I sat down to write this Mother’s Day post a few weeks ago, and was so looking forward to sharing these strawberry muffins with you. I’d planned to write a simple enough post on motherhood, a dispatch of sorts, 18 months in. But as the days ticked on and I stared at my screen, I found myself constantly hedging and apologizing and acknowledging how hard this thing is for so many: to get pregnant, to stay pregnant, to find a community as a new mom, to continue feeling like yourself, or some semblance of the self you remember, to be the kind of mom you always thought you’d be, to be ok — periodically — with letting the kind of mom you’d always wanted to be … go. So today I’m sharing a bit of a messier glimpse into things over here and please know that you have my full permission to just scroll down to the bottom of this post if you just want to make yourself some damn muffins and get on with your weekend. I get it. They’re good muffins.
I found out I was pregnant for the first time the same day I found out I was no longer pregnant. We’d been talking about having a baby for quite awhile and had been trying for a bit when I made the mistake of telling people we were trying. With friends and family now constantly asking how that was going, it wasn’t. Until it was. And I jumped into Sam’s arms to tell him and bought myself a fancy decaf latte and walked around our neighborhood feeling like, all of a sudden, everything was different. I stared at my belly in the shower wondering when it’d start to grow, googled pregnancy blogs, and picked up a book on pregnancy nutrition at the library. Later that afternoon, I started to have awful cramps but didn’t think much of it because, hey! Maybe this is what pregnancy is like! And then I started bleeding. A lot. The rest of that afternoon and evening is more of a blur than a memory, a doctor visit and bad news and a bottle of champagne sitting in the fridge that we didn’t end up touching. I sat in the car on the way home from the doctor wondering what was wrong with my body, why it wasn’t a hospitable home for this babe. Wondering how we would visit my mom’s house in California for Christmas a week and a half later and pretend like everything was just fine.
My doctor assured me it was nothing I’d done wrong. As I gripped the referral for counseling, he told me this was actually a really good sign: we got pregnant! It worked. And it would work again. This was actually very common. I wondered why, if it was so common, no one seemed to talk about it. After taking a few months off, we started actively trying to get pregnant again and in very early spring, got good news: It worked (again). This time we didn’t tell anyone right away. Instead, I focused on staying really healthy, eating well, taking fish oil. All the things. I started to see an acupuncturist who, for some reason, told me I shouldn’t be running and that I needed to eat and drink lots of warming, nurturing, gentle foods and to keep my body in a “cocoon” state (I know now that this was insane advice, but boy did I spend weeks gently stepping off curbs and eating lots of sweet potatoes and broth, as if that baby could somehow get jarred right out of me with too boisterous a step).
Cocoon or not, this time around felt different and after three months, we told family. Time ticked on, yoga classes became cumbersome as my belly grew, and I started to realize that my acupuncturist was, well, full of it. I began running again and stepping off curbs with some verve — and I told you all here. I was lucky enough to have a really healthy and energetic pregnancy, and was fascinated by the whole thing. Bodies! Then on a very cold, bright day in mid-November Oliver was born in the late afternoon after a long morning mostly laboring at home. While I didn’t write his whole birth story here as, I guess, it felt a bit private, I shared him with you as soon as I had the chance.So many people talk about how they couldn’t wait to get home from the hospital with their new baby. Because I had some hemorrhaging, we ended up having to stay an extra night and I remember thinking, THANK GOD. Let’s order another breakfast burrito and get some of that delicious tiny round ice to put in our apple juice! I was in no rush to start the motherhood thing without helpful nurses by my side. And as I suspected, it wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns when we got home. Much like miscarriage, people don’t talk enough about how hard breastfeeding is or how you may not feel like a complete natural the second you hold your baby. Looking back, I wish someone would’ve encouraged me to stop shuttling around to see lactation consultants and specialists and chill out a bit on the breastfeeding front. Or to stop all the late night googling. It was helping no one, and making me feel like we weren’t doing a good job. I wish I could’ve seen the bigger picture of it all — that we were, in fact, doing a great job keeping our new baby alive and relatively healthy. And that was our only job at the moment. But when you’re in the thick of all that monumental newness, it’s impossible to see the daylight streaming in from all the windows; it often looks much more like a tunnel.
As I sit here now, it seems like forever ago that I was on the couch with Oliver, nursing him with my weird wraparound pillow, watching the neighborhood kids walk to and back home from school. Today things are very different. We’re all settling into a routine and getting to know each other as actual people. Oliver sleeps through the night and sits with us for meals. He’s developed a true passion for avocados and tortellini, loves to walk around the block and has a jaunty little swing with his right arm that helps propel his stride. He has a killer sense of humor, likes to shower with his papa, and make smoothies in the morning with me.
