Hello, January! I still hear people out on the street and in my exercise class wishing one another a happy New Year and it brings a smile to my face — there’s something about this time of year that feels truly hopeful. It’s not so much about goals or resolutions for me (although it used to be); it’s more about checking in with each other, wishing one another well and doing better by ourselves and for ourselves. I remember one of the things I loved about being pregnant was how often people asked me how I was feeling — from my caregivers to friends, family, acquaintances, the woman making my coffee on my way to work. And they waited for a genuine answer. They seemed to really care. What a revelation! To check in with people in a very real way about how they’re feeling! Let’s keep it up for at least a few more weeks, shall we?
Yesterday we went to the Seattle Art Museum to visit the Andrew Wyeth exhibit on its very last day — I’ve wanted to go for some time, and Sam and I even planned a Day Date last month when we had a sitter, but the museum happened to be closed that day. Soooo, we went yesterday with Oliver, Sam quite positive that we’d all have a nice experience looking at art and me a bit doubtful that I’d get a chance to truly ingest and absorb much of it at all. Can you guess who was right?
It turns out, if you have the inkling to go to a museum exhibit you’re really excited about with a two year old, you should expect to spend the brunt of the time riding the escalators up and down … and back up again. And making promises about snacks you’ll find together that don’t actually exist. But I did have one takeaway in the whirlwind half hour or so I spent chasing a crazed, small person around the viewing rooms — and that is that inspiration is so often right outside our window or front door.
This time of year so many of us are thinking about new ways to approach work, life, parenting, self care: what apps can you buy to make things easier and fresh? What ways can you mix up how you approach meal planning, what goals do you have for the house or the garden this spring? What new friendships do you want to foster? Something I found interesting about Andrew Wyeth was that his large body of work really focused on the view outside the window or door of his residence in Pennsylvania or his summer home in Maine. So many paintings and such rich stories and history spanning years … from largely the same vantage point.
In many ways I think this is an important little nudge for this time of year, a reminder that we can do better for others and ourselves and work towards many of our goals and resolutions without grand gestures, different apps on our phone, or the infinite search for newness. Oftentimes, the inspiration we’re looking for is right outside the window, and perhaps we can even reach it sometimes without moving a muscle.
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This is a slow cooker curry, and I’m hoping some of you are luddites like me and are still using your slow cooker instead of the Instant Pot (I just can’t justify another appliance, you guys!). I think the slow cooker is still the best weeknight hack for busy families, and this is a great winter recipe as it’s filling; has a good hit of protein thanks to the lentils; and marries the flavors of curry, coriander, cinnamon and turmeric, making the house smell like a dream. We’ve been serving this with brown rice, although it’d be great on its own with a big slice of buttery naan. Good fuel for gazing out the window and trying to see things in a new light this week; I hope you get a chance to do just that.
The work here is really in chopping the veggies; beyond that, this curry makes itself. If you’d like to add some chopped greens (kale or spinach would be great), you could do so at the very end and let them wilt in the hot curry. I thought about adding frozen peas, too, which I may do next time around. You’ll have a little leftover coconut milk, which I save and use in smoothies so as not to waste any ingredients. Leftover curry is great for up to 5 days in the refrigerator, or freeze for harried weeknights in the future.
Coat a 5-6 quart electric slow cooker with cooking spray.
Place the cauliflower, sweet potato, onion, water, lentils, broth, curry paste, garlic, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon stick, salt, and tomato paste in the slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours. Turn off the heat, stir in coconut milk and remove cinnamon stick. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Serve with rice, chopped cilantro, green onions, toasted cashews and a spoonful of plain yogurt.
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.