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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
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.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.