It’s taken me a few weeks to come back down to earth after all of your generous comments on my last post. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for taking time out of your busy schedules to let me know what’s resonating with you on the site and what you’d love to see more of! I carefully considered each and every one. I have to admit, paralysis set in quickly as I felt the need to really hit this post out of the park (wayyyyy, wayyyy out) after all of those nice word, but then I made a failed dessert recipe and the stomach flu descended upon our house, and I thought it might do to relax for a minute and talk about greener pastures in the form of my recent trip to Los Angeles. For those of you who follow along on Instagram, you probably read about this trip: it was a long girls weekend, but with a twist. You know how sometimes when you travel with a big group (or even a small group), you inevitably end up doing some things you’re not particularly excited about? Maybe you get dragged along to a dinner you didn’t want to go to, or a sports game that doesn’t excite you? Well, the majority of women that gathered in LA are moms of young kids and a weekend away is precious and rare, so it was particularly important that we all got to do what we were most excited about – our getaway’s semi-official name had been You Do You. We all chipped in and rented a house and came together for a shared dinner but beyond that, the hope was that we’d all do exactly what inspires us and lights us up as individuals. No guilt, no hard feelings, no wondering if someone would rather be somewhere else. Just straight up, gloriously selfish time doing exactly what we all needed to do for ourselves. I’ll show you around mine.
Now I feel like I should preface this post by saying that this is far from a traditional travel guide as one of my main goals in LA was to really decompress, read, sleep in, and drink my coffee while it’s still hot. (You parents of smaller people out there know what I’m talking about. It’s the little things.) I wasn’t as concerned with seeing grand sights, landmarks or museums on this visit. I should also say that I extended my weekend to have a few nights by myself, so I’ll backup and start there.
I flew into LA Wednesday evening and stayed at The Line Hotel in Koreatown before meeting up with our group at the house we rented in Venice. The Line was great: not as trendy as The Ace (which has made me feel old in the last few years); great views of the Hollywood Hills, and really fun, inventive food. I ended up ordering room service noodles and a Negroni and going to bed early (I’ve had much worse nights), and woke the next morning ready to explore.
The first order of business was to head downtown to check out Eggslut, which I’d heard had legendary egg sandwiches. What I hadn’t heard about were the lines at Eggslut, so while the sandwich itself was mighty fine indeed, I’m not entirely sure I’d do it again. But the sun was out and Eggslut’s located inside Grand Central Market, which is a really cool open-air food hall with all kinds of treats, good coffee, fancy juice, baked goods, chocolate — you name it. So it was a nice mini introduction to some of LA’s popular food spots.
That afternoon, I headed to Wii spa, a great Korean spa that specializes in those brutal naked body scrubs (have you heard of these?!) and great shiatsu massage. If you find yourself with a free afternoon in downtown LA and are into things like humbling naked body scrubs, I can’t recommend it enough. Even if you’re not, they have a really relaxing rooftop deck that feels more like a fancy hotel, and a lot of breezy common spaces where you can lounge and unwind. So I went and soaked and scrubbed and walked back to the hotel to get ready to meet up with my friends Ashley, who’d flown in early as well, and Nicole for dinner at local spot, Escala. Nicole has a really special book that just came out and a son just about Oliver’s age, so we all chatted about writing and creativity and motherhood and ate marginal kale salad and kimchi mac and cheese. After dinner, Ashley and I hobbled back to the hotel, both in incredibly ill-advised footwear.
The next morning, I headed to Sqirl for some of that famed ricotta toast and jam. While I know it’s become a bit of an LA breakfast cliche of sorts, I really respect what Jessica Koslow is doing there and have long loved her laid back, vegetable / grain-heavy approach to food. I ordered one of those dreamy toasts (soft, fragrant brioche under a pillowy, luscious layer of ricotta and jam!) and a seasonal special of braised chickpeas and greens with harissa and poached eggs. Oh, and it came with long toast. Yes, apparently they literally mean long toast (as you can see in the photo below). While I’ve never been a real fan of eating out solo, I made a point to take my time and not worry if someone else looked like they needed my table. I tried to stay off of my phone, pulled out my journal, and just really appreciated that famous-for-a-reason toast. Good God.
