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.
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.