We have a pretty good thing going. It’s a very different kind of thing than it used to be, and in many ways it’s actually harder, but still good. Right now, we’re in the toddler thick of it which, in short, means Oliver has FEELINGS about things and likes to express them. When I was pregnant, I read that book Bringing Up Bebe and remember thinking: Yes! There’s no need to change the cadence of our days and what our life looks like just because we have a baby! Kids need to learn to incorporate themselves into their family’s life — not the other way around. Well, clearly I need to read that book again … or move to France, or even better: forget I ever read that book. Toddlers completely change the dynamic of a household; there’s just no way around it. We have more ugly plastic toys than I ever thought we would and make certain concessions that I remember judging other parents for way back when.
Eating has become a particular challenge these days. Whereas babies are so curious and often, at least in my experience, love trying new purees and flavors, toddlers develop opinions quickly and Oliver loves the ole’ headshake and head turn. No thanks. Nope, nope, nope. We’ve tried moving him from the highchair to a booster seat, incorporating all different foods, reading to him during dinner, even singing. We’re pulling out all the stops over here. And you know what we did this past Monday? We sat on the floor and ate hot dogs and popcorn because that’s the only thing Oliver wanted and the only way he’d stop losing his mind. And I really needed to have a night without Oliver losing his mind. And while part of me wants to teach him that we eat sitting in our chairs, another part thinks he’s still so small and there are bigger battles. I often turn to Sam and ask, wait, is this how we’re doing this? This isn’t what we’d thought or talked about or envisioned.
We change and rejigger, regroup and make concessions and occasionally don’t even recognize the person we become. In many ways, writing about motherhood is really hard for me because I can just hear the judgement or muttering from family or from friends, some who have numerous kids or just different philosophies. What could you possibly have to offer after just 18 months? You only have one kid? Try three. But of course, we all have our own path through the tunnel. Some are darker. Some are full of roadblocks or even dead ends. Some catch some light streaming in from unseen windows. And maybe, for the lucky, there are hot dogs and popcorn on the other side. Preferably enjoyed sitting cross-legged on the floor.
These muffins are from Andrea Bemis’s book Dishing up the Dirt. They’re simple, naturally-sweetened, and besides the strawberries, I had everything I needed in the pantry to get them in the oven. Depending on the day, time of day, weather, current mood, temperature, or state of world affairs, they’re kid-approved. You feel me? I hope you all like them and enjoy your weekend, whatever that may bring.
These muffins make for a stellar mid-morning snack, and while I loved them with roasted strawberries, I imagine you could use any berries you’d like here. I made a few tweaks to Andrea’s recipe based solely on what we had in the cupboards, and my changes are written in the recipe below. But just so you know, you can easily make these muffins dairy free: Andrea suggests using almond milk instead of milk; she also calls for walnut oil (but I opted for olive oil here instead).
Recipe ever so slightly adapted from Dishing up the Dirt
To roast the berries:
Preheat the oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the berries with the oil, honey and salt. Place them on the baking sheet and roast until they’re juicy and reduced in size, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let them cool slightly. If the berries are still rather large, slice in half so you have large chunks and reserve 3/4 cup for the muffins (if you have extra, use them on your morning yogurt or atop ice cream).
To finish the muffins:
Increase the oven temperature to 400 F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners or generously coat the tin with oil.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oil, vanilla and honey. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Gently fold in the reserved strawberries and stir until they’re evenly incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups and bake until muffins are golden and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center, 18-20 minutes. Let muffins cool for 5 minutes before using a knife to gently remove them from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy within 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
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.
It's been a uniformly gray and rainy week in Seattle, and I'd planned on making a big pot of salmon chowder to have for the weekend, but then the new issue of Bon Appetit landed on my doorstep with that inviting "Pies for Dinner" cover, and I started to think about how long it's been since I made my very favorite recipe from my cookbook, Whole Grain Mornings. I'm often asked at book events which recipe I love most, and it's a tough one to answer because I have favorites for different moods or occasions, but I'd say that this savory tart is right up there. The cornmeal millet crust is one of my party tricks; when we need a quick brunch recipe, this is what I pull out of my back pocket because it's so simple and delicious. This is a no-roll, no fuss crust with a slightly sandy, crumbly texture thanks to the cornmeal, and a delightful crunch from the millet. In the past, I've used the crust and custard recipe as the base for any number of fillings: on The Kitchn last year, I did a version with greens and gruyere, and I teach cooking classes that often include a version heavy on local mushrooms and shallot. So if you are not keen on salmon or have some vegetables you're looking to use up this week, feel free to fold in whatever is inspiring you right now. Sometimes at this point in winter that can be hard, so hopefully this recipe may help a little.