In the first days after coming home from the hospital with Oliver, we got a few care packages from friends and neighbors. One was a box from my friend Anne in San Francisco with a handful of sweet little baby things and a batch of homemade breakfast cookies. They reminded me of the recipe from my cookbook and, because I was up at all odd hours of the day and night, they fueled me equally well at 3am and 3pm. The other box was from one of our neighbors: homemade chocolate chip cookies. In truth, they weren’t even great cookies and normally I may not have even eaten them, but I cried with happiness every afternoon when I reached for one — they were keeping us going.
We all lead busy lives and taking time to make something homemade and box it up and get to the post office is no small thing, and the gesture was so far from lost on us. Simple daily tasks like making breakfast were far harder than I’d imagined they would be (people told me this would be the case but I figured since Sam and I like to cook and bake, things would be different for us … and they were most certainly not). The combination of lack of sleep and little to no routine made the days feel like one diaphanous tunnel, and having friends bring us meals, treats from around town, and homemade baked goods was a lifesaver. So much so that I always make an effort to do the same now for friends who have babies — even acquaintances, actually. A homemade cookie is a big deal for a new mama.Our friends Jenny and Tom just had their first baby, Rivers, about a month ago and the second we heard he’d arrived we started thinking about what books and treats we could send them. Preparing a care package takes a little thought (especially one traveling across the country) as you want to bake something that will hold up ok (pie and cake are out, in my opinion), but that’s also delicious. The treats need not be healthy necessarily, but I loved having nourishing snacks mid-day as a second breakfast, and nursing mamas in particular really need to keep snacking to keep their calories up, so breakfast cookies are always a good bet.
For Jenny and Tom, I decided to go that route and changed up the recipe in my book with nursing mamas in mind: I added flax meal from one of my favorite natural food brands, Bob’s Red Mill, which is said to help with milk production, and then I cut down on the oil and sweetener just a bit. Dried tart cherries, pistachios and dark chocolate chunks felt like vibrant and delicious mix-ins, so in they went – and we were off to the races. If you wanted to really amp these up for nursing mamas, you could experiment with adding in some brewers yeast and even sesame seeds, too (both also purported to help with milk production).
A few other good tips I gleaned after having our own baby that you may find helpful as you think about the new parents in your life:
Don’t Stress About Timing
While it’s great to get something in the mail soon after baby arrives, keep in mind that the chances are good that this pair of new parents may have family or friends doing the same thing right about now — there tends to be a rush right at the beginning … and then nothing. And truthfully, we found the period of time after the meals and treats dropped off and after the new baby adrenaline died down to be the hardest. I would’ve killed to have a homemade meal dropped off at week 8. So it’s never too late and you haven’t dropped the ball. When it comes to treats for new parents, any time is a great time.
Check in Regarding Dietary Restrictions
There are a lot of dietary restrictions these days, and of course you want to be sure that whatever you send is something the new family can enjoy. That being said, I make sure that’s where my questions end. The last thing a sleep-deprived new family needs are lots of decisions and, for some people, asking for help can be really tough, so they may feel uncomfortable answering a lot of specifics about what they may like: check in about allergies and end the conversation there. While the kind of muffin you’re going to send may not be the one they’d order at their local coffee shop, trust me that they’re going to love it. In many ways, it matters less what’s in the box than the act of sending the box in the first place.
Dropping Off in Person?
If you’re dropping off something in person, sending a quick text to a family member — not the new mama if possible as they often have their hands pretty full with nursing and hopefully catching up on a little sleep — is always smart to determine what might be a good time to stop by. Then I always assume and overtly communicate that I’ll be dropping something off on the doorstep at, say 4pm, and if they decide they’re up for visitors to text me, otherwise zero pressure and I’ll catch up with them once they’ve all settled in. Getting to understand a new baby’s sleep schedule (or lack thereof) and, frankly, showering is enough of an undertaking for new parents; the last thing they need to think about is how and when to be welcoming and accommodating to guests. That can come later.
One-Handed Treats Rule
In the early days with Oliver, Sam and I would take turns eating dinner while one of us bounced him on the bouncy ball or rocked him to sleep. I remember crying one night, thinking we’d never eat at the same time again. Of course, that worry was unfounded and now we eat together every night. But it is true that in those early days you’re often either holding the baby or holding baby-related things when hunger strikes and having treats or snacks that are easy to eat with one hand (not super crumbly or messy) are great for new parents. Granola bars, muffins, scones and cookies are all perfect choices.
