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.
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.