We just got home from a long trip back East to visit both sides of our family and to see my youngest sister Zoe get married in a breezy outdoor ceremony in Vergennes, Vermont. We were gone almost three weeks total, which, towards the end started to feel like a really long time; I couldn’t help but wonder if the leaves were turning on the tree across the street from our house or daydream about all the mail we’d have waiting for us (I’m a real fan girl of good and even quite marginal mail days). From the Adirondack mountains and Burlington, Vermont to New Brunswick, New Jersey, we were in planes, boats and cars on this trip and pretty far removed from our typical routines. And while I’m getting a lot better about going with the flow and letting unstructured days unfold as they will, having access to a few staples in the kitchen always makes me feel a bit more settled wherever we are.
We started by visiting my dad at his cabin in the Adirondacks. I’d asked ahead of time for them to stock up on avocados and eggs and my sister picked up some killer farmstand bread on her drive from Central New York, so we made toast fit for kings most mornings while listening to the rain patter away insistently on the roof. Oliver sat on the porch pointing out every passing boat (and there were many), and I spent a lot of time by the big fireplace fantasizing about reading novels in lieu of toddler tending. Real talk.
From my Dad’s place, we headed to the wedding (which I hope to talk more about here soon!) and from there, back to my mom’s in Burlington, where we spent a number of days eating wood-fired bagels and local cheese, visiting Shelburne Farms, cooking a little, taking walks downtown and daydreaming about being in college again. My mom lives within walking distance to a great coop, so we stocked up on basics like coffee, sweet potatoes (which I like to roast for Oliver each week), little grape tomatoes, more avocados and black beans. We’d been buying Dr. Praeger’s hash browns at home for quick, easy breakfast bowls and I was able to track them down as well (simple ingredients; no creepy stuff), so we upgraded our morning toast and made breakfast bowls fit for kings.
I’ve long been a fan of chilaquiles for breakfast and these bowls have that vibe, only with fresh tomatoes and pickled-onions, and hash browns instead of chips. It’s a protein-packed morning meal and what I’ve recently taken to calling Happy Food — meals that just make you feel really good.
That being said, I know breakfast can be a challenge, especially in this Back to School period many of us find ourselves in. Even without school age kiddos (or any kiddos at all), actually cooking anything on a weekday morning can feel unrealistic. So these could definitely be reserved for a weekend affair or if you’re organized, make the pickled onions and cook down the beans ahead of time and really, you’re just frying an egg and heating up your hash browns at that point. I can handle that, even far away from my own kitchen. Have fun with these; adapt as you will to make them work for your people. Because bowls for breakfast, I tell you: Happy Food.
In an effort to save time here, I used a store bought salsa verde but you could certainly make yours homemade if you prefer. I didn’t include instructions for cooking your eggs as I’ve done these bowls with everything from soft boiled to fried to scrambled and they’re delicious with each — so feel free to cook your egg exactly how you like it (or leave it out altogether). The bowls are best eaten right after you prepare them, but you could certainly prep most of the components (beans, sliced tomatoes, pickled onions) in advance so you’re simply throwing in a few hash browns and frying an egg in the morning.
For the Quick-Pickled Onions: (makes about 1/4 cup)
For the Bowls:
Make the quick-pickled onions: In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar and salt. Add onion and ensure the slices are all covered by the liquid. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the bowls: Preheat the oven to 450 F. Place hash browns on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes until browned. Carefully flip and bake an additional 4-5 minutes until browned on the second side.
MeanwhiIe, in a medium skillet over medium heat warm the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the beans, salt, cumin and paprika and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if you’d like. Fold in the cilantro and set aside.
Assemble each bowl by arranging two hashbrowns, a scoop of beans, spoonful of tomatoes, pickled onions, and avocado slices. Top with fried egg. Repeat with second bowl. Top with salsa verde and a few spoonfuls of queso fresca. Enjoy 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.
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.