Valentine's Day came and went with takeout chicken salad sandwiches and a bottle of wine at home. A fancier date night felt tough this year with childcare logistics and, frankly, going out on Valentine's Day can often be a bummer with fixed price menus and hard-to-get reservations. We're constantly rejiggering, it seems. So this year, chicken sandwiches by candlelight felt just right. In talking to so many of our friends with young kids, it seems rejiggering is just the order of the day and while I'm generally a fan of planning and to-do lists, I'm getting much better at going with the flow. One of the things that helps is having something at-the-ready in the mornings, so the day's decision making doesn't have to include what to make (or eat) for breakfast. It should be pretty simple in the early hours. And lately, simple looks like these chewy granola bars. They're soft and hefty and feel homemade in the best way possible, and they freeze really well so you can make a big batch and stash some away for those Major Rejiggering Weeks. You know the kind.
Last week, we took a quick trip to Lake Tahoe to celebrate my sister Zoe's birthday and the last hurrah of summer. My family has a cabin on the lake that we've had since I was a little girl, and it felt like a pretty big deal showing Sam and Oliver around the little town -- where we got ice cream as kids, the mini golf course, the modest town beach and run-down motel that's been there for ages. We got burgers at The Char Pit, Oliver went on his first boat ride and his first hike, and we saw some crazy-pink California sunsets. When we got back to Seattle it felt surprisingly like fall: somehow in the span of just a few days, we've got leaves on the ground and cooler mornings and evenings. I promptly packed away my swimsuits, got out my sweaters, and made a run to the farmers market to load up on summer produce while we still can: tomatoes, eggplant, peaches. Oliver's been eating the peaches for breakfast in yogurt or cottage cheese and I had plans to make ratatouille with the eggplant and tomatoes, but then I thought maybe I should try something a bit out of my comfort zone. So I got out a big pot, and set out to fry up some eggplant fries.
Each Monday, we go to a parent's group where we get together with 7 other couples who live in our neighborhood and compare highs and lows from the week, ask each other questions, and chat about an organized topic. I was a bit skeptical before signing up for the group, thinking maybe it'd feel like a waste of time or maybe just too difficult to attend consistently. But so far we've loved getting the babies together and having an excuse to get out of the house and talk to other parents who are dealing with similar issues. Last week, one of the other moms described how she's started to feel like she'd like a little distance from her son. Her comment resonated with me although I bet it may not have with everyone: I think it's one that we're not really encouraged to feel or discuss at this stage in the game. I can't tell you how many times I've been told to savor every second -- that it goes by so fast. To enjoy those baby snuggles all day long. And all night, too. And don't get me wrong – I get a big ol' kick out of hanging out with Oliver. He's started to smile and giggle and I've turned into that crazy mom who is clucking and cooing in the middle of the grocery store aisle in response to his laughter. He clutches his weird toy chicken for dear life as I carry him around the house, one arm draped lazily over my shoulder. Sam's been playing folk songs on the guitar for him, and I've started to read to him in the rocker, and talk him through how to make a good cup of coffee and a decent egg each morning. But there are certainly moments when I'd perhaps like to savor Oliver just a little less and, say, do something for myself. Popular sentiment or not, it's just the truth.
Last weekend we went camping out on Orcas Island, my favorite of all the San Juan Islands. The trip had been on our calendar for a few months, but it seemed to sneak up quickly (hasn't that been the case this summer?) leaving us scurrying like crazy to get out of the house Friday afternoon to catch our ferry. We've been to Orcas enough times to have a favorite swimming hole, hike, and bakery, but this trip would be different as we were going car camping with three other couples and a gaggle of kids. I knew that at 24 weeks pregnant it might not be superbly comfortable to sleep in our small tent, but we were bringing air mattresses and I packed my pillow so surely all would be well. The day before we left I baked a loaf of this banana bread and stocked up on healthy snacks and fizzy water. Sam dug through the basement to find all of our camping gear. We were ready.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining a group of friends, acquaintances, and new-to-me faces when Tara O 'Brady was in town promoting her cookbook, Seven Spoons. We all descended on Aran Goyoaga's beautiful studio space in downtown Seattle for a Friday lunch that Aran and Tara cooked from the book, surrounded by blooming peonies, fizzy drinks, and good company. When I was on tour last year promoting my own cookbook, I remember how exhausting (albeit wonderful) it was just feeling "on" all the time while meeting and greeting new faces. But during the hour or so before we all sat down to lunch, I marveled at how calmly Tara was chatting and pulling together all of these dishes. I'm quite certain I would've been a wreck if someone had asked me to prepare a meal from my book in the middle of book tour in a room filled with many of my peers. But both Tara and Aran were busily chatting, delegating small tasks, garnishing away. To say everything was delicious would be an understatement; to say I felt like it was the best lunch I've had in a very long time would be the truth -- and all a testament to how at home Tara is with her food and her style of cooking. While the roast chicken was incredible as were the roasted springy vegetables, greens, almonds and honeycomb -- I couldn't stop slathering that gorgeous, silky hummus onto everything in sight. I knew when I got home it'd be the first recipe from Tara's book that I'd flip to.