A Little Goes a Long Way
As for other goodies to include in your care package, here’s a good rule of thumb: a little something is better than nothing, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, just send cookies! Still overwhelmed? Buy cookies instead of making them! There are no awards here – it’s the gesture that counts. That being said, if you have the time to pick up a few little things for the baby, it’s always so appreciated; to this day, when I read Oliver most of his books I remember exactly who sent him each one.
Beyond the Care Package
Looking to send something but no time to bake or pull together a package? No problem. When Oliver was born, one of my editors sent Sam and I a gift certificate for diapers which, on one hand, feels a bit impersonal but MAN were we thrilled to have it. Also, there are so many wonderful and convenient meal delivery services out there these days, and that can offer parents all the convenience and ease with a bit more control over when they’ll prepare and enjoy each particular dish. I’ve also had friends tell me they’ve gotten their new-parent-friends a gift certificate to a local housecleaning service, which I imagine was welcomed with open arms.
Curious to Read More?
Beyond Casseroles: What to Cook for New Parents – Serious Eats
10 Meals to Bring to a New Mom – The Kitchn (by yours truly!)
15 Make-Ahead Delicious Meals + Treats to Bring to New Parents – Brit and Co
These cookies are not too sweet and lightly spiced, so they’re a strong candidate for a mid-morning snack but they also make for a simple dessert. They don’t spread at all on the baking sheet and are a touch biscuity in nature, so do be sure to flatten them before baking as the directions here indicate. You can use any mix-ins you’d like, just keep the proportions about the same; I made a special batch for Oliver with golden raisins, sunflower seeds and pepitas and they were met with immense enthusiasm. They freeze beautifully, so a double batch is always a good idea.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, oats, flax meal, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.
In another medium bowl, whisk together the banana, coconut oil, maple syrup, egg, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until incorporated. Fold in the cherries, pistachios and chocolate. Let dough sit and rest 10 minutes.
Using between 2 to 3 tablespoons of dough, scoop balls onto cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Use the palm of your hand to gently flatten the cookies until about 3/4-inch thick.
Bake until golden brown around the edges and firmed yet slightly soft in the center (they’ll continue to firm as they cool), about 10 to 12 minutes. Allow cookies to cool at least 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. If kept in an airtight container, cookies will remain fresh for 3-4 days.
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.
We recently had our favorite day of married life yet. When I tell you what it consisted of, you may worry or chuckle. Sundays used to be sacred in our house in the sense that it was our one day off together. We'd often read the paper, get a slice of quiche at Cafe Besalu, or take walks around Greenlake or Discovery Park. But now Sundays are generally when I work the farmers market for Marge Granola, and Sam helps me set up and take down each week, so they've taken on a very different feel, one more of work than leisure. So a few months ago, after mildly panicking that we no longer had any routines or days off, we reclaimed Saturdays as 'the new Sunday' and last weekend set the bar pretty high. The day began really cold: in the high 20's and graduated, eventually, to the 30's. We decided it'd be nice to just stay inside; Sam had a little work to do and some letters to write. He had a few articles he'd been wanting to read. And I'd been thinking about this lasagna recipe, so I puttered around the kitchen roasting squash and slicing garlic. The afternoon ticked on slowly. Sam made us baked eggs for a late lunch and I tried unsuccessfully to nap. I think it was the calmest we'd both felt in a long time. I'm lucky to have found a man who loves spending time at home as much as I do. While we both love going out to see friends, traveling, and having people over to our place, we also gain the most, I'd say, by doing simple things around the house -- straightening up, making a meal. organizing records or books or photos. Especially in this season of cold temperatures and early-darkening skies, it's what I crave the most. And last Saturday closed in the best of ways: we opened a bottle of "wedding wine" (thanks to my neurosis and fear we'd run out, we over-ordered wine when planning for our wedding) and dug into generous slices of this very special vegetarian lasagna, a hearty layered affair with caramelized onions, a sage-flecked tofu ricotta and a simple, savory butternut squash purée.