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.
Pair this general tiredness with a legitimate change in the weather this week in Seattle and we’ve been spending most evenings at home, and more weekend time hunkering down, too. I’ve spent more money than I care to admit on Cinderella pumpkins for our stoop and Sam has been doing some actual, real-life meal planning on the weekends (we’ve been cooking a lot from Melissa Clark’s book, Dinner: Changing the Game, which is great, approachable, and surprisingly…doable). I remember before we had Oliver I found meal planning really depressing: what if I don’t feel like fish tacos on Wednesday?! But right here, in this season, it doesn’t as much matter what you feel like for dinner, it matters that it happens at all in the first place. And it’s happening, and for that we feel victorious.
A few days ago when we didn’t have much planned for dinner, I was craving a really creamy and slightly spicy soup so I jotted down what I hoped would be a thai-spiced carrot soup but amped up a bit. I added cauliflower and ginger, a little lemongrass and a generous hit of red curry paste. I kept stirring it and tasting it and yelling up to Sam to get down here and Try. This. Soup. No exaggeration, this is the best soup I’ve ever made. It will be in heavy, heavy rotation this fall and is a great one to swap in if / when you tire of squash or pumpkin.
Whereas some pureed soups can still be a bit on the chunky or thick side, this soup is luxuriously smooth, even velvetty. The ingredient list and method is relatively straightforward and simple (leave out the jalapeño if you’d like — I’ve made it with and without, and it’s delicious both ways), and it freezes beautifully. Just the sort of thing I’ve needed around all week to fuel our post-dinner dance parties, laps around the downstairs part of the house with all manner of kitchen tools, and Oliver’s new favorite game, “Touch” (running from one end of the living room to the other, smacking the wall on each side and screaming “Touch”). Oh, and basement bike riding (him) while avoiding dangerous power tools (me, frantically). Wild, carrot soup-fueled times over here, I tell you. I’m doing my best to find humor and magic amidst the tiredness; there’s a lot of both. And in general trying not to look ahead in anticipation of the next season or blip to come, but sitting right down inside of this one. It feels like a good spot to be in and, in truth, one I’d looked forward to for so long.
A velvetty, smooth and creamy carrot and cauliflower soup with Thai flavors and vibrant toppings. I like my soup a little spicier, and often add up to 3 tablespoons of curry paste, so taste and adjust your seasoning and level of spice as desired. Similarly, if you really crave heat, feel free to throw another jalapeno in there (and also feel free to go totally without – it’s just as good).
In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook down for 5-6 minutes, or until it’s soft and translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, jalapeno, and lemongrass and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until fragrant.
Stir in the curry paste. Add the carrots, cauliflower, broth, coconut milk and salt and stir well. Bring the soup to a slow boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 35-40 minutes, or until the carrots and cauliflower are tender.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly (so you’ll have an easier time blending it). Using an immersion blender (or high speed blender), puree the soup in batches until smooth. Taste and season with additional salt and curry paste, if desired. Serve warm with suggested toppings. Soup will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freezes well, too.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.