Simple homemade version of your favorite cheesy cracker, dressed up with poppy and caraway seeds.
Coming back from vacation is no easy feat, if not exactly a hardship. I know this is true for most of us, but for some reason this one was particularly tough. I think Sam and I had been looking forward to Palm Springs for so many months, envisioning it as the one saving grace from a busy season of work and wedding planning and then when we got home ... work and wedding planning were still waiting right where we'd left them. So last week wasn't the easiest -- my car was hit while we were out of town, I have a wonderful employee who has decided to leave to pursue growing another company, and our house is basically infested with ants. But something Sam and I talked about while in Palm Springs is how to reframe things that feel burdensome and difficult -- how to claim more control over our days and weeks instead of just letting them happen to us.
Last week on an oh-so-early Monday morning we climbed into the car and headed to the airport to catch a plane for Palm Springs, California. Around this time of year in Seattle we all start really craving sunshine and last year I promised myself that a break was in order, so after the holidays we just scheduled it and put aside all the questions about work and if it was even possible to leave for four whole days-- and just left. Now I'll be the first to admit that it took me a while to get into the groove of vacation and to not be sneaking in emails and worrying about business contracts and granola orders. But on Day 3 a funny thing happened: I started to feel as if I'd just finished a really good yoga class ... but that feeling lasted all day long. Hello, vacation! How I missed you.
Last weekend I flew home to California to do a number of book events for Whole-Grain Mornings. I've done readings and classes here in Seattle but had yet to travel to promote the book, and it was such a treat to do so in my old stomping grounds. Sam took the train down to meet me and we stayed at my mom's house just North of San Francisco. She threw a wonderful book party on Friday night and despite the torrential (!!) downpours, many old friends and colleagues came to join us along with a large handful of my mom's friends and neighbors. There was Prosecco and lots of cheese and a few hours to really get to mark the completion of the cookbook. When everyone left, Sam and I took off our shoes, did the dishes and sat at the kitchen counter eating leftover olives and Jeni's ice cream straight from the container (not sure I can vouch for this pairing for future reference). It turns out that funny mix of exhilaration and excitement but utter fatigue had hit -- and it stuck around that weekend.
A few weeks ago my Grandpa friended me on Facebook. I immediately texted my two sisters to verify that this was, in fact, Grandpa. They confirmed. And so, confused, I accepted his friend request and popped over to admire his page. It was, as you can imagine, quite bare. He'd accidentally noted that he was born in 1986 and his page boasted a small handful of friends, all quite elderly. I didn't think much of it at that time until early last week when my mom called to let me know that now Grandpa, apparently, knew everything we were up to. I imagined him incorporating this new bit of technology into his morning routine of checking stocks, doing calisthenics and having breakfast with my Gram at their little table on the porch in Florida. And then a funny thing happened: Gramp started posting on my wall. The first time was on Valentine's Day when he wished me a very happy day and hoped I was doing something fun for myself. I decided to write back on his wall, wishing him a nice afternoon and letting him know that I'd been pretty busy baking that week. Since then, we occasionally report on the weather and what we're up to. Many of the cousins do the same thing, so Gramp's wall is now peppered with cheerful family updates from near and far. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical -- even scornful--of social media and the ways technology can sneak into our daily lives. We could all make a pretty lengthy list, I'm sure. But getting messages from your Grandpa that read, "I sit 85 and sunny here today" just isn't one of them.
