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.
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.