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.
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.