Last week I didn't write a blog post because we were in one of two places, both without Internet. First, it's likely we were on an Amtrak train headed to Essex, Montana. Second, it's even more likely that we were actually tucked away in the lodge of the mountain inn where we were staying. As you likely already know if you've been around here for some time, Sam loves trains. I mean really, really loves trains. He goes on a 2-week trip each year to explore different parts of the country -- to actually see and get a sense of the bigness of the miles going by. If flying desensitizes us to distance, Sam keeps that sensitivity warm with his preference for trains (and cars, and ships, and walking. Really. He's an evangelist on this point). So last week, we not only took a train to a rather remote Montana Inn, but stayed in a restored 1895 caboose-turned-cabin while there. Sam was in heaven, as you can imagine. I was too, thanks to the miles and miles of snowshoe trails and complete and utter lack of technology. And witnessing Sam in heaven. That does it for me, too.
I'm writing this on a train around 6 p.m. about an hour North of New York City. To my right is the Hudson River and to my left, one Sam catching up on a few emails. The sun is making its way down ever so slowly and my black ballet flats are more than ready to trade in carpeted train hallways for city streets and firm ground. This is our fourth day on the train. We left Seattle clutching a week's worth of clothes, enough work to keep us busy on the train, a few novels, a bottle of wine, a cocktail in a flask (thank you, Brandon), rye in another flask (thank you, Sam), a few cameras, and these crackers. Final destination: Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey. With a quick stop-over to visit my sister Zoe and her boyfriend Stefan in the West Village, eat meatballs, and check out a few bookstores.
We arrived in New Jersey late one morning last month in a little red rental car. We'd just come from a meandering drive from my mom's cabin in upstate New York, dotted with many stops in small towns to visit houses from Sam's childhood. Soon we found ourselves at Sam's mom's place in Mt. Holly, before us a feast of stuffed grape leaves and fattoush. This was the food Sam grew up on, and the food he's made for me a few times to show me as much. He makes tabbouli brimming with parsley and mint (we once had a tabbouli showdown in the middle of the produce aisle at Berkeley Bowl, me deeming him crazy for buying so much parsley, he deeming me crazy for the big bag of bulgar wheat I was clutching). This is his comfort food, the food he's made when we have dinner parties. The food that reminds him of home. Unlike Sam, I don't necessarily have one distinct type of food I ate growing up that's tied to my ethnicity or a distinct place, so all the talk that night of buying pita from The Phoenician Bakery and how long to steam grape leaves was not an experience I share with my parents or sisters.
It's all I can do not to just drop everything and turn this into a gardening blog. Maybe a gardening blog with cookies, and cocktails? I jest. But in all seriousness, thank you all so much for your generous comments and advice about planting and gardening. I wish I had you in my back pocket at all times, but you've given me a lot to work with and much inspiration. In fact, today's recipe is made with fresh herbs from the backyard! It's been unusually warm in Seattle this week, so everything's growing like crazy and quite thirsty. I learned a valuable lesson: if you take off on the ferry to Vashon Island on a very sunny day to visit a most lovely couple in their new home, eat the best quinoa you may have ever tasted, and forget to water your plants, you will come home to sad basil. This is, apparently, a fact. I'm learning slowly. Also a fact: playing hookie on an island is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. I've been thinking a lot about creativity lately and how to make more space for it in the constant to-do lists of my (I assume our) daily lives. I often feel guilty if I take moments to focus on a non-work related project, but I read something recently that led me to believe taking time out of our day to chop some herbs, knead some dough, and wait for it to rise might just be what we all need more of.
We had a little housewarming party on Saturday. We bought beer and made spiced nuts and and stocked up on whiskey. That afternoon Sam baked homemade crackers and rushed around building recessed spice shelves. I roasted eggplant, baked a failed bundt cake, and bought far too much cheese. My sister Rachael came early with paper napkins and salami; my friend Tracy was in town from the Bay Area and swung by with her friend Joy; couples and singles and even baby Oliver came over to say hello. Some stayed for hours, some a few minutes. Regardless, it all felt like a pretty big deal. This was our house. Finally.
