will be excited to see them stroll on by, too.
The method of folding half of the cherries into the batter and scattering the other half on top ensures that you’ll always get a bite of sweet, jammy fruit in each slice.To mix things up on the fruit end, Yossi mentions substituting any berry or stone fruit that may be in season instead of using cherries. I love the kamut flour here because it’s warm and nutty, but if you have trouble finding it, feel free to use all-purpose flour instead — or experiment with whole wheat or spelt flour.
Adapted from Sweeter off the Vine
For the streusel:
For the cake:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Butter and flour a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan.
To make the streusel: In a small bowl, stir the flour, oats, sugar, poppy seeds and salt together. Add in the butter and use your fingertips to mix until small crumbs form. Set aside while you prepare the cake batter.
To make the cake: Whisk the flours, baking powder, poppy seeds, and salt together in a small bowl and set aside. Add the sugar to a large bowl and grate about 1 tablespoon of lime zest directly into the sugar. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar until evenly distributed. Add the oil, eggs, yogurt, and lime juice and whisk to combine. Add the flour mixture all at once, switch to a rubber spatula, and stir until just combined. Fold in half of the cherries.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the remaining cherries over the top. Sprinkle the streusel in an even layer over the cherries. Bake the cake until puffed and golden and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45-50 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing. This cake will keep for about three days in an airtight container at room temperature.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
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.