I’m late to the game on meditating. Like really, really late but I’m doing it now and because we live in a weird, modern world I have an app that sends me a little reminder each day in case I forget. It also keeps track of my consecutive days of meditation which I find strangely motivating (it’s not lost on me this. is. not. the. point but for some reason seeing all my days in a row feels like a new achievement, which I suppose is how I’m wired). I don’t have enough days amassed to make any grand statement on the benefits of meditation, but I will say that it helps me just sit and be where I am, which is something I don’t often find easy. I have a busy mind that likes to be many places at any given time, so meditating has helped me reign it in, for at least a few minutes.
Sam’s been out of town for a few days, so it’s just been me and Oliver holding down the fort. I had grand visions of the two of us going out on an ice cream date (Salt and Straw just opened in our neighborhood!), but O has a brutal cough and I’ve had work deadlines, so that just hasn’t been our reality. The first night I found myself really rushing through the bedtime routine. Hurry up, read these books. Hurry up, get these teeth brushed. Hurry, hurry, hurry. After I put O down, I slumped down on the couch feeling a little empty and guilty for it all: what was the big hurry? I was racing downstairs to what? Flip through the new issue of Bon Appetit or watch something on Netflix?!
Motherhood is a funny thing. One moment we lament that our babies are growing too quickly and the next, we’re racing through Busytown so we can hurry, hurry get downstairs to watch the newest season of Queer Eye and eat leftover Valentine’s candy. As I sat there eating more candy than I care to admit, I kept hearing that calming voice from my meditation app, encouraging me to just ‘sit here now’ and I wished I could race back upstairs and do Busytown all over again. Really do it. Just sit and be with Oliver as we read it instead of being entirely somewhere else.
Of course this is easier said than done, which is why, I suppose, meditation is a lifelong practice. I think I’m a little late to the game because so much of the practice has been pitched (to me, anyway) as working to quiet the mind and this always felt daunting: I felt set up for failure from the get-go (my mind is a very un-quiet place). But learning to just sit and be somewhere? That was something I could work on. All the tiny, vibrant drawings in Busytown, Oliver’s worsening cough, his insistence on choosing his own “jammas” and the way he tries to trick me out of going to bed by insisting he needs more water or maybe some popcorn. Right away. Last night we didn’t hurry through any of that; I sat with him and with it all, not thinking about anywhere else I could be. He fell asleep quicker than usual — and so did I.
If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you know we were at a friend’s cabin outside of Leavenworth for the long holiday weekend when Mother Nature decided to dump a last wintery hurrah. We coziest in with a few friends, ate pork ragu, chased toddlers, lingered over morning coffee and snacked on these insanely addicting Salted Hazelnut Brown Butter Blondies (Sam has deemed them the best thing I’ve ever baked; I think you’ve heard me say this before. He’s an easy audience but that said, these are quite remarkable and well worth a bookmark). They have a distinct butterscotch vibe thanks to the dash of bourbon and dark coconut sugar (you can omit the bourbon if you’d like and use brown sugar instead of coconut sugar), are generously studded with toasted hazelnuts and absolutely gooey with hand-chopped dark chocolate (they are verrrrrry chocolaty inside — in a good way!– but I suspect you could get away with using 4-5 ounces instead of 6 ounces if that’s what you’ve got on hand). I think you’re really, really going to like them.
These butterscotchy blondies get their big flavor from a little bourbon, vanilla, dark coconut sugar, toasty hazelnuts, browned butter and salted tops. I love the whole wheat flour here and like to hand chop the chocolate so there are larger pockets and shards throughout versus neat and tidy chips. That said, chocolate chips work just fine — and you could substitute in any nut you’d like if hazelnuts aren’t your jam. These are quite rich and decadent, so I suggest slicing them in smaller squares; they keep great at room temperature for a good 5 days or freeze them for future late night snacking.
Preheat the oven to 350 F°. Nestle a sheet of parchment paper into an 8×8″ pan (this will help you lift the blondies out very easily) or, alternatively, grease the pan, dust with flour and set aside.
Lay hazelnuts on a small rimmed baking sheet and toast until fragrant, about 4 minutes (if you’re using whole hazelnuts and plan to just chop them, these take longer to toast, about 8 minutes).
In a small light-colored saucepan (this helps so you can see the color change that will occur), melt the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until the butter begins to foam, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking until the foam subsides and little brown bits appear at the bottom of the pan, smelling fragrant and nutty. During this time, stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour butter into a heatproof bowl, and stir for 2-3 minutes to allow it to cool to room temperature.
Once butter is cool (but still liquid), whisk in the sugar, eggs,vanilla and bourbon.
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together both flours, baking powder, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate and toasted hazelnuts.
Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Sprinkle with flaky salt.
Bake blondies for 30-35 minutes or until tops are light golden brown and firm (can’t really do the toothpick test as there’s lots of chocolate going on). Let cool completely before lifting out of pan to slice.
Top with additional sprinkle of flaky salt, and cut into 16 small squares (or 9 large squares) and serve.
Note on brown sugar / coconut sugar: I love the dark flavor of coconut sugar in these, but if brown sugar is more readily available to you, just swap it in but do it by weight (as brown sugar is heavier than coconut sugar). So while 1 3/4 cups of coconut sugar weighs 300g, you can use just 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar as it has an equal weight.
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.