The last time we were camping on Orcas Island, I was almost 7 months pregnant and we shared a shaded campsite with two other couples and their kids. I made banana bread and recall hoarding it from the kids (and, really, everyone); Sam and I snuck into town for strong lattes early in the mornings, spent a lot of time down by the lake and on easy ambling hikes, and took turns cooking over the fire each night for dinner. As is so often the case with camping, the days felt eternally long in that loose, listless way that only summer can gift us, and we came home with flip-flop tan lines and dusty hair.
Last week we took Oliver on his first camping trip to Moran State Park which was, as you can imagine, quite different. On the ferry coming home, while chasing Oliver through rows of tourists and travelers, we decided that you almost need to reframe and even rename activities that you once did before having a kid. I see a lot of friends who become quite disappointed and resigned — even depressed — that the things they once used to love doing are now a thing of the past. Hiking? Give me eight years. Camping or international traveling? See you in 2022. The list goes on.
And it’s true: it’s a lot of work and planning and the truth is that summer never gifts you those drawn-out quiet, listless days when you’re camping with a small person. It just doesn’t. And hiking? On our last trip a few weekends ago, I ended up carrying Oliver most of the way up to the waterfall (although we actually never made it to the waterfall) after he refused to sit in his baby backpack. So we manage expectations. We don’t bring novels to the beach, we don’t think through the elaborate camp meals we once used to make, we eat more PB & J sandwiches than we ever thought we would, and we fill our flasks with pre-mixed cocktails.
Our first night of camp, Oliver decided he was none too keen on sleeping in the Great Outdoors, or at least, on going to sleep. In fact, he straight up Freaked (this is our family’s very technical sleep term, signaling to one another that Shit Is Bad) so fully and completely that you could hear our camp neighbors sighing, getting out of their tents, whispering amongst each other. Flashlights clicked on. More sighing. At home, while we would’ve let Oliver cry for a bit and tire himself out, it felt disrespectful to keep the rest of the campground up, so Sam and O. hopped in the car and drove around the island, podcasting away, until it was clear the backseat passenger was sleeping soundly enough to transfer to his own private tent. This became the nightly routine: the menfolk would leave at dusk and I’d keep the fire stoked, get the tents ready, sneak squares of dark chocolate meant for s’mores and dip into my book awaiting their return.
After what felt like a full night of me holding my breath, hoping we wouldn’t rouse our camp neighbors yet again, daybreak came — as it’s known to do — and over bacon and eggs, we talked about the day ahead. While we have so many memories on Orcas (Mount Constitution hikes, wood-fired pizza at Hogstone, oysters from Buck Bay), having a young child is funny because on one hand you’re excited to introduce them to all the things you used to do and, on the other, you know you can’t hike Mount Constitution or have any sort of a sane or restful meal at Hogstone. As I’ve said before, you rejigger. The things you used to do may not apply.
So we didn’t plan or schedule much in the way of activities, and instead found ourselves down by the beach more often than not, trying to teach Oliver how to build a moat and share ice cream cones. Our child became obsessed with water fountains, made a baby friend from LA, and took what must have been hundreds of trips down the slide at the park playground. Back at camp, dinner wasn’t something we stressed over: I’d spent a lot of time planning our meals so evenings could be easy. There was a spicy turkey chili and quinoa one night; vegetarian tacos the next; and on our last night we grilled sausages and corn over the open fire, and pulled together this triple tomato and feta salad, the MVP of summer 2017.
A version of this salad made an appearance at our Fourth of July get-together: I’d made Samin Nosrat’s Summer Panzanella from her incredible book and, try as I might, I just don’t get panzanella salads. No matter how you roll the dice, you’re always left with really soggy bread. But the one thing that I was struck with was Samin’s perfectly-balanced tomato vinaigrette. At first it came off as a bit fussy (you have to grate a very ripe tomato and whisk it into the dressing), but it turns out grating a tomato is no big deal, and we’ve been keeping the dressing on hand to drizzle over sliced, ripe summer tomatoes for weeks now. It’s also a great dip for crusty bread and I imagine it’d make an all star appearance in a pasta or whole grain salad.For our camping trip, I made a batch of the vinaigrette at home and we just kept it in the cooler, pulling it out on our last night to generously pour over heirloom tomatoes with big spoonfuls of feta. It felt fancy even though it was all quite simple and we each had seconds, silently gearing up for what could possibly be a long night ahead.
The next morning, we cooked the rest of our bacon, made some strong coffee and started to pack up. I ruffled around in my bag to find enough quarters to use the camp showers and Oliver dutifully pointed out every truck and motorcycle he could spot on the road below. We headed into town to share baked eggs and a brownie at Rose’s before catching the ferry back home, stopping only to run around the rocky beach in Eastsound, where Oliver lugged driftwood from the shore and pushed it into the water with genuine gusto. I snapped a few photos of him by the shore grinning, stood up, and thought I might as well lug a piece to the water, too. I can’t say that I’d ever done that before.
With Samin’s tomato vinaigrette, grape tomatoes and cubed heirlooms, this salad boasts tomatoes three ways. That being said, keeping it simple and drizzling the vinaigrette over sliced heirlooms with a sprinkle of flaky salt is still summer at its best. Here you’ll have leftover dressing; it keeps for a good four days and makes a great dip for crusty bread. This salad is best served room temperature the day its made, and if you want to really do it justice enjoy it right away.
Tomato Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup):
For the Dressing:
In a small bowl or jar, let the shallot sit in the vinegars for 15 minutes to macerate.
Halve the tomato crosswise. Grate on the largest hold of a box grater and discard the skin. You should be left with about 1/2 cup grated tomato. Add it to the shallot. Add the basil, oil, and a generous pinch of salt. Smash the garlic against the counter with the palm of your hand and add to the dressing. Shake or stir to combine. Taste and adjust the salt or acid as needed. Let sit for about 10 minutes, and remove garlic before using.
For the Salad:
In a large bowl, combine the heirloom tomatoes, grape tomatoes and fold in 1/3 cup dressing. Top with feta and chives and a sprinkle of flaky salt. Serve immediately.
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.