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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.