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.
Glimpses of Spring
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).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.