I’m leaving town on a red eye tonight to go to my little sister’s bridal shower outside of Boston. I’ve got my scarf-that-doubles-as-a-blanket all packed and am debating buying one of those neck pillows at the airport. My mom booked a fancy hotel downtown, I bought a new tank top with a tropical palm tree situation gracing the front, and I plan to sleep past 7 am at least once. Hopefully twice. Usually before I leave town, I jot down ideas for Oliver’s meals and lay things out for Sam. From what I’ve gathered from other parents and friends, it seems we all fall into funny, unspoken roles and while Sam almost always bathes Oliver, I plan and prep his meals. Sure, I’m quite capable of giving him a bath and Sam is quite capable of roasting his sweet potatoes, but this is just how things have landed for us. But tonight I’m walking out the door without jotting anything down. While I did stock up on berries and string cheese, I’m not leaving any notes and for the first time, not feeling terribly worried about how much Oliver eats, when he eats, even frankly if he eats. They’re going to be just fine.
I wish I could say this swing in sentiment was just a natural progression, but we had a funny meeting last week that changed things for me. Oliver has been seeing a language therapist for about a month now. I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary, but his doctor was concerned about a delay and it’s certainly true that the few “mamas” we used to get every now and again have disappeared altogether, so every Friday Ashley comes over and hangs out with us, playing blocks, observing and guiding. Last week she came for lunchtime after I’d mentioned that I was concerned we weren’t doing a great job with the food thing, that Oliver only stayed seated for about 1/3 of his meal and became incredibly fussy — that whole hot dog on the floor bit. She asked how he was for smaller snacks and I said he really didn’t snack and never motioned or communicated to me that he was hungry. Something was wrong.
So Ashely visited while Sam diced Oliver’s half avocado and I got his chicken sausage and pasta together — I did notice her eyes kind of widen as we laid out Oliver’s food but I thought nothing of it at the time. Sure enough, at about 1/3 of the way through his meal, O started fussing and waving his hands back and forth indicating he was done. “See,” I said! “This is what happens every time! He just shows little interest in meal times and doesn’t seem all that excited about anything we set in front of him”. She looked at me from across the table and said kindly, “Megan, he’s stuffed.”
It seems we’ve been over feeding out little Tank. Apparently an entire chicken sausage, a half an avocado and pasta is a pretty big lunch for a toddler. I think it was the half avocado that really did Ashley in. That and the fact that I’d typically follow Oliver around the house after dinner kind of popping tortellini in his mouth if he didn’t finish his whole bowl, like a good neurotic Italian grandmother (I’m neither of those things). I’m not sure why I didn’t realize it before, but an immediate wave of relief flooded over me: The problem is us, not Oliver. Poor kid has been trying to tell us for months: Enough already!
Since Ashley’s visit, mealtimes are much less stressful for me. They’re not as loaded — I don’t glance at Oliver’s plate the entire time wondering if he’ll finish or question why he’s pausing for so long. Somedays he surprises me with the amount of something he’ll be into and other days he takes one bite and isn’t interested at all. The result: I have peas and leftover pancake pieces for lunch more often than I care to admit. Other days, we eat like kings at breakfast during that short blip of summer when rhubarb and raspberries are in season at the same time (run, now!). Oliver and I have been having a little spoonful of this quick and easy compote on our yogurt or oatmeal lately. It’d be great on waffles or pancakes, too. And Sam and I can vouch that it’s mighty fine on ice cream, eaten outside on your summery deck right after hanging sparkly string lights as your not-so-little Tank sleeps soundly in the room above.
This simple summer compote is a great way to dress up plain yogurt, or spoon it atop oatmeal, waffles, or ice cream. I used a little less sugar than the recipe called for, so feel free to add an additional few spoonfuls if you like yours on the sweeter side.
Slightly adapted from: Vegetable Literacy
Trim the rhubarb stalks, then cut them crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Put them in a saucepan with the sugar, orange juice, and berries and place over medium heat.
Stir frequently while the rhubarb is warming up and the sugar is starting to dissolve, until juices appear, then cover the pan and cook until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Give the contents of the pan a good stir. Slide the fruit into a dish and chill well before serving.
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.