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.
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.