After strolling the neighborhood a bit, I drove over to Venice to meet up with a few friends and get settled in our house for the weekend. While I wasn’t the slightest bit hungry, we were all excited to check out Rose Cafe and had a little time to kill before check in, so we shared a few small things and started brainstorming for the weekend ahead. I realize there are a million kale salads out there in the universe, but the one at Rose Cafe — with pickled golden raisins, mint, thinly sliced onions, lots of bread crumbs and Parmesan — is special. I’d return for that salad, those beautiful baked goods, and that airy expansive space any day.
Throughout the afternoon, ladies started trickling in from the airport and Julie, our fearless leader, arranged to have all kinds of snacks and wine and fizzy water ready for everyone at the house. That evening was the only real solid dinner plan we had as a group all weekend, and it was a good one: Gjelina. We seem to have really scored with a long table out on the patio where there was a warm breeze and lots of wine and friends new and old (I’d only met five of the ten women before that weekend). One end of the table just kept ordering food that made it’s way down to our end — from wood-fired pizzas to roasted cauliflower and warm date cake, it was a memorable meal to kick off what would be a great time together.
The next morning was where You Do You really came into its own. A few ladies took off on a long run, others stayed by the pool or walked downtown, and my new friend Azurae and I decided to check out a yoga class at Love Yoga. I feel like I could write a whole blog post on how incredibly, fascinating-ly LA our yoga class was, but I’ll instead just say that while it wouldn’t be my home studio if I lived in LA, it always feels good to move and breathe (how’s that for diplomatic?).
After yoga, we stopped at the much-talked about and sometimes-mocked Moonjuice for a pricey green juice (I couldn’t help myself; I had to see what all the fuss was about), after which, deciding that balance is always important and now very much called for, we cruised over to Gjusta for a flaky croissant. I could’ve spent two hours at Gjusta just people-watching, and ogling all the baked goods and crusty breads and bagels and smoked fish and pickled things and interesting cookies and brownies made with flours I’m excited about. Those of you who recommended it were right: it’s an LA must.
While we’d all hoped and hoped for some hot LA sun (Seattleites are a desperate lot this time of year), the weather had – so far – been pretty mild and, occasionally, even a bit chilly. But when we walked out of Gjusta the clouds parted and we booked it home to sit by the pool for a good couple of hours. You Do You was in full effect at this point, ladies wandering in and out throughout the afternoon. I ended up sneaking away to cruise Abbot Kinney Boulevard by myself for a bit where I stumbled into some great shops (Burro and Huset were a few favorites) and treated myself to a late lunch at The Butcher’s Daughter which was my favorite casual meal in LA. The food is imaginative, interesting and solid (I had a Cauliflower “grits” dish I want to recreate for the blog) and the space is just beautiful. Go if you have the chance!
That night, we got casual Mexican food and picked up pints of ice cream from Jeni’s (my first time at an actual scoop shop!) to take back to the house. The weekend was coming to a close, and we all started talking flight logistics and household chores to get everything in order before we headed out. I watched an incredible episode of Chef’s Table on Jeong Kwan (thank you, Ashley!) on the plane home, finished my book, and let the weekend settle in. I was impressed that You Do You went off without a hitch: everyone respected each others’ space and we all encouraged one another to check out things that interested us. There was no guilt or pretense or expectation. While I can’t say that I’ve ever been a ‘girls weekend kinda girl’, I think there’s something about having Oliver that’s changed me a little: it’s nice to get away with ladies who share the desire to … get away. That’s it. And who respect what a big and fortunate and sacred thing that is.
In a recent post on Cup of Jo, Danielle Aceino was interviewed about her beauty routine, but several lines in particular – an aside, almost – really hit home: “Let yourself be inspired by yourself and be alive to who you are. Our unedited self is gorgeous and profound; it guides everything else.” I tucked this in my pocket in Los Angeles and carried it around with me. When I felt slightly uncomfortable at the table dining alone or unsure what I should do with a chunk of time in between more structured activities, I’d remind myself to just sit and listen for a minute. Hang with myself. Get to know myself as a person again — without a little one tugging at my jeans or business emails awaiting replies. And I don’t think you need a sunny city or a You Do You escape to do that. I think sometimes it takes a lot of deliberate effort to get there and becomes really difficult when our daily routines feel constraining, but one thing I took home with me: a solo meal out by yourself or a long walk to nowhere in particular is a mighty fine start.
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.