There were lots of goodbyes. This is true. There were going-away parties with friends I see often and others with those I haven't seen in over a year. Or maybe two. We're talking about lots of cocktails, a few beers, a pizza, some Chinese food, and a few donuts. Really, I felt so loved and reluctant to leave this amazing group of people who know how to make me laugh and what to say when the cards are down. It felt a little sudden and sadder than I thought it'd be. But then, Sam arrived.
I failed geometry in high school. Literally failed. Had to take it over the next year. And I was a really good student so this was shocking (well really, I wasn't all that shocked at all when it came right down to it). I doodled on my Converse in class and wrote moody poetry. Numbers have never been my thing. Words, yes. But not their more logical cousins. So it's been a bit of an uphill struggle these past few weeks getting the financial statements and tax stuff all squared away for Marge. I'm slowly learning Quickbooks and have some nice people helping me out (thanks Mariane and Carol!) but it's still a lot of accounting jargon. I feel like I need flash cards. Instead, I make snacks.
I got an email from a reader last week that made me think. And then smile. She mentioned how she liked my blog because it was about food while simultaneously being nothing about food. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she's probably right. If you really just wanted a quick granola recipe, there are many other places you'd probably go first. But here we are. And it's late on Tuesday night and it kind of feels like fall rather than summer and my sixteen year old dog is snoring at my feet. I've made a fresh batch of granola for the morning, there's a giant mosquito buzzing around my desk that I can't seem to catch, I'm drinking lime fizzy water from a straw and wishing my sister a happy first day of work tomorrow. So, yeah. I like talking to you about baking and salads and homemade ice cream. But I also liked talking to you about books and yoga and how amazing afternoon naps are. About movies and wacky seasons and travels. And hopes and family and pretty dishes. All that. Hopefully you're down. I'm guessing since you're still reading this paragraph, maybe you are.
If you've been around A Sweet Spoonful for awhile, you already know a few things: 1) I like strong drinks and 2) I don't often accept freebies or do giveaways on the site. With this next post, one of those things has changed. While I just don't see the relevance or need for plastic batter bowls that store batter in the handle (what?!), towels specially designed to sop up red wine, or acid-resistant bud vases (hmmm)--I do see the need and relevance for vodka. So when the kind folks over at SKYY vodka wrote to me to introduce their new Ginger infused vodka, I told them to send one on over. Quickly. It's been a tough few months. In thinking about how I wanted to mix it, I kept thinking how great it would be to pair it with fresh lime juice and mint. I didn't add any sweetener because, in addition to liking strong drinks, I dislike syrupy sweet ones. So if this has a bit too much of an edge for you, add a dash of simple syrup. But honestly, I think you'll like it. It screams outdoor patios and freshly mowed lawns. There's a drink out there called the Moscow Mule, which is basically vodka, fresh lime juice, and a few glugs of ginger beer. My recipe is in the same family but it's more like the Stiff Mule: we're not messing around here. I think I'll call it that.
There's something about the academic calendar. Even though I'm no longer a student and not teaching at the moment, fall brings out the 'I want new pencils' mentality in me. So with that, I've been thinking about making my favorite recipe for granola bars. Not that I have a lunch to pack. But even so...it's a nice breakfast treat with a cup of coffee, good walking-the-dog energy, and a reminder of a winter hunkered down with snowshoes in the middle of nowhere. For those of you who have munchkins in school or are, yourself, immersed in academia somehow, make these and tote them to class. I have many times (as you can see by my scribbles and revisions). I got this recipe from the nice folks at the coffee shop at the Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise, Canada. My mom and my two sisters and I went up there a few years ago after Christmas. For some reason, I have a selective memory about the trip: I remember the absolutely heinous ride up the mountain with the driver drinking out of a flask, falling asleep, and swerving into the other lane of traffic numerous times (I don't pray often, but I did that day); I remember realizing how hard cross-country skiing is...when I was miles from the hotel; I remember how much Asian tourists seem to love a good English tea service. And I remember these incredible granola bars. The snow-shoe guides created them for their own snacks, but they were so popular with people on their tours, that they started selling them in the coffee shop. My sister, Zoe, and I would make a pilgrimage downstairs in our little black ski pants, looking like we were about to take on the great outdoors when really we were about to take on The New York Times and some nutty goodness. Now you can, too.